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What should be changed first – the CIO, the IT team or the IT strategy?

My profession, the role of CIO, unfortunately means that sometimes I come to a company to replace another CIO. Presumably, the previous CIO did not suit the company, and they decided to replace him or her. During the interview process, I often ask questions like ‘Who exactly are you looking for and why?’ and ‘What specific results would you like to get with a new CIO?’. Most often they talk about problems with company development, incidents, personnel work, insufficient speed of change implementation, difficulties with communication between the CIO and other top managers. But in the process of further conversation other, less noticeable but more significant signs of problems are also revealed.

In fact, most often the business is not dissatisfied with the CIO at all, but with the fact that the IT function does not meet the current needs of the business and the expectations of top management. The CIO gets into focus because he or she cannot fulfill these expectations. For what reason - we'll explore further in this article.

So what is the most common expectation of the Business? And what is the most complained about?

Business Expects Business Complaints about
Proactive attitude and involvement

Wants the IT function to delve into the Business issues themselves, look for solutions and propose the best ones that deliver maximum business impact at minimum cost.

Passivity and bureaucracy

IT requires a ToR for every change, without a request no one wants to even talk. If there are problems in the business, they say that everything works in IT, and we don't care about the rest, etc. They don't understand business problems.

Black box and blackmail

Transparency of activities and costs

Wants to be able to manage IT costs, operating with the concepts of task priorities, risks, sequence of task solutions. Have the ability to verify decisions made. Understand the relationship between costs and business benefits.

Black box and blackmail

IT incurs constant costs for equipment, FOT and licences, saying that if we don't buy it, ‘everything will collapse’. That said, the Business has no choice. Either we buy urgently or ‘we're all going to die’. There is no correlation between costs and business effect. The Business answers the questions posed with difficulty or does not answer at all.

Existence of expertise and horizons

Wants to be guided in making decisions that have long-term implications for the company by the best available expertise to help make the best value for money decisions.


IT makes decisions based on immediate circumstances, here-and-now knowledge and constraints. This leads to the creation of new constraints that gradually snowball and eventually create problems for the development and even normal functioning of the company.

Attention, question. If you replace the CIO with the best of all the best CIOs on the market, is it possible to change this situation dramatically? And create a proactive IT in place of a passive one?

Of course it is possible, but it will take effort from more than just the CIO.

To understand the problem in more detail, let's try to dig into the reasons for the ‘bad behavior’ of the IT function.

Passivity and bureaucracy

Cause/Problem What to do

Inexperienced, can't communicate, doesn't know the market, doesn't work with employees, barks at everyone, doesn't make contact, etc.

Replace it with a good one

It's as simple as that

Problem with corporate culture

I had an experience of working in a company where in the struggle for the management's favour it was the norm to accuse one's colleagues of failures, to give evidence of their mistakes in public, to humiliate them in front of everyone, to set them up. And this was at the level of top management. This was encouraged from the owner's side and went all the way down the vertical chain from top to bottom. There were two categories of employees in this company - careerists who liked these rules of the game and actively used them, and opportunists who had nowhere else to go, so they tolerated and abstracted themselves from what was happening. Other categories of employees did not stay long and dropped out on their own, the culture squeezed them out. Needless to say, in this company the IT department was to blame for absolutely all the problems, and IT directors were changed more than once a year (as, by the way, were other top managers).

Obviously, passivity in such a culture is a defensive reaction, and bureaucracy is a way of dealing with the environment, of defending against it.

Change the culture of the entire Company

It is impossible to change the culture in only one division and not change the rest.

You have to change it everywhere, starting with the PM. If the PM cannot or does not want to change, the PM must be changed. If the LPR is a business owner, it is necessary to remove him from operational activities for the benefit of his own business.

No other solutions will change the situation. Not a change in the CIO, not a change in the IT team.

Sabotage in the field

I recently encountered a situation when the entire department refused to change the established rules of work, citing the fact that the requirements to be transparent for business are not interesting for them and they will not fulfil them. I will write a separate article on this topic later, it is a very interesting story.

And this happens all over the place, on different scales. People are used to not being controlled, because they do not realise that they are left to themselves and that they are irreplaceable in the current environment. They begin to oppose themselves to the company and the environment, to exploit their exceptional position. And the habit was to reduce the amount of work by fencing themselves with requests and requests for requests. Eventually it led to the fact that almost everyone who could afford it refused to work with this department. And those who couldn't, were forced to endure being held hostage.

Don't negotiate with terrorists

Change, starting with a dissident executive. ‘Cut without waiting for peritonitis’ (C). This issue is closely related to the first point. It is the IT director's responsibility to prevent this state of affairs from happening. Even if he is new to the company and the saboteurs have been there for a long time. This is entirely on the CIO's conscience. You have the right to demand that he solve the problem. If he cannot solve it, see point one.

A single company may have several problems at once, and solving one problem does not guarantee the achievement of results if the other problem is not solved. I.e. if a company has difficulties with corporate culture and it is customary to look for someone to blame in case of failures (according to the top management), then no change of CIO will make IT proactive, because it will immediately make the IT function automatically guilty of all sins. In such companies there is usually a merry-go-round of top management (not only in IT by the way), everyone leaves blamed and the company's problems are not solved for years.

