The CIO

Frequently young people ask me what it takes to be in IT or even the CIO.

Over thirty years of OJT has taught me a thing or two about management.

When I was working in Corporate America, often times I would do things that were for the “good of the company,” that my subordinates may not have liked.

In one of my previous post I speak about documentation being the bane of IT people.  As a manager of this group, documentation is key.

Many times I go into a situation to “trouble-shoot” and when I ask for the network documentation, I am met with blank stares.  If I task you with driving from Baltimore to LA without a map or GPS, the odds are good that even with the occasional road sign to assist you, you would make a few wrong turns along the way. While this is a real simplistic metaphor for the problem, you get the point.

While I encourage the creation and continual update of a “run-book,” most IT people laugh. One of them even told me straight up “that will never happen.”  He was terminated soon after that remark.  Attitude is a key component of any employee, and crappy attitudes I can do without.  It happened, it just did not happen with him.

The data center and the associated infrastructure does not belong to you the geek; but the company.  You are entrusted with its care and feeding.  The direction of how, when, and why, comes from somewhere else. Understanding your role in this universe is salient advice, that I would give any techie that wants to stay employed.

While I have stepped on a few toes over the past 30 years; most of my previous employees would follow me to a new company if I asked; and have done so on many occasions over the years.

What does it take to be the “guy in charge?”

It takes a person who firstly loves technology.  Eating and breathing the newest technology I believe is a trait that is indicative of a successful CIO.

Second, it takes business acumen.  Technology is great; having the business prowess to realize that there is a bottom line and in order for the company to stay viable, purchases should be made with business objectives in mind.  I cannot tell you how many times I see things that were ill-advised purchases, which were no longer in use, and lost revenue.

Having a vision of where the company is headed is key to purchasing the correct hardware and software.

If you have read any of my other blogs you know that I believe in leading by example.  Gaining the mutual respect of your employees is paramount.  Sometimes a new broom must sweep clean, and that too has been the case on a few occasions.

Be smart enough to utilize a VAR.  The business case is simple…

Yes, they markup their products that they sell you however; you gain the expertise of their staff who see what works and what does not.  They are in multiple businesses and have the advantage of working with all of the latest and greatest. They stand behind what they sell you.  If it breaks, they deal with it.  They deal with all of the major vendors and know what is coming down the road.  Having access to their insight is invaluable.

Never buy from internet “cheapie” stores and here is why?  If they have it and it is discounted, there is a reason.  It may be buggy or is no longer supported or outdated.

If you want to take a chance for your home stuff, go for it.  Business applications are more traffic intensive than your home network or pc.  If you have routing issues or excessive collisions at home, the odds are good that you will never know it unless it becomes critical.  In business, you have possibly hundreds of computers hooked to the network thus stressing the networks ability to perform.  Do you really want to do that with cheap, no-name or outdated hardware?

If you want to shop your toner, go for it, other office supplies; have at it.  Networking equipment, do not be tempted.  The few dollars you “think you saved” will most probably cost you big time in the end.

Realize that there are things like hardware asset management and make sure you follow through.  Repairing and putting new software on old hardware is a fool’s mission in that the license most likely dies with the hardware.  Old hardware is already outdated and slower than what you would have today.  There is also S.A.M. or software asset management, which also is a key element to the bottom line.

  • Desktops last no longer than five years.
  • Laptops, around three years.
  • Smartphones about two.

Since the software cost much more than the hardware you can see how keeping that old boat anchor alive is probably not a good idea.  XP is dead, get over it and move on.

This is one reason why leasing for large companies might make good sense.

I once worked for a CIO who did not even have a PC at home.  He reminded me of the old guy that did not even want a cell phone as there was nobody he wanted to talk to bad enough to have one.  My point is that you must have a balance between the financial aspects of the business at hand, and the technological aspects.  This guy cost the company millions of dollars because he was so inept where technology counted.  While he did not have an abacus on his desk; he definitely was old school and inflexible.

Too many times I have been in companies where the CEO or owner wanted to play IT rather than run the company.  The CEO did not get there by being stupid but, IT is not his forte’; it is yours.  Unlike we “the nerds of the world” who eat breath and defecate this stuff on a daily basis; he or she may read something in some periodical and think, wow this looks good “do this!”

Your relationship with this person should be on a solid enough footing where you can tell them the truth of the matter.

Falling back to re-group and gather pricing, TCO and an ROI is always a crucial part of the decision, not to mention, does it make business sense to do it in the first place.

Don’t be afraid to tell the truth.  I have had a yes man working for me that I had to get rid of.  I depend upon my subordinates to debate with me if they think that I am wrong.  They might very well loose anyway but, differing opinions are necessary, and crucial to the process. Having the humility to listen to them is part of being a good CIO.

Project management is a key part of being an IT manager.  Yes, you can hire a project manager but let’s face it; it is really not all that difficult.  We have all of these certifications for everything in the world.  While a piece of paper gives the clueless hiring entity a metric of your ability, it is not the end all be all.

I have inherited “certified employees” that were academically sharp but, not able to do the job at hand. They can read and regurgitate information but could not turn a screwdriver. Book sense and practical; not one or the other.

I was a project manager before there were such things, at least certified project managers.

I ran as many projects as 30 at one time, most in a spreadsheet, well several spreadsheets.  I knew what it was going to cost and how much I was going to have spent on each and every milestone.  I knew who would be doing which task at what time and how long it should take.  If I can do that in Excel, do I really need to hire a PMP?

In order to be a good manager having the ability to do each and every job, makes life much simpler.  You cannot be “BS’ed.  Can you do it as fast as someone who does it day in and day out?  Probably not but, you could do it if needed which gives you a leg up and makes each and every employee under you “expendable.”

I don’t mean to sound harsh.  There is this attitude among most IT guys that if they are the only person who can do it, they are sacrosanct. So, they don’t document their job and of course they don’t let on their tricks or where the bones are buried. Nobody in any company should be untouchable.

This is dangerous for you the CIO and damned hazardous for the company.

This is why the owner or CEO of any company should have a disaster recovery plan and test that plan with people other than his or her employees.  If a technical group of people can bring your company back from the brink, in an offsite location, in a short amount of time, than your documentation is solid.  If not, than your guys have some “splainin to do.”

Plans such as these rarely work perfect the first time and I expect that.  That is the process by which the documentation is refined in such a way that it will work.  No one can get every detail the first time around but eventually you can nail it down in such a way that the company would survive if a disaster was declared.

These have been my precepts from day one of management.  There are lots of things that go with this but you can see the logic and of course you can see how this would intimidate the person who may be out of their comfort zone to start with.  This is one of the problems that I am forced to deal with when I am called in to do a DR plan.  The employees are seldom on board with giving me information, which means that I have to go and get it. This is where I end up stepping on toes.  If I have to go dig it up, it is much more costly and it extends the project time.  Nobody wants their “mess” exposed during the audit so it is seldom easy to get through this process.  Even though upper management is on board, the employees are most of the time, evasive if not truculent; and unwilling to share.

So my last thing that I would offer is patience.  Weekly meetings with upper management your progress will ferret out issues like, uncooperative employees.

-Best to you and those that you care about.

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