If you are the CIO of a national charitable organization, and said organization is giving away free money to disaster victims, the last thing you want is for your web site to crash. But, that’s exactly what happened to the Red Cross in September as they attempted to provide assistance to Texas residents whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
It isn’t my intention to bash the Red Cross. They have a thankless task and, evidently, enough problems to deal with back-to-back-to-back hurricanes that have whacked the US this season.
But, seriously, they’re in the disaster recovery business. They are in a business of logistics. Yes, they are also in the fundraising business and the volunteer management business. And, apparently, they are in the financial assistance business. You can debate the merits of providing cash assistance for disaster victims but that’s not my purpose here, and as CIO, it’s not your purpose either.
All of the aforementioned scream for a robust, reliable, somewhat portable infrastructure. That is your purpose as CIO.
USA Today reported last month that Hurricane Harvey victims were eligible, and encouraged, to apply for instant $400 grants from the Red Cross. The web site opened on September 11, and tanked a few days later, not coming back online until September 21. I’ve read reports that it was down for six days.
Really? iTunes didn’t crash when Taylor Swift released her latest blockbusting album. So to my fellow IT managers out there, what would your career options look like if your company’s web site went dark for six or seven days? My guess is you’d be enjoying that new career in, oh, say the food service industry, and I don’t mean in an IT position.
Every CIO is working to ensure system security is a priority, and every CEO understands the importance. Nobody wants to be the next Target. But your role as CIO transcends security.
You’re a CIO. You are, like it or not, a political creature. In some cases, like the Red Cross, you and your organizations are engaged in external facing politics. Politicians from the governor on down have hammered the Red Cross, already on the political radar since financial questions were raised regarding Haiti hurricane relief in 2010. True, the CEO is taking most of the hits, but you are part of the C-suite as CIO, and it’s also your job to communicate the technology road map to the CEO, and, most importantly, advocate for it.
I’m not sure what the Red Cross technology road map looks like. But if you are ramping up the movement of volunteers, equipment, donations, and free cash into a disaster area, you need robust connectivity, storage, power, and technical personnel. That’s what you need to lobby for as the CIO.
Maybe you partner with Amazon Web Services for scalable storage and web access. Maybe you partner with AT&T or another carrier for wireless access. Elon Musk is all about disruptive technology and his investors love throwing money at his company. Some battery help maybe? There’s a lot of opportunity for these potential partners to make a big deposit in the goodwill bank by providing solutions.
You’re the CIO. You are supposed to plan, provide and seek solutions.
To do so, you need to be in the room.
Here’s where your skill as a politician really comes into play. Internal politics require nuanced relationships and, on occasion, being a weasel.
My former college roommate, Robert Frisch, Managing Director of Strategic Offsites wrote the book Who’s In The Room? In it he advances the theory that every CEO has a “kitchen cabinet” of trusted advisors who may or may not hold a C-suite title. While the formal C-suite weighs in and sets strategy at any organization, these kitchen cabinets wield profound influence on company leaders.
You’re the CIO. You need to be in the room. If you’re not, you need to ask yourself why, and embark on a plan to get there.
If not, maybe you wind up on the front page of USA Today.