Perhaps the most exciting (and challenging) aspect of working in a progressive IT organization is the pace of technological change. It requires that IT staff — and our customers — are continuously learning. Managing this rapid change and fostering innovation while "keeping the trains running on time" is the primary leadership role required of any CIO, new or old. I fundamentally believe that these need not be mutually exclusive goals. As I approach my own new role as CIO at Harvard Business School, I'm focused on promoting a culture that provides the highest levels of service quality while enabling true agility and innovation. These are core tenets that all CIOs need to hold close. The following are a few key areas on which I've focused in my first 90 days that I think would be valuable for other new CIOs to consider as they plan for their own organizations' future:
Create a Sound Service and Project Management Framework
In your initial days and weeks as the new CIO, it will be imperative to determine whether your organization has a sound strategy for increasing efficiency, service quality, and transparency for your community. Today's IT consumers understandably expect to receive the highest levels of service and the best-suited solutions for their unique goals and day-to-day activities. To meet these objectives within our organization at HBS, we are initiating a replacement of the myriad disparate platforms currently utilized to provide support and are pursuing a comprehensive IT Service Management (ITSM) strategy based upon the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) international framework. This includes a wholesale migration of our many support applications to a unified cloud-based platform. These changes must be made with the goal of preserving and enhancing the aspects of the organization's service culture that are most valued by the user population. At HBS this means we'll leverage new analytics and integrated work flow capabilities to improve our already high levels of support to the community. I am confident from my own experience that this fundamental realignment of our support infrastructure will yield a significant positive impact to the user community.
In today's complex and increasingly heterogeneous technology environment, it is also critical to integrate a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) strategy that aligns project lifecycles from concept through development and finally to support and continuous enhancement. Our Project Management Office is therefore enthusiastically pursuing new PPM capabilities that will enhance the transparency of our decision making processes. This will allow us to most effectively allocate resources to the most strategic and innovation-focused initiatives.
In the first 90 days of a new CIO role, I would strongly encourage my counterparts to develop a plan for service delivery and portfolio management that emphasizes transparency and directly supports your institution's unique governance processes.
Generate Room for Innovation
In addition to service improvement efforts, new CIOs should also continuously review which information services are "core" versus "strategic." It's a key responsibility of IT to effectively architect and operate core services such as email and content management systems; however, these systems are unlikely to distinguish one organization from the next. At HBS, we will therefore seek to most effectively run or push non-strategic systems to the cloud — recognizing that yesterday's strategic service may be today's baseline offering. Taking this approach will allow the organization to free up existing resources that can be redistributed to serve new strategic and distinguishing priorities.
Know Your Community's Needs and Cater Your Strategy Accordingly
At HBS, IT's role is to support the school's mission to educate leaders who will make a difference in the world. It is therefore critical that we facilitate the enrichment of our students' learning experience consistent with the mission's ambition. This requires providing outstanding classroom technology, an integrated and differentiated online learning ecosystem, innovative academic applications, and rich content delivered via a multitude of channels, including social media and mobile apps. To do this, our Information Technology Group must engage with our key constituencies — faculty, students, and alumni — to best enable their innovative and experimental use of technology. Additionally, we must support the research needs of our faculty by ensuring that we're providing world-class technological research capabilities. The lesson here for new CIOs, in Higher Ed or elsewhere, is to know your audience and know them well. Fostering relationships with your end-users and continually learning from them and their needs will allow you to more strategically align your IT delivery with what your end-users truly need.
Be Your Organization's IT Visionary
It is also incumbent upon CIOs and IT organizations to stay on top of new and emerging technologies — to "skate to where the puck is going to be," in the oft-quoted words of Wayne Gretzky. This requires us to be knowledgeable of and experienced with the latest technologies and trends while fostering an internal culture of innovation. Similarly, we must establish effective methods to further leverage the creative vision and knowledge of our end-users. At HBS this certainly includes directly engaging our students to capture their creative ideas on how to best meet their needs both in and out of the classroom. In other words, our goal as CIOs is to create a virtuous feedback mechanism that results in exceptional outcomes for our respective businesses. This requires a thoughtful strategy that accelerates action, rather than introduces friction. It also requires us to learn from the organization's past successes and failures in developing a rich portfolio of tools that's strategically aligned to the community's needs. At HBS, this means delivering unique learning applications and rich courseware, and efficiently driving administrative applications that will enhance teaching, learning and working at the school. I encourage all new CIOs to thoughtfully and strategically engage your users with the specific goal of aligning the IT organization's vision with their needs and aspirations.
Set a Strategic Vision
New CIOs need to hit the pavement early in their tenures to begin fostering relationships with key stakeholders across their organizations. Personally, I've been enthused by the engagement levels I have already received from faculty and staff during my first several weeks on the job. Gaining this insight from stakeholders will be instrumental in developing a new strategic plan for your IT organization — which is a goal of mine by the end of this calendar year. I have also found that surveying your community can be an effective way to assess current services while simultaneously identifying new priorities.
I suggest all new CIOs consider drafting a vision of this nature in their first six to nine months, or at a minimum, consider adapting what is already in place to ensure strategic alignment with the organization.
Lead with Passion
Determining how to harness and leverage the unique cultural DNA of both your new IT organization and the user community is imperative for any new CIO. I took the CIO position at HBS because of a deep attachment to the school and a strong belief in its strategic mission. All new CIOs should seek to tap into a similar personal passion in their own organizations.
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