Top 10 areas that CIOs needs to focus on for 2010

When image is everything, what areas should CIOs set their sights on?

I speak to executives from all over the world and the question I've been asked a lot in the past two months is “Larry, how can I improve our image?”   Image is everything, I tell my customers, and it is a reflection on your management style. It makes no difference if you are a CIO or in sales, whatever your area your work is a reflection on you and your skills. Given this, I've come up with a list of the Top 10 Areas That CIO should focus on in 2010 to improve their images, and ultimately, their departments.

So here is my list, in David Letterman style.

10. Enlist an executive consultant to the CIO

                I need to start with a disclaimer. I have been asked by various companies in the last year to be what I'll call an executive consultant. The experience has made me think that every CIO or IT executive could benefit from access to an outside point of view, be it a hired position or one made up a volunteer, outside advisor. Such a person brings a fresh outlook, a polished reasoning for ROI and can provide trusted recommendations. Many executives I have talked to and worked with have really enjoyed an outsider’s view as they will tell you what your staff will not. They also realize that ideas have to be pratical given the money and staffing problems that every department faces for its projects. A VP of IT that I worked with last month told me I was the first person not to lie to him about what they were doing. Everyone else just wanted the work and wanted to please him. While the truth sometimes hurts but it is always the best.

9.  Hold regularly scheduled strategic planning sessions

               Though no one likes to admit they are buying a product because of peer pressure, I see that situation happening a lot. Strategic planning allows a company to plan for multiple projects and emerging technologies, this includes evaluations, testing and return on investment talks with the vendor. Strategic planning allows you to be more objective, rather than buying the wares of the market's100-pound gorilla, or from vendors that will call your boss if you buy anything else.

                I tell CIOs this simple rule: if you cannot see a good ROI, then don’t buy it, with the exception being old, unsupported gear (get rid of that). People need to be show the value with the numbers; these numbers can be equipment related, workforce productivity or even staff reductions. But if you always make the best choice based on performance for your company and the ROI, you will be surprised at the kinds of products you will, and will not, include in your strategic plan.

8.  Think security and privacy for IT operations

                Basic IT security controls doesn't does take that much effort, but many companies still don't do it. While you know that giving one person access to all of the secrets and passwords is not the way to go, no matter how much you trust him/her, this still happens all the time. CIOs need to take the top level passwords and put them in a lock box so they are safe and no one in the staff knows them.

                Full Disk Encryption on desktops and laptops is needed in all companies along with secure dvd/cd’s and usb encryption. How many companies do not spend the money to take these kinds of security precautions and then are on the news after a huge data lose? If you don’t want to be the next CIO in the news spend the money and do this. One CIO told me it was a tenth the cost of what they had to pay after the data loss.

7.  Consider desktop video or Telepresence

                Since you know I sell this stuff, you know how I feel about it: it is really time for companies to get into the videoconferencing revolution. This can be at the desktop or a conference room. I believe the desktop will be the fastest growing segment next year. Allowing employees to talk to other workers and customer at their desk will be the trend. But companies don’t need to spend 250k for a Telepresence room. There are now solutions that provide this service at half or less the cost.

6.  Monitor the performance of your external Web services

                When image is everything, you need to make sure your customer-facing applications and your own web site are fast. Bandwidth from your local telco is not the solution as most companies use only 60% of bandwidth in the Internet pipe due to TCP limitations. If you haven't explored the many companies with appliances or services that can speed up your Web site, customer applications, video and other downloads, it's time to look. This is such a simple thing for every company to do and is more affordable than ever. Take a look at some of these companies and do an evaluation, see if you can speed up your Web site.

