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How to survive CIO regime change

Minda Zetlin | March 7, 2011
How long does the average CIO stay on the job? Not very long. According to a Gartner Inc. survey of 1,527 CIOs, their average tenure in 2009 was four years and four months, a figure that has changed relatively little over the past several years, according to Mark McDonald, group vice president of Gartner Executive Programs. "It's been between four years and three months and four years and nine months," he says.

Case Study

EMC: A Customer Becomes the Boss

Before Sanjay Mirchandani became CIO at EMC, he was an executive on the business side. "Sanjay was an EMC employee running a very large business unit, so he came in as a former internal customer of ours," recalls Ken LeBlanc, business unit CIO and SaaS operations for RSA, EMC's security division.

"I'm sure he came into the role with a perception from his own experiences with our organization. Until you're in IT, it's not always obvious why some processes and frameworks are they way they are, so part of my responsibility was to help him become an IT guy."

At the same time, Mirchandani wanted IT to see itself from the business units' point of view. "He made us much more aware of the internal customer experience," LeBlanc says. "He placed a significant focus on how to improve the total customer experience. We looked at how we interact with our colleagues across EMC, and how we handle difficult escalations within the organization."

In particular, Mirchandani set out to make EMC's IT department into a showcase for the company's products a "drink your own Kool Aid" approach. This required a transition to the private cloud, one of EMC's key offerings. "That was a fundamental change for our organization," LeBlanc says. "It did make some people pause and wonder what it means to be an IT professional now. Competencies that make someone successful may be different from what they were before."

In the end, EMC wound up with a stronger IT organization and a stronger company, according to LeBlanc. "After a few years of focusing on staff productivity, it was probably the right time to raise the game and begin contributing directly to EMC's product development and sales opportunities," he says. "I think much more globally now. I also have a better appreciation of how an IT organization within a high-tech enterprise can contribute and be accepted as a strategic business partner."

--Minda Zetlin

Experts recommend taking the initiative. "You should really approach your new boss, or your boss's boss," Gingras says.

Like most of the advice in this story, that's a good strategy for IT employees at every level, though the approach might vary depending on what you do. "Even if you're a PC technician, it never hurts to knock on the door and say, 'Welcome to the company! How can I help you succeed?'" Gingras says.

If you don't have the opportunity to directly give the new CIO an overview of your responsibilities, then offer one to your immediate boss for him or her to pass on to the CIO, Watson advises. "It's always a good strategy to make your boss look good, so proactively providing an executive summary of your responsibilities and deliverables status could set you apart."


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