One CIO's Keys to Getting Buy-In

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 11/8/2012 | 6 comments

Sara Peters
Sid Hodgson is no stranger to pushback on projects. How this education CIO deals with them is a lesson for everyone in IT management.

He got pushback when he wanted to support more mobile devices. He got pushback when he wanted to adopt an agile development process. He got pushback when he wanted to devote money to staff training. He got pushback when he wanted to move to a managed print service instead of having more printers than people. Yet somehow, by using better communication and better project management, Sid Hodgson, CIO of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), made all of those things happen.

"You have to do your homework and make sure you put together a convincing case," Hodgson told us. "When I started the job [two years ago], it was a very immature IT environment. Absolutely no governance whatsoever. So the first thing I did was create an IT steering committee."

That committee includes leaders from the IT development team and a diverse group of THECB deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners. The THECB is responsible for coordinating higher education programs in Texas. It approves any new curricula, programs, or facilities. It also administers research grants and a student loan program with a $1.1 billion portfolio. So it has many of the challenges of government, education, and financial services all wrapped into one. (Hodgson joked that he doesn't really have the usual government CIO's problem of a budget that could grow or shrink dramatically with each election. Since Rick Perry has basically been elected "governor for life," one can reliably predict the Texas education budget will continue to shrink.)

According to Hodgson, the best way to build a convincing case for a big IT project -- like initiating a BYOD policy or migrating to Office 365 -- is to get buy-in from all those disparate commissioners during steering committee meetings. However, what you do before the meeting is critical. Sure, go ahead and draft your formal proposal document to distribute at the big meeting -- but first have informal one-on-one conversations with some of the people who are going to be at that meeting.

"There's always one or two who argue for the sake of arguing, as it is with all committees," he said. "So make sure you have the key players on that group aboard before you take it to the committee. Have your allies lined up."

To make sure he always knows what the board's key players want, Hodgson added three essential people to his staff: his business relationship managers (BRMs). They are more like project managers, working as the nexus between the internal clients and the 33 IT staff members. They monitor the development process, report back to the client, and bring new proposals to the IT steering committee. "Some of our technical people get a little bent out of shape with the BRMs, but it's worked really well. We understand the viewpoints of our clients."

Hodgson also got pushback on the idea of creating the BRM position in the first place. "My boss thought it was a bad idea. Now he thinks it was a great idea."

In addition to the steering committee and the BRMs, I think it probably helps that Hodgson is from Montreal, because he can kill them with that famed Canadian kindness. He gave his departments friendlier names -- the IT Services department is now the Information Solution Services department, and the Quality Assurance department is now the Client Relations and Delivery Excellence department.

Whatever he's doing, it's working. This year, Hodgson and his team developed a BYOD policy that's been blessed by the legal and HR teams. They brought in a Six Sigma expert and entirely revamped the development process. Just this week, they finished migrating the last of their users to Office 365. Hodgson said the board's commissioner and the commissioner's direct staff were the last people to be migrated. ("We wanted to make sure it was working pretty damned well before we moved them over.") Next year, creating better metrics will be a major focus.

Do you think some of Hodgson's techniques could help make you a more effective CIO? What new projects do you think you could get approved if you created a steering committee, added more project managers to your staff, or grew up in Canada?

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Sara Peters   One CIO's Keys to Getting Buy-In   11/9/2012 10:56:58 AM
Re: Intermediaries=Success
@Saul  Oh that would be lovely, wouldn't it? But yes, I'm afraid that asking business people to study up on their technology is the kind of thing that only happens in fairy tales.
saulsherry   One CIO's Keys to Getting Buy-In   11/8/2012 6:33:37 PM
Re: Intermediaries=Success
@Sara Peters I suppose the hope that we reverse that statement and wish that ALL business people study up on their technology is a bit of a pipe dream. 
Sara Peters   One CIO's Keys to Getting Buy-In   11/8/2012 3:20:01 PM
Re: Intermediaries=Success
@CMTucker  Agreed!  "I would suggest that ALL technically proficient people study up on business."  Not only would it be beneficial in any tech person's current position, but it will be beneficial in getting a new job when your company decides to reorganize its IT department. I think that as a) IT becomes even more crucial to business, and b) more in-house IT operations get shifted to third-party services, superior business acumen and superior inter-personal skills become more valuable qualities for an IT staffer.
CMTucker   One CIO's Keys to Getting Buy-In   11/8/2012 12:52:07 PM
Re: Intermediaries=Success
@Sara the short answer is: Yes!

The clients aren't interested in anything that isn't framed as "what this will do for you." The management isn't interested in code, since they get nothing from staring at PHP or Java...or reviewing technical specifications. They just want it to work. I have found that mind mapping, visual flowcharts, and analogies work wonderfully. (Stories allow us to connect the dots, and can take a pretty complex idea and make it understandable).

And, I would suggest that ALL technically proficient people study up on business. There still remains a fundamental disconnect between those who work in jeans overnight and chug energy drinks...and those who wear suits and attend cocktail parties.

Two worlds that both sides could help to bridge. 
Sara Peters   One CIO's Keys to Getting Buy-In   11/8/2012 12:26:43 PM
Re: Intermediaries=Success
@CMTucker  "Making what you are doing less confusing (or boring) makes a big difference, so that all stake holders are on the same page."  :)  Makes sense... so how do you go about making things less boring? Do you focus more on the "what this tech will allow you to do" and less on the "how this tech works"? Pretty pictures with bright colors? Catchy jingles?
CMTucker   One CIO's Keys to Getting Buy-In   11/8/2012 12:21:18 PM
Yes I would have to agree with all of what Mr. Hodgson proposing. Using intermediaries to be the bridge between two (sometimes much) different camps works. I am currently involved with a project where I am basically an intermediary between vendors/contractors, management, and the clients. Making what you are doing less confusing (or boring) makes a big difference, so that all stake holders are on the same page. 

It's not perfect, but the idea of a steering committee as part of your PMO (Project Management Office) is a good one, Eh?

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