By Doug Bartholomew
If you're the kind of CIO who doesn't like to figure out why a software package isn't working or what's wrong with a server, you'd be smart not to take the technology reins at a small or medium-size company.
But for those who can stomach finding their way around a piece of misbegotten Java code or don't flinch at the idea of spending a week implementing a new wireless technology, the CIO role at the midsize enterprise fits just fine. This breed of CIO-although they often carry that responsibility along with others-by necessity must be comfortable with a more hands-on approach to IT management.
Based on interviews with several CIOs at midsize businesses, CIOZone has put together these tips for the would-be IT leader at the medium-size enterprise with sales ranging from $50 million up to $750 million.
1. Be a creative problem-solver. "I had to be creative in our use of NetSuite [on-demand business software], because the software is not designed to handle the ethanol blending issues we deal with in managing our service stations," says Gene Waller, who serves as both CFO and CIO at Bountyland Enterprises, which manages convenience stores and service stations. Likewise, for tax purposes, he adds, "I had to create individual items in the software for the petroleum business."
2. It helps to be multi-disciplined. Linden Lab, the creator and operator of the popular online virtual world used by consumers and businesses alike, has no CIO, but CFO John Zdanowski embraces that responsibility. "I'm an electrical engineer turned CFO, and I also act as the CIO and analyze the data," Zdanowski says. "Being a CFO who is technology-savvy is helpful, because I need to be hands-on from a CFO perspective. I need to be able to understand all the sources of the financial data from a compliance standpoint."
3. Be an IT 'Jack of all Trades.' Within the IT sphere, the CIO at a midmarket firm had better know something about almost everything, and be willing to delve deeply into a new system or technology if necessary. "There's no question, it's true that at a midsize company you have to be more hands-on, and that means being a Jack of all trades who is able to do a lot of things yourself," says Jay Wessel, CIO at the Boston Celtics, the storied NBA franchise that had the best record in the NBA this season. Wessel and one assistant manage the team's entire IT operation, including software and hardware; technology for home games such as scoreboards, audio, and video; and specific basketball technologies including systems for coaches and scouts.
Likewise, at Bountyland, Waller must assume a similar do-it-himself role when it comes to the IT function. "When it comes to the technology, I sort of figure it out myself," he says. "At times you wish there were other people out there who would take the reins, but they don't."
4. Use "guerilla" tactics to extend staff. The "lone gun" CIO can't be everywhere, but he or she can find ways to leverage the company's staff to maintain adequate service. The Celtics' Wessel, for instance, is able to remotely keep tabs on any IT issues that may arise when the team is on the road by enlisting the team's video coordinator as a default person.
5. Don't scrimp on contractors. It pays to hire top-notch contractors who respond quickly and are completely knowledgeable. "I don't need another person like me who almost knows something," Wessel says. "When I need a contractor, I need someone who really knows."
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