CTO’s Role – 7 TIps to For Being Strategic @jeantower

It’s hard to be strategic if your hair is on fire.”
-via Tweet from @JeanTower

A few weeks ago, an email request for a survey came into my inbox. I probably wouldn’t have paid attention–and usually delete these requests–but my superintendent was copied on the email. I usually see these opportunities as a way to educate leadership about the issues, so I responded immediately and was drafted to participate in the survey.

Thirty minutes later, I was simply having too much fun. In the short two years I’ve enjoyed in my new position as a Director of Technology Operations, we’ve accomplished so much and built strong foundations for future growth. It would be easy to take the credit but it all boils down to people who have stepped into more powerful servant leadership roles, great support from top level leadership team members. Whomever said it’s hard to be strategic if your hair is on fire regarding the work of a CTO or Technology Director obviously hadn’t spoken to my team of exceptionally talented individuals.

One of the challenges of being strategic is that you have to think long-term while implementing solutions that address problems. My favorite example of this involves encouraging a district to invest in a VMWare machine and storage area network (SAN) or VM-SAN altogether. This was critical because all servers were 6-12 years old, donated, obsolete equipment. By investing in the VM-SAN in my first year on the job, the District made a significant investment that has paid off many times.

Just this year (2014), several obsolete servers providing critical services gave hints they would crash. Fortunately, services were already being moved to the VM-SAN. My favorite crash was the Business server, which took a nose dive right after being virtualized. Whew! 60 more physical servers to virtualize!

While I thought my experience to be unique, I knew it wasn’t. I’d just spoken to a friend in a larger school district. His number of physical servers to virtualize this year? 324.

Some tips on being strategic while your hair is on fire–that is, implementing long-term solutions that address imminent needs–include the following:

Tip #1 – Build a strong relationship with your team. You often won’t know what’s wrong until they tell you, no matter what you do. You simply can’t know it all. That’s because being a CTO is a team sport.

Tip #2 – Adopt a modular approach to your network and storage design. When we plan for growth, we try to imagine how to add solutions that will play and work well together.

Tip #3 – Know your inventory and equipment, then ask, how can this situation be improved. If we hadn’t known what was in our MDFs/IDFs–and we didn’t when I started–or hanging in our ceilings, we wouldn’t have been able to plan effectively.

Tip #4 – Budget strategically. It’s so easy to spend all your funding on short-term solutions, that’s why I was thrilled to “map” on a calendar all expenditures for the next few years. This includes renewals, planned technology upgrades, resulting in a multi-year equipment and services upgrade plan.

Tip #5 – Be transparent about your efforts. More will be discussed about this in a follow-up blog entry, but I absolutely love the idea of putting your district’s top tech priorities online then sharing them with everyone. I know I wanted everyone to be aware of what was wrong, what needed to be done, and where we were at with that.

Tip #6 – Cultivate relationships with your leadership. I am grateful to have exceptionally awesome district leaders, and I do encourage you to develop these relationships.

Finally, Tip #7 is Let Your Organization’s Needs do the heavy-lifting. Remember that the heavy work of obtaining funding falls on clarifying the District’s needs and telling the organization the truth about itself. If it comes down to making changes that YOU want, you will fail. If it’s about the organization’s needs, then you have a better chance of seeing action taken.

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fire hair. available online at http://goo.gl/OXq7l2

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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