5 frequent mistakes of CIOs in a new place and how to avoid them

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Author: Vasily Guriev, Director of Inferit ITMen, a part of Softline Group ecosystem. More than 20 years in IT industry.12 years in infrastructure software development. Released 6 products for IT process automation. 8 years in software development management. Expert in IT infrastructure management.

The position of CIO or CIO is an important and responsible step in a career. That's why when being promoted to this position or moving to a new company, it is important to act correctly from the beginning and try to avoid mistakes in management and decisions.

In this article Softline experts analyze five frequent mistakes that IT directors can make in their new position and offer practical recommendations on how to avoid them.

The article will be useful for those who are considering a promotion to CIO, who have recently taken this position, as well as for CEOs and other top managers to know what difficulties may arise when a new employee takes on such a responsible position. So, on to the mistakes and solutions.

1. Starting from the wrong place: strategy or operations

Some newly hired CIOs rush straight into operations without having a strategy in place. Others, on the contrary, first form a global development strategy without understanding the processes of their IT departments.

This happens because, as a rule, the CIO position is filled by two different types of specialists. Some of them come from IT and technical backgrounds, while others, on the contrary, move to IT from the position of managers without IT background. This factor directly affects the sequence of actions and approach to work.

IT specialist → IT director

The CIO who grew up from a technical background understands the routine processes of IT teams perfectly. However, they often lack management skills, management skills, and the ability to build effective strategies and define a global vision for development.

This leads to the fact that a director with a technical background continues, as if by inertia, to work "like an engineer", i.e. he/she is engaged in operational management, solves problems "here and now", but without strategic planning. In the short term, this works well, because tasks are solved quickly. But it's important for the CIO to think bigger and plan long-term projects, otherwise the business won't reach new business targets.

Manager → IT Director

In this case it's the other way around: the director is a manager who has not worked as an IT engineer or developer, but could manage IT teams as a project manager. Such a specialist has well-developed management skills and knows how to build strategies. However, there is no understanding of how IT works, what it consists of and what pitfalls it has. This leads to the fact that the formed strategy does not take into account the nuances of work of IT teams and the functioning of implemented systems.

Also, when there is a lack of technical knowledge, it is difficult for the director to be on the same page with his employees and communicate with them in the same language. This leads to misunderstandings in work processes and problems in accomplishing tasks. Although it is the responsibility of the director to understand what work his employees are doing and how to solve difficulties that arise.

How to prevent a mistake

The two situations are different skill sets and even ways of thinking, the solution to this problem is the same - tighten up your weak areas and get the necessary skils.

Directors with a technical background can get a business education. It is best to take specialized certified courses such as ITIL, ITAM, ITHM, IT Project Management.

A director with management experience does not know the specifics of field players.

In this case, you need to analyze what exactly your IT in the company consists of: what departments, tasks, zones, projects. And then - take basic courses in these areas to communicate freely and professionally with technical staff and understand the "hard".

If it is not possible to devote so much time and effort, you can take a universal course on IT management, in the program of which there will be all the basic technical concepts.

This will help the IT director to find a balance between creating a strategy and immersion in "operations" and correctly build a plan of action in the new position.

2. Fail to audit the IT infrastructure

It is impossible to start planning and strategizing without a preliminary audit of the IT infrastructure, as it may result in serious problems for the company. The task of a new IT director is to build an accurate and detailed picture of your "inheritance": devices, hardware, software, clouds, servers, IT systems.

Without knowledge of the infrastructure, it is impossible to effectively optimize purchases, implement basic software and business applications, and deploy large projects.

Lack of audit leads to economic losses, threats to security, system stability and breakdown of business processes. If a company with a new CIO does not regularly inventory and collect data on the composition and condition of the infrastructure, the lack of auditing becomes particularly problematic.

How to prevent a mistake

The only solution is to conduct a thorough audit of your IT infrastructure. To do this, it is necessary to approach the audit as a full-fledged project: set specific goals, define deadlines, allocate resources, select tools and consider possible risks.

What the IT infrastructure consists of and what needs to be audited:

  • low-current communication systems (LCS);

  • containers;

  • network equipment;

  • physical and virtual servers;

  • data storage systems (storage);

  • PCs and employee workstations;

  • business application and system software;

  • peripheral equipment;

  • uninterruptible power supply units;

  • multimedia equipment.

This requires a number of tools, i.e. software that will collect data on the elements and condition of the IT infrastructure:

  • Software and device inventory software - for example, a member of Softline Group's ecosystem, Inferit ITMen, a Russian platform with products for data collection, inventory and accounting of technology assets and software. Tip - choose inventory software that collects data using scripts rather than off-the-shelf packaged solutions, this will provide the necessary flexibility, especially with specific software and devices.

