Tech & Work

CIOs share wisdom and experiences in a unique collaborative effort

Who better than CIOs to write about CIO issues? That's what one CIO realized when he initiated a literary project to provide IT executive insight. The book's mission is to raise IT's respect level and provide helpful experiences and lessons learned.


When Dean Lane decided to write a book providing CIO wisdom he went to the obvious experts—CIOs. He was initially concerned that time constraints would make finding co-authors difficult, but it turned out to be a non-issue. The 14 CIOs involved don’t have much free time, but they all felt the opportunity to share their experiences was extremely worthwhile.

CIO Wisdom, which is set for publication this spring, has a hefty goal—the book is an attempt to define the mission of CIOs and their departments to outsiders, provide novice IT workers with a realistic view of the life of a CIO, and help current CIOs deal more constructively with the pressures and challenges of the job.

The book’s germination
The genesis of the book was Lane’s belief that IT departments don’t sit as high on the corporate totem pole as other mission-critical departments, such as sales and marketing, finance, and engineering. The author believes the second banana status is not proper, yet he doesn’t place blame anywhere but within the IT unit.

“It’s our fault,” said Lane, senior director of information technology for Symantec Corp., an Internet security firm.

“The IT profession does not do a good enough job of making people understand. They know IT is important—don’t get me wrong—but they don’t understand it.”

The book was co-authored by members involved in the Community of Practice, an association of Silicon Valley CIOs. It’s scheduled to be published in March by Prentice Hall PTR in conjunction with The Harris Kern Enterprise Computing Institute and will sell for $39.99. Lane said profits will support a scholarship program aimed at encouraging underprivileged students interested in working in IT.

A collaborative effort
Lane initially conceived the project about a year ago, and he and the Community of Practice members spent the spring mapping out the book’s focus and how to solicit contributions.

“When I decided to do this, I came up with a list of topics,” Lane said. “Like everything else, you have to validate whether it a good list or a bad list. I talked to individual CIOs and the thing that was surprising was how they took to the concept of doing the book. This thing was ripped away from me rather quickly and become `our project,’ not `Dean’s project.’ If I had to describe it in one word, it’s `collaborative.’”

Lane approached specific executives to contribute content relating to their expertise, and many co-authors were given the opportunity to choose a chapter topic. Several also collaborated on various chapters.

The chapters touch on a wide variety of issues and topics: leadership/management, communication, sourcing, and internal marketing. Each chapter begins with a real-life anecdote.

Lane’s chapter and personal anecdote deal with the first three months in the job. He describes settling into a new CIO role and handling his first crisis:

I have just started my new CIO job and settled into my large corner office with a great view of the water. The recent job search was a long one, almost 6 months, as the job market was more competitive due to the demise of the Internet. I was able to negotiate a good package and was confident this was the right company for me to make a difference and have a real impact on the business.

The phone rang and it was my boss who wanted to discuss a few issues we did not have a chance to discuss during the interview process. On the way to his office my operations manager stopped by to let me know that our ERP system had just crashed, and although they were not sure what happened, they were working hard to bring the system back online. My boss started out by welcoming me to the company and mentioning how happy he was to have me on board. He then mentioned that we had a security breach last week and the board of directors would like me to present my recommendation at their next meeting the following week. He also mentioned that we were spending way too much on IT and he would like my recommendations on how we can cut the budget by 20%. On the way back to my office I ran into my applications manager who gave me his resignation as he was upset on not being considered for my job and had found another job.

The question at this point is what am I going to do. The honeymoon just ended and the perfect job is now looking somewhat different from what I had expected. The bottom line is that the company hired me because they had some problems and it is up to me to turn the situation around.”

Each chapter's author provides insight and advice relating to his or her specific experiences. For example, here's what Lane wrote:

The first 90 days is the most important period in your career at a new company. You need to quickly assess the current situation and develop a corrective plan. You can also develop a strategic plan in this time frame as management does not expect a large number of improvements to be accomplished during this time frame. It is a great opportunity to establish a strong rapport with the management of the new company and create a positive first impression.

The rest of the chapter explores creating a 90-day tactical plan and conducting an IT organizational review and an IT strategic plan.

A platform for everyone
Judy Armstrong, author of the chapter “Women CIOs,” was glad to have a platform to discuss working in a professional world dominated by men.

“It [writing the chapter] was a very fun and interesting experience,” said the CIO of Benchmark Capital, a venture capital firm. “I was very keenly interested in making sure women who want to move up in the ranks in IT understand what it is to be in the role of the CIO.” Her advice is to build strong alliances with men who are influential in the organization.

The chapter evolved out of what was to be Armstrong’s contribution to content focusing on the many types of CIOs. At first, she was concerned about creating compelling content. Her worries proved unfounded.

“I was…concerned that I might not be able to write a chapter interesting to other people. That was the challenge to me. People read it through and felt it should stand on its own.”

Lane and Armstrong are optimistic that the project will fulfill the mission set for it by The Community of Practice. They also say that it was a rewarding project with which to be involved.

“It was a fascinating experience to see this many people pull together and actually write a book, and that it made sense,” Armstrong said.

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