First Things First: 3 Questions Every New CIO Needs To Be Asking

by drjim on February 2, 2011

CIOs Need To Have A Plan In Order To Get Started On The Right Foot

CIOs Need To Have A Plan In Order To Get Started On The Right Foot

No matter if you’ve just been made CIO at your firm or if you are joining a new company as its CIO, you are going to be facing the same problem: what do you need to do first? Make the wrong decision and your time as CIO may be very short. Make the right decision, and everything else will be that much easier. Maybe we should take a closer look at what 3 questions you need to be asking right off the bat…

What’s Going On Here?

One the very first day that you become CIO, you need to start to ask questions. The right questions. One of the most important questions that you are going to have to ask is at this company, what is IT’s reason for being?

There are three basic categories of existence that an IT department can find itself in at any given point in time. There is no one “right” answer, but rather any one of these can be applied to the IT department that you find yourself in charge of now.

IT departments can be in sustaining mode, turnaround mode, or realignment mode. If the IT department’s focus is simply on sustaining things the way that they currently are, then you have your work cut out for you – all you are going to have to do is keep costs low and make sure that there are no hiccups.

IT departments can find themselves in turnaround mode because either things aren’t going correctly (problems meeting customer expectations) or because large portions of the IT infrastructure have reached the end of their life and need to be replaced. If this is the situation that you find yourself in, then you are going to have to step in and take charge of the situation. This won’t be the time to get group buy-in for your ideas, instead you need to tell everyone what they need to do quickly.

Finally, an IT department in realignment mode is facing the challenge of changing how they do business today (which is working well) and adjusting to support major new company initiatives. The department may have more time to adjust to this type of change, but the long term impacts of it are going to be dramatic.

What Is IT’s Role In The Company?

Just what does IT do in the company today is another question that you are going to have to be asking. This question basically boils down to finding out if IT is a “utility” that simply exists to support the rest of the company by keeping things up and running or if it has a higher purpose.

An IT department with a higher purpose can take on several different roles depending on just how important IT is viewed within the company. It may be viewed as a “supplier” which means that IT develops the applications that the rest of the company uses. Or it may go one step further and become a “partner” where IT is responsible for creating the strategic innovations that permit the company to move forward faster than its competition.

Just How Risky Is This IT Thing?

Although not talked about as much as that sexy corporate strategy piece is, the role that IT plays in managing the company’s risk and compliance needs to be well understood by the new CIO. These risks can be spread throughout the company and can include such diverse areas as operations, information security, and regulations related to the industry that your company participates in.

As a CIO one of the first things that you are going to want to do is to make sure that you have an up-to-date risk assessment of the various challenges that the company is facing. The last thing that you want to happen as you are coming on board is for there to be a risk related event that you get blamed for.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

Becoming a CIO is a fantastic and challenging assignment. There is so much that you can accomplish; however, first you need to get a feel for the IT department as it currently stands by asking the right questions.

There are 3 types of questions that all new CIOs need to ask. These questions include what does the IT department currently do, what is IT’s role at this company, and what does IT currently do about managing risk?

CIOs who know how to ask the right questions will be well positioned to be successful. Take the time to get the answers that you need and you’ll then be able to focus on the reason that you were given the CIO job: how to make the company even more successful by using IT to move faster and do more…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that a CIO should work to change the role that an IT department plays in the company or is this the job of the CEO?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you become CIO you are going to discover one of the realities of IT life: you are not in complete control of the IT department. Rather, you are in charge of determining how to spend the money that the company allocates to IT. It turns out that how and how much money gets allocated is controlled by non other than the CFO. Are you ready for a corporate battle?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve diFilipo February 2, 2011 at 3:45 pm

In the spirit of due diligence these questions must be answered quantitatively and qualitatively before accepting the position. Otherwise you are merely ‘taking a job’

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Anthony February 3, 2011 at 9:50 am

Very good information to keep in mind while climbing that corporate ladder also.

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