Now that we are one month into the new year, and personal resolutions are well in hand, it’s an opportune time to consider professional resolutions. With this in mind, I spoke with Richard Casselberry, director of IT operations at Extreme Networks, about ways CIOs can resolve to transform their IT departments this year. Rich had just read the State of the CIO 2014: The Great Schism in which Kim Nash observes that only 25% of CIOs are perceived as “first-class” business peers. As an IT staff member himself, Rich offers these 14 recommendations to help CIOs elevate their departments to first class status in 2014.
1. Build your team. The role of a senior leader is 70% hiring, mentoring, teambuilding, and sometimes pruning to keep the department functioning efficiently. Building the right team culture is critical. A CIO for a billion dollar IT services company once confided to Rich that finding the right people was so hard that he had resorted to hiring warm bodies, and compensating with very rigid processes. In practice, though, rigid processes can never overcome a bad culture. Spend the time to hire the right people, empower them, and create a true team.
2. Spread the good word. Once you have built a great team, they will do wonderful things and it’s important for others to see this. But rather than sending daily email like, “Wow look at how great we are”, your communications should periodically highlight specific achievements. For example, Rich has a “sysdown” process that lets users know when a device crashes, but all negative impact has been averted. It’s a subtle way of saying, “Hey we successfully designed this to work even when malfunctions occur.” Give recognition to the whole team when things go well. As CIO, you will still get credit, but you can double the goodness by acknowledging the people who did the work.
3. Reward innovation. IT people need to keep up with the very latest technology and leading edge tools, yet we seldom provide the encouragement to experiment and try new things. Now is a good time to put real action behind the words and create incentives for innovation. Something as simple as a regular meeting dedicated to recognizing innovative creativity can go a long way.
4. Encourage external focus. This is the decade of personal branding and social media. Regardless of your industry, you need to open up to sensible social media sharing. Your staff members, especially the millennials, want to be social and build their brand, and this will also help your company brand. Bear in mind that the best job candidates seek out social businesses.
5. Know your company products and business. Does your IT team thoroughly understand what your company does? Whether you provide network infrastructure or hotel rooms, if you are expecting to bring strategic value to the table, it’s critical that your IT staff knows the business. If you are content as the department that changes toner, by all means keep your office door closed and focus on “what’s important.”
6. Plan for succession. If you were to leave right now, who could step into your shoes? If the answer is no one, then it’s time to take a hard look and figure out who has the determination, drive, and expertise to run the show when you are gone.
7. Take a fresh look at your bills and budget. Through the years, Rich has found recurring bills that just keep getting paid. For example, he discovered a $200 monthly pager bill, even though no one uses paging anymore. Similarly, business cards were being ordered from a usual vendor who charged $70 per box of 250 cards.
8. Verify redundancy. While redundancy is included in almost all designs, when changes creep in and redundancy could be compromised, no one goes back to check. Rich once discovered that his “redundant” PBXs had both been plugged into the same power strip.
9. Automate. Someone in your department is spending too much time on a repetitive task. It could be account management, password resets or reporting. Talk to your users and helpdesk. Find the resource drains and automate them. Since these projects serve the IT staff (an understanding and forgiving group), they make good starter-projects for newer team members.
10. Embrace the cloud. Most CIOs have become comfortable with cloud applications, but if you are not, define a small, segmentable project and try it. Need a new test and development environment? Try using an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider. Cloud is not as scary as it seems, so stick your foot in and test the water. Make sure you understand the risks and choose carefully, but get started this year.
11. Take a realistic look at security. This is a good year to make sure your security is protecting and enabling the business, not hindering it. For example, are you spending time and credibility sealing-off USB ports with epoxy glue, while your users are now saving all their data on Dropbox? That level of security may be appropriate for some organizations, but if your company is building a cement wall in front of the barn door after the horse is out and the back wall collapsing…, then it’s time to reevaluate.
12. Step up your training. Training needs to be part of all department development. Rich has met managers who say things like, “What happens if we train our employees and they leave?” The answer is: what happens if you don’t train employees and they stay? Training need not be expensive. Rotate jobs to provide cross training; schedule a conference room to watch a recorded webinar; get your key employees public speaking experience so they can deliver training sessions.
13. Stop doing something. Rich has found that the biggest problem is often trying to do too much. Early in the new year is a good time to see what you are doing that can be stopped. For example, it’s easy to get into the habit of collecting data and metrics, only to archive them without a glance. That might not be a drain if it’s automated, but if the reports are manually created and never read, stop it and spend the time being productive. Same with other processes; if there are situations where approval is always given and never questioned, stop asking and just do it.
14. Polish up your peer relationships. This blog started by describing the importance of building a good dependable team. Equally important for the CIO is building strong peer relationships. Rich often hears CIOs complain about not being respected by their peers, or not having a seat at the table. These CIOs have typically just not spent enough time out of their offices talking with other executives. This year start building bridges. Creating the right business relationship between IT and the business counterparts has immense return, but the most importantly, it is an important step in achieving a first-class perception of IT and the CIO among your business peers.