One CIO makes the move to IT consultant

When one TechRepublic member left the executive ranks of a large healthcare corporation for independent consulting, he felt well prepared for the challenges of his new role. Read ahead to find out what this former CIO encountered during this dramatic shift in his career.

When TechRepublic member Mike Sisco’s son was badly injured in an automobile accident eight years ago, it became important for Mike to be closer to home to support his family. While he found his role as CIO challenging and exciting, being there for his son and wife was always Mike’s first priority.

So, he shed his CIO title and now runs independent consulting firm MDE Enterprises in Roswell, GA. For Mike, the numerous lessons he learned in his executive career have proven to be invaluable assets in consulting. In this article, Mike shares some of his thoughts and experiences concerning the transition from CIO to IT consultant.
Vital statistics

Name: Mike Sisco
Title: Independent IT consultant
Company: MDE Enterprises
Years in IT: 30

Most interesting job: IBM Systems Engineer
Certifications: Bachelor of Science in Accounting; Business Administration
Home page on personal browser: d, an Internet shopping business owned by Mike's wife
Favorite TechRepublic features: The CIO community, tips, and proven successes from TechRepublic members
Hobbies: Golf

TechRepublic: What is it that you do as a consultant?
Sisco: My company provides four services:
  • ·        Technology consulting
  • ·        Development and sale of IT management publications
  • ·        Web site design and hosting for small business
  • ·        Operation of a family-owned Internet shopping Web site (

My expertise is going into a company and assessing the IT situation very quickly. It’s a skill that I developed by performing the technology due diligence in more than 30 company acquisitions. I do not approach an assessment by going to IT first. They are actually the third group I get to. I understand senior management issues first—what they are planning to do and how they plan to grow…. Then, I take a look at the customer (could be internal departments that IT is supporting, or it could be an external client). [I try to identify] what the “client” is trying to accomplish, their IT needs, and their perception of IT. Finally, I go talk to IT.

TechRepublic: Your proficiency at assessment—is that something you have developed through your experience as a CIO and an IT manager over the years?
Sisco: Yes…. I simply [ask questions until I can] discover what the issues are and determine what the real priorities need to be. After the assessment, I typically develop an immediate 60- to 90-day plan that will lead to and support a longer-term strategic plan. Knowing where the company wants to be in the future is the key…to develop any viable plan.

TechRepublic: And how do you focus in and define an organization’s priorities?
Sisco: Too many times…the IT group is working really hard, and they have very sharp people, but they are out of sync with the company and client/department objectives and needs…. I have developed a hierarchy of layers that I use to develop my priorities. These layers form a foundation that you can build upon. The layers that I use are:
  • ·        Assessment
  • ·        Staffing, Change Management Process, Project Management Process
  • ·        Infrastructure Strategy
  • ·        Business Applications Strategy
  • ·        Strategic Projects

TechRepublic: So your “focus” is on the business drivers first—that’s why you look at IT last.
Sisco: Exactly. A CIO’s IT plan has to be driven by the needs of his company and client; not by an “IT agenda.” When I was CIO of a company in the early 1990s, we grew that company from $30 million to about $700 million in revenue. We grew our business through acquisitions of other companies. As the head of the IT organization, I always performed the IT due diligence for the 35 or so company acquisitions. The technology situation of each acquired company has a unique personality and set of issues. I learned quickly that I had to interpret the business drivers first and relate them to the acquired company technology priorities to achieve the success we wanted.

TechRepublic: So that experience was a crash course in understanding the business drivers of organizations?
Sisco: Yes, and after we bought the companies, I had to develop the plan to assimilate them into our company. Part of my plan usually included eliminating their technology and converting them to ours.

TechRepublic: Comparing your CIO experiences with those as a consultant, have you encountered different challenges? Do you exercise different skills?
Sisco: Somewhat. As an independent consultant, you have to manage your time very carefully. It is really easy to get involved in trying to help people that don’t contribute to your own goals and objectives. If you are not careful, you can spend a lot of time that you won’t be paid for.

TechRepublic: How do the time demands differ?
Sisco: You have to be prepared for a lot more effort. You don’t have a secretary anymore, so when you develop letters for your network, for example, you do all the work yourself or you pay for it to be done. Typically, if you are just starting out,you tend to do most of it yourself. Or at least I did.

TechRepublic: So is it fair to say that the two greatest shocks are time management and dealing with less resources?
Sisco: Yes. I think a third—especially for a CIO-level person like myself—would be in the area of selling.I think I am an excellent internal salesman within a company, but I am a poor external salesman. In other words, I have found going out and pushing my services to people I don’t know to be difficult. But I love selling IT strategy on things that need to be done within a company. That is a lot of fun.
Another part that I miss is the opportunity to motivate an organization and to help them see the difference when their organization succeeds. It’s a major boost to be a part of developing others in their pursuit of career success.

TechRepublic: Do you think that any CIO could make the transition to consultant with relative ease?
Sisco: No. A lot [of success as a consultant] has to do with whether or not [you are] self-disciplined enough to get up every morning and “get after it.” When you are working at home, it is pretty easy to get out of that mode, and not everyone has the discipline to stay focused on his or her objectives. I think most people need the structure [of working for an organization].

TechRepublic: Are there any resources that you found helpful in making your transition? Any Web sites? Any contacts that made the switch more fluid for you?
Sisco: I have… [met] a lot of very strong people over the years. So what I have done more than ever before is network with those resources. Many of them were counterparts. Some were former managers that worked for me. Many of those resources have actually contributed unknowingly to my ultimate business plan simply by providing me input to the ideas I would explore with them. Having a good network is not only valuable—it’s necessary.
My success as a CIO has been due to a strong focus on doing the [right] things…for the company and its clients, using proven change-management processes, and instilling a sense of teamwork and client service in the organizations that I have built. All of those skill attributes are just as important in a consulting role.
My success as a CIO has been due to a strong focus on doing the [right] things for the company and its clients, using proven change-management processes, and instilling a sense of teamwork and client service in the organizations that I have built. All of those skill attributes are just as important in a consulting role.
The opportunity to help other IT managers (or hopeful managers) improve their IT management skills is of special interest to me. The growth in technology needs has catapulted many excellent technical resources into management responsibilities with very little understanding of what it takes to manage IT resources successfully. I am in the process of writing a series of ten publications that focuses on what I consider the key attributes necessary to perform successfully when one manages an IT organization. No theory, just proven approaches that have served me well over more than 25 years of managing technical resources.

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