Monday, July 26, 2010

Next Chapter

The last two months have been a page turner. I am delighted that a new chapter has begun with the opportunity to have a growing impact at the intersection of humanitarian work and technology. I began a new job on June 15th as the Global CIO at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC; see And I just completed a move to Geneva, arguably one of the humanitarian centers on the planet.

So what have I been doing? I'm at the half-way mark in my "first 100-days plan," a sprint of immersion that is also known "drinking from the fire hose." My 100-day plan has four parts, with a strong emphasis on "beginners mind," listening and learning as the newcomer:

  1. People: Meeting 1:1 with everyone on the IT team, both at headquarters and in the field. Hearing what's working well and what needs to change; what are people's vision for the team and themselves; and getting a handle on morale. I'm also getting a sense of "the bus," to use a Jim Collins metaphor: do we have the right people on the bus and are they in the right seats. I'm looking for strengths that everyone brings to the table and how we can build on those strengths. I'm also meeting 1:1 with senior managers and heads of departments, asking similar questions and hearing about their objectives and needs.
  2. Strategy: Thinking through the new ten-year strategy and asking how the IT strategy can be best aligned with it so that we move the mission and 2020 strategic goals forward. The 1:1 meetings with IFRC leaders in Geneva and the Zones (our name for regions) is a critical part of this thought process. Testing out "strawman" strategies is a good way to develop the thinking. I find that the truth comes out of the debate, so I want to provoke the conversations and see what resonates.
  3. Funding: Understanding the IT and IFRC business models. "Follow the money flow" is the objective. This includes the budgeting process. And each organization has it's own budget culture; learning this quickly is part of the orientation. This is taking a bit of parallel processing, as budget revisions for 2010-11 were needed before the strategy and assessment were done. There’s a bit of aligning needed here also: are our aspirations matched with our willingness to invest? For non-profits, as with most organizations, that’s a continual trade-off.
  4. Projects: Ensure that IT project portfolio is strategy driven. This entails a top-down review of all our technology projects as well as our existing base of systems and applications. The key question is which of these are contributing, or will contribute, to the new strategy. The analogy I've used is that we need to turn the Queen Mary around in the Rhone River. That’s a significant challenge, and we need to ensure that the engines keep running while we do so; otherwise we drift in the wrong direction. And we need to remember as we keep things running that the goal is to turn the ship around.

That’s the plan. Stay tuned for how the IT strategy develops. These are exciting times!