Black box and blackmail

Cause/Problem What to do
The CIO can't explain

The CIO can't explain the need in terms the business understands - money, risk, business impact. He or she lacks experience and/or expertise.


If there is a lack of knowledge, you can send for training. After that, you can give a chance to gain experience and consolidate the skill. You can bring in a mentor from the market, who will help to build processes and pull up your IT director. But if he doesn't want to develop himself, or training doesn't help, then change. Perhaps he needs a different scale or a different company to work comfortably.

Lack of resources

Ensuring business transparency is also a job that requires resources for itself. The accounting department of an enterprise can be taken as an example. Purely theoretically, the enterprise can work without accounting, and even faster and better than with it. No one will not require documents and the correctness of their filling. However, this enterprise is likely to exist for a short time.

Allocate a resource

It's important to realise that allocating resource to build transparency and manageability of IT costs, although it will increase local costs, will eventually pay off by making better decisions on the right numbers. Decisions made on numbers are usually more accurate than decisions made intuitively, unless we're talking about astrology and guessing at coffee grounds.

Manipulations of the team

In the previous block I have already announced a case about a team that is not interested in transparency. The reasons can be quite different, but most often it is about hiding information. Hiding what is being done, how much time is spent, what tasks are being solved, how many tasks were solved in a week and what are the plans for the next week. The key objective is not to give material for formulating the right questions from the management. With equipment purchases, by the way, it was the same story there.

Change, exclude from the company circuit

We don't negotiate with terrorists. If it turns out that the reason is not a lack of experience or knowledge, but malicious intent, we must weed them out mercilessly. Don't let such a culture spread to the neighborhood.

Narrow mindedness

Cause/Problem What to do
Incorrect IT processes

If IT processes assume a ‘well approach’, i.e. each performer is only involved in its own narrow loop, without intersecting with others, there will be nowhere for broad thinking to take place.

Requirement of the CIO

It is the direct task of the CIO to ensure that he is fully competent in both technical and business expertise. Unless he or she has the obvious problems described in the following paragraphs, it is his or her responsibility to meet the challenge.

Lack of FOT

It can be expressed either in extremely low rates for positions, or in a shortage that does not allow hiring and/or retaining experienced specialists with a broad outlook, but only enough for juniors.

I've encountered a situation where a company's HR department decided that the market was unfair and that the salary ceiling for IT employees would be what HRD wanted it to be. This led to the fact that the entire previous IT team scattered from under such a ceiling, and junas who were not hired by other companies were hastily hired for these positions. How do you think this affected the bottom line? The company saved money on FTP, but then paid triple the price in results.

Change the staffing strategy

If there is no one to work with, the result will be difficult to achieve. Obviously, one should not go to the other extreme in the form of wasting resources either. but the minimum necessary resource with competences should be there. And the task of the CIO is to outline it and show it to the PM for joint decision-making.

And now for the fun part :)

What is the first thing to do?

According to the fundamentals of management science, in order for an employee to perform a task, the manager must:

  • Clearly formulate the task and the criteria for its solution
  • Ensure that the employee has correctly understood the essence of the task
  • Ensure that the employee has sufficient material and labour resources to complete the task
  • Ensure that the employee has sufficient knowledge to complete the task or knows where to obtain the missing knowledge.
  • Ensure that the employee has enough time to complete the task 
  • Ensure that the employee has enough time to complete the task

In addition, you can also familiarise yourself with the employee's sequence of activities and work plan. And do this regularly, for example, to monitor progress.

The same thing works in our case:

  • First of all, make sure that you yourself understand what digitalisation tasks you want to achieve in the company. And how you will realise that your tasks have been achieved. If you lack the competences or experience to do this, contact experts who can help you.
  • Next, you need to formulate an IT strategy for the company. To do this, you must have a business development strategy at all, because the IT strategy must be aligned with it. If you don't have an understanding of how to do this, ask the experts. I'm going to say a bit of a red flag here, but actually your business IT strategy should not depend on your CIO. The CIO is responsible for implementing it, but doesn't necessarily shape it.

Then you need to make sure that your CIO has the technical, organisational, personal skills and experience to implement that IT strategy. And if not, decide whether to teach or change.

And then, together with the CIO at the stage of forming the resource plan, organisational structure, requirements to IT competences, make a decision on the compliance of the current IT teams or individual employees with this plan. And if there are problems with compliance, then either develop or change.

So, already answering the question in the title of the article:

  • First form the IT strategy (change it if necessary)

Then we build in a suitable IT director (if necessary, we change it).

  • And then structure the team (possibly with some changes).

In the tables above I didn't aim to reveal absolutely all the reasons why the IT function may fail to fulfill its duties and meet the expectations of the company's management, they are many times more than the ones I gave as an example. I just wanted to show that more often than not, your CIO needs help and support in solving the company's tasks. And if you give IT leaders this support for the sake of joint future achievements, you may not have to change them.

Therefore, before you start changes, think whether you have correctly identified the cause and whether you are solving the problem at the moment.

As the saying goes, «The main thing in the process of investigation is not to go out on your own».

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