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Why every CIO needs to be a hands-on leader to succeed

Christopher C. Barron | Dec. 21, 2016
In previous years, a hands-on designation meant practitioner, not leader. In not understanding how to embrace more direct participation, CIOs fear being branded as tactical. Yet hands-on IT executives are now getting the choice career opportunities.

So, if the CIO must be hands-on, where is the best place to start? The answer brings us to the first area of opportunity.

Start with the basics

It is natural to overlook desktop infrastructure because for over 10 years, few people in business have consider it strategic. Yet, the desktop environment, now referred to as the “user experience”, has been changing drastically. Vendors like Citrix, VMWare, and MobileIron have been creating virtual desktops for over five years. Unlike the past where a physical computer was required to power an employee’s desktop, these solutions emulate it to the point that it appears to be local, although it is actually on a server someplace distant from the user. These new technologies have made managing the desktop an exercise in application provisioning. Now, Amazon Web Services has gone even farther by creating a wholly cloud-based approach to providing desktops, going so far as to coin a new term – Desktop as a Service (DaaS).

Establishing and managing the user experience has completely changed in just a few years. A senior IT leader would be well-served to become an expert in these new technologies. It’s a great way to show a dedication to hands-on expertise without the need to become a helpdesk technician.

Deconstruct the past to build the future

If you looked at the job descriptions and expectations for CIOs of the past, almost all of them required the incumbent to be a master builder. A person had to know how build and manage data centers, buy hardware – large and small, and be a virtuoso of disaster and business continuity plans. Today, the cost savings, let alone the flexibility, of utilizing cloud resources for almost everything is just too hard to ignore. While vexing to consider for veteran CIOs, the epic of building physical empires within IT has passed. But this change represents a tremendous opportunity for even the most strategic IT leader to get into the trenches in a meaningful way. By going through data centers, CIOs can be on the frontlines of shutting them down. Who better to lead, firsthand, the migration into the cloud of an entire physical data center than the very person that was responsible for building it? Not only is the decommissioning of a data center a great way for a CIO to provide tactical value, it is also a shining example of the ability to cut costs in a major way without sacrificing service.

Win the game before it starts

There is another way for a CIO to create big, tactical wins without ever laying hands on a single piece of equipment. The advent of the cloud era offers so much, but only if you know how to use it. Whether the goal is to virtualize storage, move on premise systems to a SaaS model, or reduce the size and scope of infrastructure, it all begins with a contract. All the major cloud vendors already have their systems in place. This means that they have committed their own investment dollars to hardware and software hoping that you, the customer, will choose to spend with them. When you come to the bargaining table, this fact gives you tremendous leverage. The vendor is already committed; you are not. Knowing that the person sitting across from you at the negotiation table is being pressured to sell a “good” already manufactured gives you an advantage. That is, if you can recognize the situation and your position in it.


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