What Would the Next CIO Do? How to Preempt Your Successor

A CIO describes how he works on solving IT and relationship problems now -- while he can still get the glory -- instead of handing them off to his successor.

In my six years as a CIO, I've heard countless statistics, jokes and other reminders of my job's typically short shelf life. Fortunately, I'm also a tenured associate professor, so I'll get to opine about IT leadership long after my "best if used by" date has passed.

After about four years in the post, though, I stopped asking why CIOs are such a famously short-lived breed. I chose instead to focus on pressing problems at my organization from a new perspective:

What Would the Next CIO Do?

It's one simple question that produces searing clarity. I came up with three areas of concern to help me answer that question and focus on the long-term health of my IT team and my organization as a whole.

Pain points. What annoying problems would my replacement fix? New leaders typically start by fixing the most easily solved problems--the low-hanging fruit. Of course, IT leaders have many other duties, such as strategic innovation, 24/7 operations and 99.999 percent availability. Along the way, though, stay connected enough to users to know whether there are pain points that need addressing. Your replacement will certainly start there, so why shouldn't you?

Jackhammer issues. What nagging problems do users deal with so often that they've tuned them out, like a jackhammer operating right outside the building? When someone starts using a jackhammer within earshot, it's jarring and unpleasant. If the jackhammer continues every day, though, your discomfort eventually fades as you learn to filter out the noise and work around the inconvenience.

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