As CIOs, some jobs are tougher than others. One of the most demanding is when you find yourself taking on a troubled IT department. This isn’t a job for the faint of heart. Your job will be to repair damage and put things back in order so that the company can realize the importance of information technology. This will require a great deal of time and effort on your part. The good news is that if you succeed, you’ll be lauded as a hero. The bad news is that if you fail, your washout could haunt your CIO career for years to come.
Your first step has to be assessing an inherited IT department’s alignment with business strategies and objectives. This is an important first step toward rebuilding it. CIO need to realize that in today’s increasingly digital world, IT plays a key role in enabling business strategy. Making sure that your IT department is aligned with business goals is necessary for IT to be viewed as a strategic business partner.
Engaging with the business will help a CIO discover what’s working versus what isn’t working, to identify the most pressing challenges and how deep the issues go. The person with the CIO job must also assess whether the IT department, in its current state, is even capable of providing operational stability. It can be hard to be seen as a strategic partner when ‘keeping the lights on’ is an issue.
Ensure That The Situation Has Been Stabilized
You need to realize that it’s impossible to fix a ship that’s still sinking. The new CIO must take action to stabilize any unreliable technology that’s disrupting business operations. A new CIO’s first priority should be to make sure that the technology infrastructure and applications are available and reliable. CIOs need to understand which areas within the IT department are causing the problems, and to have an unbiased data-driven approach to making corrective decisions. Once you have created a list of actionable items, the person in the CIO position should prioritize the actions that will create the most value. CIOs should assess the current IT team’s ability to set objectives and deliver positive results. This will involve frank conversations about what is working, as well as the existing challenges with people, processes, technology and the underlying structure.
Take The Time To Pinpoint And Root-Out Dysfunction
CIOs have to know the source and extent of the issues before attempting to rebuild a dysfunctional IT department. The problem is not necessarily with the IT department, but can be from a lack of visibility and prioritization. In most cases IT teams want to do the right thing, but if they don’t have their priorities straight, and are not sure of where the vulnerabilities are, how can the team see what issues to focus on?
A telltale sign of a dysfunctional IT department is weak security. This can allow critical, private information to fall into the hands of cybercriminals. Before attempting to rebuild their IT department, the new CIO should work to obtain visibility into all assets, including on-premises, cloud and mobile resources. Each asset must then be analyzed for risk across hundreds of attack vectors, including misconfigured databases or weak log-in credentials from employees. With this level of visibility, CIOs gain insights on the weaknesses in their organization’s defenses which can help the manager prioritize and drive remediation actions.
Once the sources of the department’s dysfunction have been revealed and fully understood, and the team is on the same page, the planning phase can begin. You need to start with your strategic plan and then expand to your organizational model, change management program, operating model and communication plans.
Share Insights With All Involved
A good first step is to gather together all relevant IT and business partners to hold hard, direct conversations aimed at airing out the dirty laundry. You need to create a safe environment to share, validate and discuss observations. Consider engaging an external facilitator to enable you to stay laser-focused on the goals of the meeting.
As an incoming CIO you need to build rapport quickly. Take the time to actively listen, observe, and engage over food/drinks, walk around and sniff out opportunities for improvement. It can help to document the findings and themes will likely emerge. These IT employees are living the dysfunction and they will appreciate a lifeline with a promise for a better tomorrow.
CIOs should have the group collectively develop both a vision statement and a charter that describes how the department will move forward. If you can, have all participants sign these documents. Doing so reinforces commitment and support.
Make Sure That You Set Realistic Goals
The new CIO needs to identify and confirm exactly what long-term department success should look like. It can be difficult to decide and act on success metrics. This will require talking to the team, which is usually very self-aware about the changes needed, but don’t have the means to tackle them. This is an opportunity for you to secure their individual insights on strengths and pain points across the department in order to develop a roadmap.
On the process side, defining success for a CIO requires identifying the most effective workflows and platforms, as well as discovering the root causes of inconsistent results. Once done, this helps source key data points that help measure the success of the department against pre-designed OKRs and KPIs — whether that’s on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.
It’s Time To Begin Rebuilding
When launching the rebuilding process, the CIO should take an innovative and programmatic approach. This involves planning the migration and replacing old applications along with addressing evolving both processes and capabilities. The CIO should conduct an assessment of the employees and qualify them as ‘ready now,’ ‘trainable’ or ‘legacy’. You can start building new teams by leveraging the knowledge of holdover staff members while adding fresh hires possessing new and positive views. CIOs should start training everyone in the new technologies and methodologies to get all team members on the same page.
As the IT department rebuild moves forward CIOs should be seeking a clear understanding of future goals from both functional and SLA point of views. CIOs must design their teams and processes to comply with that future outlook, asking questions surrounding technical requirements and process application. CIOs should design their teams both from a capabilities and governance standpoint.
Your external partnerships with hardware, software, service and advisory organizations can play a valuable role in the IT rebuilding process. Partners can sustain the existing IT systems while the CIO frees up resources to develop the new team.
Your partners can also help accelerate the development of new, more capable IT teams. CIOs must determine what they want to insource and what should be outsourced. Partners can help offer elastic resource allocation, quick ramp-ups of new teams and insights into best practices. CIOs should rely on partners while retaining governance and ownership.
What All Of This Means For You
One of the most difficult jobs that a CIO will ever be asked to do is to take control of an IT department that is struggling. When we find ourselves being asked to perform this job, we are going to have to make sure that we have a plan. The plan that we come up with is going to have to account for how things currently are and the final form that we’d like our IT department to transform into. What we need is a way to make a transformation happen.
The first step has to be to assess how well aligned the IT department is with the rest of the company. We then need to make sure that the current situation has been stabilized because we can’t make things better if we are still dealing with significant problems. Every IT department has problems and we need to take the time to locate the dysfunction that exists in our department. As we start to understand where things stand, we need to share our insights with the rest of our team. Every IT department needs to have a set of goals that they are working towards. Once this has all been taken care of, the rebuilding can start.
The good news is that every IT department can be saved. What it is going to take is a CIO that has a plan for how to cause a transformation to happen. When we are presented with a major challenge like this, we need to make sure that we are able to keep our eye on where we want the IT department to evolve to. With our steady hand at the helm, we should be able to guide our IT department to where it needs to be.
Question For You: Do you think that CIOs should set timelines for rebuilding an IT department?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
In order to be a successful CIO who has a long career dealing with the importance of information technology, you are going to have to take steps to make sure that you truly love what you are doing. What we have to realize is that we can’t rest on the things that we have already accomplished, instead we need to realize that new competition will be coming. They are going to catch up with how your company does business and this means that you are going to have to work with your IT department to make sure that they are ahead all of the time. If we want to have a successful career that we will find fulfilling, what do we need to be doing today?