“…First Year Shock and Awe” (Not my title)

January 26, 2008 § Leave a comment

I was recently involved with a Campus Technology Magazine article looking at the first year on the job for a new CIO. Considering my original idea behind this blog, “…learning from the seasoned CIO, discovering their issues and sharing ideas: perhaps the experiences related here will help some future first-time CIO,” I realize how delinquent I have been in posting the various issues encountered through my first year.

Therefore in upcoming posts I will look back at the last year–my first year–highlighting the issues I faced coming into the organization, my responses (good and bad), and some of the outcomes. Hopefully to, as I mentioned when first starting up this forum, learn from the seasoned CIO, discover their issues and share ideas: with the hope that the experiences related here will help some future first-time CIO.

Welcome to Campus

My first experience at my new position was captured in my second post. Within the post I discussed the value of documentation as a tool to help those new to an organization orient themselves, learn current business processes (and the reasons behind them) and in departmental planning. I think the motivation for this original post was due to the lack of documentation I discovered upon my hire. Much of what was available were emails (many without much context), PowerPoint Presentations (again lacking context) and various drafts, proposals, plans, updates, etc. (again, without context). It was impossible to map these documents to the current operations and assess if any of the plans, proposals or updates had led to new or modified policies or practices.

In addition, the personal stories conveyed by the staff were honest, yet biased due to individual perceptions or quite simply ignorance of specific details. Everyone had a different understanding of not only the policy, but the reason(s) behind it. It appeared that there was always some political or personal force (rarely a technical driver) behind every decision and resulting operation. I don’t know if this ambiguity arose due to conflict-it’s better not to write it down in order to avoid a paper trail-or created it-because it’s not written down the interpretation is up to the individual. What ever the cause, the result was, in the best cases, staff just did what they were told without any real understanding for the practices and no real appreciation for why these were important. At worst, staff contrived, sometimes elaborate, conspiracy theories to explain various policies, which of course led to mistrust throughout the department.

Whatever the case, upon my arrival, there was no substantial information provided to me to 1) assess the department and how it functioned: services, systems, policies, operations, staffing, roles and responsibilities of the staff, etc. 2) understand any long term plans/initiatives, goals/objectives/vision, issues, etc. 3) evaluate the department’s success/failures, role within the campus, etc. 4) even determine my own role. In fact in personal interviews with the staff, I asked, “What role should the CIO fill? (answers ranged from PR-guy to hands-on operations to fill departmental voids).

And the ambiguity was apparent to my supervisor as well, as expressed in the priorities set forth upon my arrival:

  • Provide leadership and prioritization for the CIS managers and their staffs.
  • Learn current priorities and how the day-to-day activities are implemented.
  • Adjust task assignments and workload of individual staff members.
  • Make structural changes as appropriate.
  • Review of current technology, technology Development of Technology Master Plan including networking, wireless technology, mainframe etc.
  • Development of processes to manage technology for both the day-to-day operations and project implementation.

The above, to me, focus on operational assessment and analysis, such as, how are we prioritizing projects/tasks, and, review what the department is doing and define a plan for those services/systems. It seemed apparent both the staff and administration was looking for direction. But first we had to agree on what the department did (scope of services), how we did it (systems and practices) and who was involved (roles and responsibilities). You need a starting point to build direction from.

We’re Not Doing Anything for a Year

I don’t think I made any one happy when I said that I was not going to undertake any significant changes for a year. Many folks (both in the administration and on the staff) expected “leadership” and “action.” With a new CIO in place (the campus’ first) operations could be managed to better meet campus needs and deliver services, cheaper and faster, while the organizational structure could be adjusted providing efficiency, reducing redundancy, and lowering costs, etc. etc. etc. And of course, everyone (top-down) had their own vision and ideas for how the department should be handled, from the benign: “we’re running perfect, we just need to educate the campus,” and, “we’re just too busy and really need more staff;” to the malicious, “that group or person is interfering and needs to be put in their place” and, “we need to make the campus suffer so they will appreciate us and comply.”

I also heard quite a few magic pills that, if implemented, would solve all our problems. Everything from technology solutions (e.g. strict standards, decentralization, out-sourcing, and others) to various methodologies (e.g. more campus committees/less campus committees, PMI, ITIL, and others). And quite honestly I had my own bias a background that influenced, not only my perception of the department, but how I felt we could address the various issues.

What I would do, rather then apply a pre-defined solution – a template, a program – is develop a one year plan to evaluate the department and its role on campus in an attempt to understand what was actually being done and how those service came to be. Perhaps one or more of the above ideas was correct, everything was running perfectly and all the department needed was advocacy, or maybe it was going to be something harder and we did have some negative elements within the staff who needed be confronted. In the end, I had hoped, we would at least have a shared document, developed through collaboration, transparency and honesty, that could serve as a starting point in defining the future direction of the department. And, after a year, even if I was fired for not providing enough “leadership,” that artifact would live on as evidence for future decision-making and planning. Something I wish would have been available to me.

I’ll share that next.

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