5.  Look again at the ROI for WAN acceleration

                VOIP, unified communications, storage, video are all segments that offer good ROI, but in my opinion WAN acceleration tops them all (disclaimer, my company sells WAN acceleration gear). There are many companies who provide WAN acceleration products and it is best to do a thorough in-house evaluation of them before you buy. While price is important, don't be fooled by pricing strategy tricks, such as a vendor giving the product away or offering it at 50% off.  Mobile is often another area in WAN acceleration is gaining ground and providing a good ROI for customer. When you can speed up mobile workers and reduce bandwidth they work better and faster. It can also save you money on 3G cards and overage charges. So consider the big picture and then test, test, test before you buy.

4.  Beware a reputation for outsourcing jobs

                It is my heartfelt opinion that the worst thing a CIO can do for his/her image in these times it so cut jobs and outsource them to another country or hire workers from other countries on a visa. I have seen many CIO’s who have done this and then moved on to another company, it does not send a good message to employees if you have a reputation like that. It is really time for executives to hire American workers or they might start losing American business.

3.  Be open to the staffing re-organization

                While you know that hiring the right people for the right jobs is very important and something every CIO should do, sometimes you don't know how things fit until after employees have been at work for a while. Look at it your staff for the New Year. If you don’t have the right person in the right job make a change. Your staff needs to do what is right for you and the company and not what is right for their next job. Many employees welcome the opportunity to move to new jobs within the department, so sometimes small changes can have a big effect. If you need to leave a key job vacant until you find the right match, consider hiring a consultant or temp worker for an interim while you search.

2. Be open when considering vendor selection

                I recently went into the office of a new CIO of a very large company. They had a name plaque on their desk that said ABC (Anything But Cisco). I was told they had always purchased Cisco at the company before and did not always need to do that. They were going to bring a new climate to the company in that they would look at all vendors based on who was best, not who had the biggest discount.

                With that they started to do full evaluation on all purchases no matter if it was for routers, switches, storage or other products. Just by doing this they have two new vendors already in the network with better ROI’s than the old vendor. I'm not advising that you don't choose your existing vendors -- just that you stay open. Having a mix of vendors gives you better negotiating power, too.

1. Your consultants and other partners should be easy to work with

                The choice in partners when it comes to an IT decisions is either hard or easy depending on who you meet first. If you meet a partner who will not lie to you and provides great service with great pricing it is an easy decision. But if you get sucked into a bad partner choice in the beginning it can be hard and cost you money. All CIO’s should have a partner who understands not just your technology but but business drivers of what you are selling. On the other hand, the partner needs to be easy to work with too. If the partner needs to have four or more people to explain their services and business proposition, find a new partner.

                It is my philosophy as a consultant that too many of us try to do 100 things and wind up doing none of them great. A consulting company that does fewer things, but can prove they do them well, will serve customers better. The relationship you have with your partner will make or break you. You want the consultant that can make the decision on the phone with you and does not need to call other people then take hours or days to get back with you.

I asked a few people for comments to add to this blog and below are two of the better ones I received.

Joel Spieth

VP, Nationwide Insurance,  IT Operations

1) Ensure that you understand what your customers are asking of the team. What needs are not being addressed? What opportunities have been missed? Then create clear strategies to progressively improve in these areas and ensure that you have a solid communications plan to keep your stakeholders posted on your progress. So, one of the first steps of improving the image is to spend time listening so that you can craft a solid go-forward plan.

2) Begin managing with metrics. The metrics should be clear and make sense to your customers. Without the metrics, it will be very hard to be objective and you'll spend time dealing with emotion vs facts.

Stephen R. Smoot, PhD

VP, Technical Operations,  Riverbed

The best new year’s resolution is to deeply understand your costs.  ROI is a religion to some, vague hint to others, but in these times you really need to understand how your capex/opex flow out.  This may reveal you're blowing money on remote servers (an issue dear to Riverbed's heart - use wan optimization instead), or really should drop the old expense system that burns everyone's time in the company.  It's only by really understanding how people spend their time and expense that you can optimize IT correctly.

I hope that these area and ideas will help you all in the New Year.

Larry

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