What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO

Brien Posey, Freelance Writer and Former CIO | 4/25/2013 | 13 comments

Brien Posey
[Editor's Note: This is part of a new series written by CIOs discussing their thought processes and lessons learned from major events in their tenures as CIO. Tomorrow we will print a companion blog to this one on lessons learned after this event. We will print similar stories on this and other topics by many CIOs who write for E2.]

I have to admit that I had a good laugh when I was asked to write about what I was thinking on my first day as a CIO. Honestly, my mind was racing, and I had a lot of different thoughts. Some of those thoughts are probably things that I shouldn't put into print.

In all seriousness though, my first thought was probably to celebrate. Anyone who has ever been a CIO knows how much work it takes to get to that point. Being hired as a CIO felt like an acknowledgment of all of my hard work.

As strange as it may sound, I went in on the first day without a clear understanding of exactly what I would be doing. Most of the higher-level executives at the organization where I had been hired were not exactly technically savvy. To them, doing my job well meant that they never had to hear about anything related to IT. I was given one simple directive -- keep everything working and look for ways to improve what we already had.

That was a vague directive to say the least, but it still gave me plenty to go on. I had assumed that there would be a staff meeting on the first day in which past problems would be discussed, along with ideas for the future. That meeting never happened. Instead, the CEO's secretary showed me to my office, handed me an envelope with the various system passwords, and wished me good luck.

As the secretary headed out the door, I asked her when I would be meeting my staff. I was told that I was the only person in IT with an office at the corporate headquarters. Everyone who worked for me resided at the various facilities that we oversaw. When I asked about the location of those facilities, I was told that the envelope that I had been handed contained contact information for a consultant who had done some work for the company. This consultant knew all of the facility locations and most of the IT staff. I was told to call the consulting firm and arrange for them to give me a tour of the various facilities. I was also told that some of the facilities had relatively small IT departments and to feel free to use consultants to supplement the existing staff.

That simple, two-minute conversation turned my first day completely upside down. At this point, I figured that I had better come up with a new game plan, and fast. After all, the organization wasn't paying me to sit in my office and stare at the ceiling. My new game plan consisted of setting up an appointment with the consulting firm, and using the passwords that I had been given to start familiarizing myself with the various systems.

I wasn't able to accomplish a lot until after I got to meet with the consultant a few days later, but a look around the system was surprisingly revealing. Even though I had not yet been briefed on overall server infrastructure, I was able to tell a lot just by looking at things like how Windows was configured and what software versions were in use, and that gave me some ideas for modernizing the organization. Even the Active Directory structure gave me some ideas for how things could be improved.

Needless to say, my first day as a CIO was absolutely nothing like what I would have expected. Looking back many years later, I still catch myself thinking, "Wow, that was strange." Even so, I managed to cope with the adversity of the situation and felt completely at home within a week or two.

Come back tomorrow to see how I put those first weird days to good use and what I've learned since.

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MDMConsult   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   5/6/2013 11:53:17 AM
Re: new CIO new challenges
Agreed. With such innovative analytics as well the growth in cloud, today's CIO will continuously seek innovative ways to drive cost savings from their operating budgets. The fact that some CIOs today still report to the CFO or COO accounts for a big part of the explanation. The CFO's role is typically a supporter function to the rest of the organization. The CIO reporting to the CFO is therefore an extension of this supporter role. According to Gartner, for the last decade, approximately 40% of CIOs report to the CEO, 30% to the COO, and 20% to the CFO. With the rise in digital competition strategy and technology focus in management should not lose such value.
soozyg   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   5/6/2013 10:16:14 AM
tummy ache
I admit that I would be uncomfortable walking into such a disjointed and unclear situation. Communication is in my blood and seeing such a big lack of communication would give me a tummy ache. It would be even more amusing if you got appointed to this position after a strenuous interview as is being discussed at the latest Geekend article.
Susan Nunziata   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   4/30/2013 12:34:12 AM
Re: new CIO new challenges
@kichecko: yes, it's also true that the era of entrepreneuship has bred that kind of rapid decision-making. There does need to be a balance though, it's not sustainable to work in triage mode for the long haul. 
kicheko   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   4/30/2013 12:24:01 AM
Re: new CIO new challenges
New age leaders generally have had to have this flexibility thing and quick adaptation. They make decisions in the snap of a finger with minimal bureaucracy. can be good or bad though i think its mostly a useful thing in IT environments.
Susan Nunziata   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   4/29/2013 10:21:16 PM
Re: new CIO new challenges
@Kichecko: that's an excellent point, and a good thing for anyone who aspires to be CIO to bear in mind. Agile thinking, flexibility and the ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment: these are all the qualities I see as needed based on Brien's story.
David Wagner   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   4/29/2013 2:18:59 AM
Re: Thats exactly how I also felt !!
@tekedge- So true. I think we all start a new job expecting a warm reception and it never works that way. Everyone there still has to do their job.

At my first job as an editor, i had to clean out my office before i couls start working. It had become a storage room. it took me half the day before i typed a single word. :)
David Wagner   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   4/29/2013 2:16:12 AM
Re: You'd be
@Rich- I think you are right. Interesting enough, I believe I read that the reason he took that job over others a oung boy could get is that it gave him free admission to the theater and he liked Shakespeare.

This is why i took the job scraping bubble gum off the seats but it didn't make me wealthy...just sticky.
Umair Ahmed   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   4/28/2013 2:16:57 PM
Re: Thats exactly how I also felt !!
Interesting post, Brien. Moving to a new position is always challenging particularly when there is no one to brief you the systems & structure and your staff is located at remote destinations. Would like to hear more about your experience of effectively overcoming the system and attitude of rest of the C-Suite.
kicheko   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   4/26/2013 4:53:57 PM
Re: new CIO new challenges
Great story i agree.

@Brien, Was totally curious about how you made that work. But now that i think of it, in many case studies i have read about, by the time a compay goes to hire a CIO, they are usually doing badly in the IT section and have identified that it is their single deepest point of need. The first CIO never has an easy time.
Susan Nunziata   What I Was Thinking... on My First Day as CIO   4/26/2013 12:21:36 AM
Re: new CIO new challenges
@Brien, @Pedro: I agree! Great story Brien, thanks for sharing your experiences with us. This is nothing like what I would have envisioned for someone walking in the door as a CIO. Talk about a sink-or-swim situation.

Although, I guess, your ability to swim where others sink is probably an invaluable and necessary skill for anyone who is aiming to become a CIO.
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