  • Network Discovery software - such as Nmap and other similar products (Zmap, Masscan, Nessus);

  • Server monitoring software - Zabbix is the best known, but there are also analogs on the market (Cacti, Nagios, Ntopng and others).

These tools should be chosen for the long term, not just for a one-time audit. Established processes for inventory, control and management of IT infrastructure are the basis for successful functioning of the IT department, prevention of failures, competent distribution of equipment load and optimized procurement. The larger the device fleet and the more complex the IT infrastructure in terms of composition and geo-distribution, the more important it is to have quality management tools.

3. Don't study the teams and projects

Knowing the state and composition of your IT infrastructure and device fleet is good. But business is built on people first and foremost. If you don't understand exactly how teams function, how they interact with each other, and the nuances of those processes, you won't be able to manage projects effectively.

It's equally important to scrutinize all the projects that all IT departments are working on. If you don't understand what exactly is going on in the projects, what state they are in, and what the ROI and efficiency metrics are, you run the risk of misallocating team resources and defining a strategy for their development.

How to prevent mistakes

Analyze the composition of teams and draw up a detailed IT structure and role set. This will help determine who exactly needs to be managed: what skills and abilities employees have, their areas of responsibility, and specific work tasks. Sometimes as a result of such analysis it turns out that one employee does the work of five, which negatively affects the quality of tasks and performance. Simply put - important projects and processes "sag" due to lack of human resources.

Next, you need to conduct a project audit, i.e. check how the manager, customer and executors fulfill their role and what are the indicators of the project. For example, payback, profitability, cost ratios, and whether deadlines are being missed and errors are accumulating. Then you need to define metrics for each project and process - digitize existing metrics and establish new ones as needed. Even if project metrics are low, they still need to be accurately understood in order to improve, reallocate resources, hire, and optimize.

Once teams and projects are analyzed, KPIs and OKRs can be set for each department. It is the CIO's job to define department-level metrics; department managers and team leaders are responsible for setting KPIs for specific teams and employees.

4. Do not delegate everything that can be delegated

You have already studied teams and analyzed current projects, set KPIs and OKRs for different departments and teams. However, many responsible CIOs, especially those who are new to a new role, are dragging many tasks and processes around by inertia. It's especially common for CIOs who have grown out of technical roles to continue to serve as team leaders and handle operational tasks.

A CIO who gets buried in operations can't devote the right amount of time and resources to focus on global challenges and shape new approaches and large-scale change.

How to prevent a mistake

Look at the IT department structure and role set that has been drawn up. And then take an honest look at your current tasks as CIO and identify those that can be delegated to other staff. This can be done by conducting a series of 1-1's with department heads and diving into processes.

To motivate team leaders to take over tasks, it's worth highlighting what skills this will pump up and how it will increase their value as a specialist. The task of distributing the workload between employees is the responsibility of the department head. The director's task is to transfer the area of responsibility to the department through the manager.

5. Improper prioritization

So the IT infrastructure has been audited, teams have been studied, projects have been analyzed, and even tasks have been delegated - what else can go wrong?

The position of CIO or CIO implies a higher level of responsibility. Metrics of top managers move from technical and product to business - IT in the company must work in a way that brings profit to the company. This is influenced by deadlines, quality, resource optimization, and many other factors. One of them is proper prioritization of projects and tasks. Failure to prioritize key large-scale projects can lead to missed milestones, inefficiencies, and even economic losses for the business.

How to prevent mistakes

It's important to determine exactly what to do and in what order, where to start, what can be postponed, and what needs to be done right now and throw more team resources at it.

There are many different methods for prioritizing and evaluating projects and tasks, such as RICE, Value vs Effort, Buy a feature, Confidence, and others. Methodologies can be "mixed" to find the best prioritization method for a given company and projects.

Checklist: mistakes and solutions

We've taken an in-depth look at five common mistakes CIOs make when taking on a new role. Let's briefly summarize them for easy retention as a cheat sheet.

Mistake 1: Sail into strategy or get stuck in operations

The solution is to look for balance, tighten up your skills, and close weak areas. Technicians to learn management, managers to learn the tech stack.

Mistake 2: Failure to audit IT infrastructure

The solution is to approach this process as a project. Distribute tasks, stages, select the necessary tools, prepare the ground for the further process of regular inventory, control and management of IT infrastructure.

Mistake 3: Fail to study the team and projects

The solution is to draw up a team structure and role set. Analyze all current and planned projects. Make decisions on how to handle them, how to increase productivity and improve quality. Based on all the information gathered, set KPIs and OKRs.

Mistake 4: Not delegating

The solution is to look at your role set by team and the tasks that the CIO performs independently. Distribute more routine and operational processes across teams by conducting a series of 1-1 interviews with department heads.

Mistake 5: Not prioritizing tasks

The solution is to choose a methodology that works for you and prioritize projects and key tasks at the team level.

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