by Antony Barnes and Marcus Johansson

Four focuses for new CIOs

Apr 18, 20125 mins

If you’re a CIO, it’s always tempting to focus on the sexy stuff by driving transformational change. But before you get to the big vision, you need to have your basic IT house in order.

Business leaders won’t listen to a CIO’s vision if they’re suffering from daily IT glitches, or if the IT costs aren’t under control.

Here are some ideas that can help you in both these key challenges:

1 Achieve reliability and stability The first step for any new CIO is to make sure the IT platform is as reliable as a Swiss watch. Otherwise, every discussion that you have with the leaders of the business will be open to sabotage by people who inevitably don’t share your plans.

You want to talk about your five-year plan for IT transformation; they can shoot you down by talking about network log-in problems.

It’s not an argument you’re going to win, so verify the reliability of the IT environment yourself. If you find a problem, report it to the help-desk or discuss it with your IT support team.

There is a often a tendency for IT support to ignore smaller and annoying issues, but it’s the small problems that ruin the perception of your IT department. No IT issue is too small to ignore.

2 Build a good team around you Unless you want to manage every system yourself, the first step is to make sure you have the right people in the right jobs, so you can trust your team to keep the IT platform running smoothly.

And don’t delay dealing with problem people; the best time to fire or remove them is when you’ve just become CIO, and people are already expecting changes.

Try to make your IT organisation chart simple, with clear responsibilities, and try to align it with the broader business structure.

It’s not always appropriate to centralise your teams, especially if you’re faced with geographically dispersed business units that might be using local applications which they’ve found work for them.

Don’t be afraid to keep a local presence where it’s appropriate, but make sure the reporting lines are clear; you don’t want local IT teams reporting to a regional General Manager, as this leads to conflicting priorities.

More time is spent on local issues and not enough on implementing the strategic IT agenda. If you’re the CIO, then IT managers should report to you.

3 Keep it simple Whole books have been written about managing IT operations and projects, and we don’t want to repeat what others have already said very clearly.

There’s obviously a place for methodologies and structures like ITIL and Prince 2, but don’t go crazy. There’s a balance to be found between structured methodologies and old-style pragmatic management.

Alarm bells should start ringing whenever you find yourself spending more time documenting risks than fixing them. As a general rule, if the policies and rules are not easily understood and accepted by the business, then rewrite them.

This is not the same as bending over and accepting all business requests willy-nilly; it’s about being able to explain easily why certain rules and policies are in place.

This is important given the proliferation of end-user devices and widely available software downloads which, if not controlled, can wreak havoc with your IT platform.

4 Strong financial control The other side to being a successful CIO is to be utterly on top of all your costs. It’s a fact of life that large businesses spend most of their time in controlling costs.

The key is to treat cost control as a key deliverable to the business, rather than simply as a by-product of other activities. In practice, that means having a dedicated cost-controller and a structured process for reporting and analysing IT costs.

Each business unit or territory needs to budget and report in a consistent way, so that you can follow up and investigate any deviations from the budget.

Start by aligning the budget to the organisational structure. If there is a corporate IT function, then the budget should be owned centrally.

There’s no point in talking about a corporate IT agenda when local budget holders are managing and defining priorities without much regard for the corporate IT initiatives.

Put simply, as the CIO you should be solely responsible for the total IT spend for all territories and business units. If not, you will continuously face issues over local cost pressures.

You will also miss opportunities for synergies: there is always a reason why local teams prefer not to make procurements centrally, and that is typically because they believe they suffer from unfair cost allocations.

By having robust cost control you’ll avoid endless discussions about IT spend, and get more time to build trust with your IT teams.

That will allow you to develop a level of trust with the board, which is the key to building credibility within the business.

Antony Barnes and Marcus Johansson are associates at PricewaterhouseCoopers

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