A New CIO's Blueprint for a Successful First 90 Days on the Job

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: September 27, 2023

When a new Chief Information Officer (CIO) assumes their position, they have a critical 90-day window to establish the tone, akin to that of a newly elected president or official. In this discussion, we will explore the key considerations a CIO should be cognizant of during their initial 90 days in office.

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The majority of our new clients are CEOs who have recently assumed the role of Chief Information Officer (CIO). Whether they have been promoted internally or sourced from outside the organization, these individuals are often new to the role. Similar to the initial period that a newly elected official, such as a president or prime minister, undergoes, a CIO has a crucial 90-day window to establish the direction they intend to take in their career and role. In this discussion, we will outline key considerations and provide a guide for CIOs beginning their new position.

Understand The Corporate Strategy

The most successful Chief Information Officers (CIOs) I have encountered in my career possess a profound understanding of both the business strategy and the overarching organizational strategy. While their comprehension of technology and emerging tech trends is vital, what distinguishes the most effective CIOs is their deep insight into the business and its strategy. Crucially, they excel in connecting this business strategy and translating it into a digital transformation strategy, culminating in a comprehensive technology roadmap.

For a new CIO, a fundamental step is to immerse oneself in the business strategy, discerning the organization's current operations and its aspirations for the next three, five, or even ten years. The organization's goals, objectives, direction, and vision should inform and provide a framework for the integration of digital technologies to bolster the CIO's role. Thus, before diving into technology roadmaps or evaluating potential technology options, a new CIO should prioritize understanding the organizational strategy. Subsequently, they can concentrate on converting this organizational strategy into a coherent digital strategy and roadmap. We will delve deeper into this process later in this discussion.

Engage Key Stakeholders

Understanding the overall organizational business strategy is crucial. Equally vital is engaging with key business stakeholders. It is imperative for a Chief Information Officer (CIO) not to operate in isolation or within a strictly IT-centric bubble, detached from the broader business landscape. One of the primary tasks should be to forge alliances with business stakeholders and leaders across the organization. This does not merely refer to direct superiors or immediate reporting lines, but encompasses engagement with the CEO, CFO, Chief Marketing Officer, Finance and Accounting team, Operations team, Manufacturing team, and other essential stakeholders.

Gaining insights into their perspectives, challenges, and operational nuances enables the CIO to have a comprehensive understanding of the organizational terrain. Furthermore, by cultivating these relationships, a CIO can amass a supportive coalition for their initiatives. This alignment with business stakeholders ensures that any technology roadmap developed will consider the organization's current realities and its future business needs and objectives.

Thus, for a new CIO, one of the initial steps should be dedicating time to understand the needs, priorities, and strategic focuses of the diverse business stakeholders within the organization.

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Understand the Corporate Culture

In your new role as a Chief Information Officer (CIO), while understanding the organization's people and strategy is vital, it's equally crucial to grasp the culture of the organization. Culture, though powerful and integral, is often overlooked by many organizations. Specifically, many CIOs, due to their inherent skill set, concentrate on tangible aspects such as processes and technology—elements they can directly see, touch, and manipulate.

Drawing an analogy, if processes and technologies represent the visible tip of an iceberg, then the organization's culture corresponds to the submerged base, substantial yet harder to discern. It's essential for a CIO to comprehend the prevailing culture and discern how the organization aims to evolve. While instantaneous culture change is implausible, and even substantial changes may take years, it's feasible to gently steer the culture in a direction aligned with the organization's evolving needs.

Culture's significance to CIOs lies not just in identifying potential pockets of resistance within the organization but also in ensuring that the technology roadmap and its execution resonate with the inherent character of the organization. For instance, if an organization is inherently risk-averse and struggles with change, a radical "big bang" digital transformation might not be appropriate. A more incremental approach to technology adoption might be better suited. Conversely, if the organization is dynamic, embraces change, and external macroeconomic trends necessitate rapid adjustments, a more aggressive technology roadmap might be warranted.

One of the paramount duties of a new CIO is to gauge this cultural landscape. By doing so, they can devise a technology roadmap that reflects both the current cultural context and future aspirations of the organization.

Understand the System Landscape

A crucial initial step for a new Chief Information Officer (CIO) is to familiarize oneself with the system landscape. This entails understanding the present systems and technology infrastructures. It's essential to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the existing setup. It's notable how larger organizations often lose sight of the multitude of systems they operate. Some systems, colloquially referred to as "black market" systems, may operate below the official radar, unsupported by the overarching organization. Yet, they are procured and employed by various organizational members to fulfill their roles.

A new CIO often faces the task of deciphering this intricate web of systems and technologies, recognizing its strengths, and pinpointing areas for enhancement. While a comprehensive overhaul of these systems won't be feasible immediately or even within the initial 90 days, a CIO can, during this period, gain a robust understanding of the extant systems, their merits, priorities, and potential areas for replacement or augmentation.

Define A Digital Strategy Roadmap

Having undertaken the initial steps discussed—identifying the corporate strategy, engaging key stakeholders, familiarizing oneself with existing systems, and understanding the prevailing culture—you are now in a position to shape a digital strategy roadmap. This roadmap will serve as a guide for modernizing the technology within your organization.

Defining a digital strategy is pivotal as it sets the direction for the forthcoming three to five years, determining how technologies will be updated, new technologies introduced, or existing technologies enhanced to boost the organization's overall effectiveness. In my recent publication, "The Final Countdown," I delve into a digital strategy roadmap, illustrated in the adjacent diagram. This roadmap delineates various functions and workstreams integral to any digital strategy.

When crafting your digital strategy, ensure it encompasses strategic alignment, tackles the process and operational dimensions, addresses the human and organizational aspects, reviews enterprise applications and business intelligence, and, underpinning everything, considers program management and governance for the transformation. This digital strategy roadmap offers a foundational framework, giving insights into defining business processes and constructing the overarching roadmap based on the knowledge you've acquired in your initial 90 days. To truly realize this digital strategy roadmap framework, consider the following recommendations.

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I trust this information provides direction for your initial 90 days in a CIO role. 

I would enjoy brainstorming ideas with you if you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, so please feel free to contact me at eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com. I am happy to be a sounding board as you continue your digital transformation journey.

Be sure to download the newly released 2024 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices.

Kimberling Eric Blue Backgroundv2
Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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