Beware a new CIO bearing questions

So you think you run a pretty tight IT shop? Maybe, but maybe not.

Let’s imagine this for a minute: your board of directors and CEO, citing the increasing importance of IT to the organization’s success, and the increasing potential for disaster if IT screws up, has decided to appoint a CIO to oversee everything IT-ish.

That’s right: a full-blown, officer-level IT chief at the same table as the other senior officers in the organization, an IT chief who reports directly to the president, and not to the vice-president of finance. Quick aside, you can spot an “old-school” organization that doesn’t get it, when it has the most senior IT person running a large IT shop reporting up through finance – old org structure, old thinking. Good news! IT is finally being recognized for how important it really is.

Better yet: this is an experienced CIO – experienced in the business, experienced in consulting, experienced in running a large IT organization. And her first day on the job is Monday, Jan. 5. After the pleasant introductions, what is she going to be looking for, and does your shop have everything she wants to see? New CIO? Maybe not such good news after all.

The first thing she wants to see is a complete application inventory – which apps are you running? How much are they costing you to maintain on an annual basis, in terms of both licensing fees and internal support costs – you do track internal support costs by application.

Next, who is the business owner for each of the apps, and how quickly can she set up a meeting with them? Are these apps running on an architecture that is consistent with the corporate standard – you do have a standard, don’t you? And the applications inventory will also tell her the primary and secondary technical contact for the application, won’t it? And it’ll also tell her the primary business functions that each application supports, in clear terms that resonate with the business. You’ve got this one in your back pocket, don’t you?

She’ll also want to see the project portfolio – the complete list of projects that IT people are working on, prioritized according to corporate strategy, and she’ll easily see the link between one and the other, won’t she? And this portfolio will reflect the constraints the IT organization operates under too, won’t it? It’ll tell her exactly how projects were selected and prioritized, and she can be absolutely assured that each of the other VPs in the organization knows how the projects in the organization were selected and prioritized as well. That way, if a new project enters the portfolio somewhere higher up the priority list, it’ll be absolutely clear to her which project or projects will drop off the bottom to make room. You do have this portfolio close at hand, right?

Of course, she’ll also want to see a complete and updated roles and responsibilities matrix for the organization, outlining clear and unequivocal descriptions of responsibility for everyone in the shop. And while you’re at it, she’ll also want to see the objective performance goals for each of the people on the grid. You should have that one on her desk immediately.

And she’ll want to see a few other things in her first few days too: The corporate/IT disaster recovery plan, and the resulting report from the last time you conducted a disaster simulation.

And of course she’ll want to see the organization’s IT security policies, along with the report that recently audited them. You get the idea. Time to stop pretending. None of these requests are unreasonable – every IT shop should have all the above data available on a moment’s notice.

Why? Because if it wasn’t before, running an IT operation has become a serious business, and the people at the top of the IT house are going to be demanding the same kind of disciplines that are demanded of some of the “older” parts of the business. What we do is now essential to the success of the organizations we work for. Increasingly, if IT doesn’t work, neither does the organization. We’ve got the responsibility, now we’ve got to put in place the disciplined infrastructure stuff that allows us to be responsible.

The new CIO arrives in less than a month. We’d all better get going.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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