Making the first 100 days count: How a new CIO sets the right priorities

How does a CIO new to an organisation set about making a difference?
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
"I want to make sure technology is enabling rather than getting in the way," says Mark Bramwell, CIO at Oxford's Said Business School.
Image: Said Business School.

Mark Bramwell has recently taken on the role of CIO at the Said Business School, part of the University of Oxford.

"The institution has huge growth aspirations and wants to be a top ten business school globally. IT and digital enablement will be crucial in helping support that transition," he says.

He's joining the business school after eight and a half years at the charitable foundation Wellcome Trust, and is eager for a new challenge: "I'm moving from one worldwide brand to another," he says.

Bramwell explains to ZDNet how he will support the technology and the business to achieve the Said school's growth aspirations. As well as outlining his initial objectives, Bramwell offers five best practice tips for newly appointed CIOs and outlines his long-term vision for both IT at Said and his own position in the organisation.

Getting started and moving forwards

Bramwell says he has three immediate aims and objectives. First, he is going back to basics and ensuring internal IT is available and resilient. Bramwell says he will cover a whole host of areas, including asset management, change control, and governance. "I want to make sure technology is enabling rather than getting in the way," he says.

The second area of immediate attention for Bramwell and his team is to think about how the IT team can be agile and support new initiatives at Said. For example, that support might cover how the organisation interacts with its students or how it delivers content, including across distance learning platforms and collaborative systems.

Finally, Bramwell's third initial focus is to consider the type of IT organisation that will help deliver business change for the School. He says the technical skills of the team he is inheriting at Said are not as mature as the one he left behind at Wellcome Trust, so talent and succession management will be crucial.

"It's an educational journey for everyone, not just for those working in the IT team," he says. "We must make sure our technical capabilities are aligned with the aspirations of the business. We need a clear, well-communicated change

Bramwell suggests five key lessons for people who enter a new IT leadership position:

  • 1. Get out and meet the internal customers and stakeholders of IT - "Talk, listen and hear the thoughts and perceptions of the people across the organisation that rely on your technology," he says. Bramwell says newly appointed CIOs must take time to understand the challenges that internal customers face and how they think IT might help them complete their work, both now and in the future.
  • 2. Perception is reality - Bramwell advises other CIOs to not be defensive in regards to early feedback. "Take everything on the chin," he says. "People will have a perception of the existing technology organisations and it can be difficult to convince people that things are going to change. One failure will affect the credibility of IT. So adopt a customer-centric view of IT service."
  • 3. Always be proactive and responsive - Having taken the time to get out and meet people and listen to their concerns, Bramwell says it is crucial that newly appointed CIOs then follow up on the issues they uncover. "If end users identify something that they think needs to change, take ownership of the action," he says. "Their concern might be small but first impressions really matter."
  • 4. Be clear about what you stand for - Bramwell encourages other CIOs to be explicit in terms of their leadership style, their desired results, and their expected delivery against promises. "Also make sure you instil that approach in your team and then focus on being consistent," he says.
  • 5. Set some direction for where you're going - A new CIO will not be able to set a new IT strategy in their first few months in charge, and neither should they. Instead, technology leaders should focus on setting out the likely journey for the IT team and business stakeholders. "People need to buy into your message," says Bramwell. "You'll need to establish a vision in your first 100 or so days in charge. If you can do that successfully, you'll establish the right framework for change. People will know what you're aiming to deliver."

Outlining a long-term vision

So what will IT at Said look like in a year's time? Bramwell says that, at the most straightforward level, he will have made sure the rest of the business knows it is able to benefit from access to a resilient and up-to-date IT service.

"We will also need to raise our game in terms of digital enablement," he says. "I'd like to have outlined a clear web strategy that is student, faculty, and staff-centric. I'll have created a highly motivated IT team that is best-aligned to support the requirements of the school, and we'll be using strategic technology to help the organisation meets its aims."

Bramwell and the rest of the executive team are setting those broader objectives currently. He says the organisation is going through a large-scale organisational change programme. He is just one of a number of high-profile senior appointments at Said who will work together to deliver change.

"We've got a really passionate senior management team that is focused on success," says Bramwell. "There'll be lots of work and it won't be easy, but that's part of the attraction of the role. We have a blank canvas for change and it's a really exciting opportunity."

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