Feature

Editor's Letter: Navigating Change in IT

Whether in the public or the private sector, the changing of the guard is an exciting and anxious time. We've all been there: new governor, new CEO, new boss. The fresh-faced knight strides in full of confidence, ready to cure all ills with his visionary agenda. Ideas flow while he surveys his kingdom, forming his plan of attack. Then change begins.

The IT units in the state of Utah have seen this happen with some regularity. As Michael Ybarra reports in "Utah's Centralizer," in the space of four years, three CIOs came and went. Most didn't arrive with grand plans to recast computing for the Industry State, however; they couldn't. The CIO there had no actual power, and each of the state's 24 agencies had its own IT fiefdom. Achieving buy-in from the labyrinth of stakeholders was next to impossible.

But that changed when a new governor swept in and the legislature mandated IT centralization, with the CIO atop a pyramid and all of IT reporting to him. Despite a loss of autonomy for the agency, the new structure has ardent fans. "We get a broader view and better standards," says Phil Bates, director of IT for the Department of Public Safety. He used to report to the head of his agency but now reports to the new CIO, J. Stephen Fletcher.

That's not to say that all of this change was easy; imagine being an employee in one of the 35 data centers when the news came down that all the boxes were moving to one place. Yet unification was a step in achieving the vision of "an organization with defined processes and methodology and output, no matter who the governor or CIO is."

Consistency is a guiding principle for IT at the Peace Corps too. The independent federal agency is both challenged and empowered by a turnover policy that mandates maximum five-year terms, as Joan Indiana Rigdon reports in "Stand and Deliver."

Even if you consider that tenure to be on the high end for CIOs, it still means managing annual turnover of 20% and creating systems that enable a seamless handoff. The upside: an inflow of fresh ideas, many of them from volunteers who have served tours of duty in the field.

Of course, any idea requires sensitivity to the reaction it's likely to elicit from those charged with implementing it. As Angie O'Donnell writes in her Executive Coach column, knowing how to manage the human side of the workplace is critical to executive success. Emotional intelligence can also help you inspire others, creating an environment in which your staff and colleagues will thrive.

Good people management also means making people feel valued, and what better way to do that than by trumpeting your success? As Thornton May writes in his second installment on IT marketing (CIO Habitat), effective marketing of IT boosts morale in the department and explains to users what you've done for them lately.

Yet it's also true that if your group's brand, like one Habitat respondent's, is "adequate enabler" rather than "trusted partner," no amount of marketing will endear you to customers. (Cingular can tell me all it wants that it has the fewest dropped calls of any carrier, but when I lose connections several times a day, I'm no happy camper.) If that's the case at your organization, it's time for new ideas. Could change be your brand?

Anne McCrory is editorial director of CIO Decisions and the CIO Decisions conference. Write to her at amccrory@ciodecisions.com.

This was first published in February 2007

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