Are you an effective CIO?

Tuesday Sep 1st 1998 by Mark Clancy

The average tenure of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is less than five years. Take this quiz to determine if you are approaching the end of the road.

1. Which Year 2000 activities do you have planned for 1998 and 1999?

A. Cancel your New Year's Eve party in 1999 unless your current mantra is "testing, testing, and more testing." Most of the programming and system changes for Y2K should have been completed in 1997. Reserve the remainder of 1998 for testing and deployment, and reserve 1999 for liability issues and final readiness checks.

B. If your staff is still assessing the problem, polish your resume, pronto.

2. Name your favorite Web sites.

A. You should be conversant on Web issues, as well as be an active Web surfer and participant. CIOs who bank on-line, read trade journals, trade stocks, and order goods on the Web, get top marks.

B. If you think Amazon is just a river in South America or Yahoo is something to shout after getting your annual bonus, ask your youngest child for surfing lessons.

3. How many end users does your IT department support?

A. This is a trick question. Most CIOs will answer by reciting the number of employees in the organization. A visionary CIO will recognize that an extranet now extends corporate information systems to a variety of potential users--including customers, suppliers, investors, and employees. After focusing all IT resources internally for the last 30 years, organizations must now redirect these same resources externally.

B. If you're not convinced, look no further than world-class organizations such as Dell Computer ( and Cisco Systems (, which are already exploiting this radical redirection of resources. (See a related story on Cisco, "E-commerce poster child grows up," in August issue of PlugIn Datamation.)

4. What's your strategy for retaining your best people?

A. The importance of a human resource strategy for IT shouldn't be underestimated. This strategy shouldn't be floating around in your head either--make a document and publish it. Your IT professionals are in demand, and the only effective means to retain them is to have a strategy in place. Career development programs, stock options, employee recognition, and training can all have an impact on loyalty.

B. If you're not raiding other IT departments for talent, the odds are good that others are raiding yours.

5. Explain your company's outsourcing strategy.

A. Perfect outsourcing strategies don't exist, but as a CIO you should at least be able to articulate your organization's strategy. Be skeptical of extreme approaches--0 or 100% outsourcing models. Also, how often are new projects opened to a competitive bidding process? The best way to ensure that an outsourcer is not overcharging your organization is to have the company compete occasionally for new work and to insist on fixed-price contracts whenever possible.

B. If you're not extracting value from your outsourcing arrangement, don't be afraid to rethink your strategy. Outsourcing strategies are of equal importance to day-to-day outsourcing tactics.

6. What is your enterprise Internet strategy and how is your company addressing personalization?

A. Again, you should create and publish a document on this. If you have such a document, but it's dated 1995, be nervous. With Internet traffic doubling every 100 days, you can't ignore this phenomenon. Strategies must be fresh and aligned with other corporate strategies. Ask yourself specifically whether customers have the ability to register and create a personalized experience on your corporate Web site.

B. Personalization is not only a hot technology in 1998, it's the key to building customer relationships and loyalty in the Web years to come.

7. Should your corporate Web sites (intranet and Internet) be maintained centrally or decentrally?

A. Complete decentralization will create Web anarchy, with employees posting pictures of their pets and leaving your customers wondering if different Web pages represent the same company. However, a narrow, centralized model will not harness all the potential contributors within your organization that are required to create a world-class Web site.

B. "Balance" and "team work" are the words you should use here.

8. Are you on top of monthly help desk statistics?

A. At a minimum, your IT department should be tracking and publishing the number of calls per day, the average response time, the "Top 10" problems, the downtime per application, and user satisfaction survey results.

B. A good CIO will recognize end users as customers and treat them accordingly (see question 3).

9. Which distributed object technology will be of interest to your organization in 1998--CORBA or DCOM?

A. This is another trick question because CORBA, DCOM, or both are all acceptable answers. Unacceptable responses would be "neither" or "I'll have to ask our technical architect." These responses would be typical if your organization still trusts your technology decisions to your CFO.

B. As a CIO, you don't have to be a technology wizard; however, you must understand the impact of fundamental, breakthrough technologies. You should know that these two technologies are the key to software reuse, integration, and modern, object-oriented software development techniques.

10. Can you show evidence that the business benefits of completed information technology projects met or exceeded the amount spent on these projects?

A. Be very nervous if you don't have an audit process in place for all projects. The audit should be conducted by a third party, and the results of the audit should show that the IT department is adding measurable value year after year.

B. Every IS department has project failures, but if you're not measuring your win/loss ratio, you can't be objective.

Bonus question: Are you free for lunch next Friday?

Well, do these questions and answers make sense to you? Send your comments to us.
A. This is a cruel, but telling question. If you reach for a thick, leather-bound daytimer to check Friday's appointments, you should probably be planning for your farewell lunch. If you consult your company's electronic scheduling system, you have a better chance of additional lunches. And consulting your own electronic organizer may be acceptable, but only if it's synchronized with your corporate scheduling system.

B. As a CIO you should know the considerable efficiency gains to be had from enterprisewide scheduling. //

Mark Clancy is a manager at BC TELECOM, the second largest telecommunications company in Canada. He has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Victoria and an MBA from the University of Western Ontario. Prior to joining BC TELECOM, Clancy worked as a consultant for Andersen Consulting. He can be reached by e-mail at


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