Profit Opinion

John Matelski - November 2008

The New CIO in Town Gets Results with careful Preparation.

Starting a new job is like walking through an unfamiliar room in the dark. Without a flashlight, it’s difficult to navigate without stubbing a few toes. As the new CIO of Gwinnett County, Georgia, I’ve found that the career equivalent of a flashlight is how much you can prepare before the first day. You can’t avoid all the bruises and scrapes, but preparation helps minimize them. As soon as I knew I had been selected for my new job, I asked for a lot of data: organization charts, a skills inventory of IT staff, a list of projects, and an assessment of the IT team’s reputation in the community. Working with that data, I divided possible issues into the five p’s: people, policies, projects, platforms, and politics. From there, I was able to do some high-level analysis and begin formulating changes within the IT organization that should help Gwinnett County get better return on investment and improved business service from its IT investments.


People. The creation of the CIO position meant that IT was promoted from a division within the department of support services to a freestanding department. As part of the change, I took the opportunity to reorganize the group; it had too many siloed components. For example, there were four separate software support groups. While those folks need to focus on their own systems, they needed to do so under one standard set of procedures. I also wanted to make sure that staff members had opportunities for growth. With that in mind, we reorganized IT into five groups reporting into the office of the CIO: a new project management office (PMO); a fiscal management office; an enterprise applications support division, comprising geographic information systems and enterprise resource planning (ERP), Web, and business systems; the infrastructure division, which consists of the data center, help desk, telecom, network, and server teams; and finally, a looser-matrixed client relationship team focused on ensuring that IT is aligned with the business needs of the constituent departments we support.

Policies. Every organization has overriding policies in place—things like procurement standards on computers. But I quickly found that most procedures and policies in my organization were not documented and thus were not standardized or uniformly known throughout the organization. We reviewed all of our IT processes, making sure they were consistent and in alignment with countywide policies and procedures.

Projects. The key here was the creation of the PMO. We want to make sure that our projects, regardless of size or duration, are managed utilizing the same set of standardized processes. The PMO ensures that business stakeholders take ownership of the business facets of a project. This team approach ensures that everyone is in sync and that issues can be addressed quickly as they arise. The PMO is also tasked with making certain that scope creep, change management, and integration issues are tackled as part of the project management process.

Platforms. I think of platforms not just as infrastructure but also as the major systems. ERP is a platform, for example. One of the things I asked for prior to starting the job was a list of every mission-critical system from the perspective of each individual department. I spent the first 30 days determining what IT’s role in supporting those systems should be, as well as identifying redundancies and looking for ways to improve efficiency. For the last 90 days, I’ve worked with county personnel and elected officials to implement the ideas generated from that analysis.

Politics. All organizations have politics, but when elected officials lead departments, this adds complexity because not only are they responsible for running their departments, they are expected to run them with every citizen being a stakeholder in their decisions. Because of the potential for scrutiny, many officials feel obligated to manage all aspects of their organizations. For example, some departments have grown their own independent IT groups, to focus on what is perceived as their unique needs. Some of these needs are unique, while others are not. The focus of my efforts is to help these departments work more efficiently by leveraging my IT staff to do what we do best. This lets us free up jobs in their group, which can then be reallocated to focus on the distinctive competencies of the business unit. Here, building relationships or working within existing channels of trust is vital. You have to get a feel for the political layout and understand what people need and how to approach them. It’s not always easy, but it sure can be fun.

John Matelski is chairman of the International Oracle Users Group Community (IOUC) and a member of the board of directors of Quest International Users Group. He is the chief information officer and director of IT services for Gwinnett County, Georgia.


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