Nobody needs to tell you that being a CIO is not dissimilar to running the operational control room for an Apollo mission. The problem is that your mission is never ending. Worse still, the mission parameters change on a regular basis as seemingly does the mission's primary objective.

You are expected to manage the technology, sweat the information, enable collaboration and lock down the security. All within a contracting budget. Only those made of the right stuff could thrive in this high octane environment.

But even top athletes cannot maintain this pace on an ongoing basis. You know there is an issue when you have a to do list of your to do lists.

The reality is you cannot do everything. Multi-tasking works well for computers but not so well for humans. So if we are to single thread how do we prioritise and what are we prepared to leave undone.

What is needed is a diagnostic tool, similar to those used by help desks to address user issues with the minimum of steps.

Prioritisation needs to be such that your actions maximise and sustain your value proposition.

Broadly we can categorise your to do list actions into:

  • Emergencies
  • Strategic
  • Operational

Looking at each in turn:

It is wise to lead from the helm in respect of business emergencies, particularly if they are potentially organisationally brand damaging. If the emergencies arrive in a cluster establish if there is some causal relationships and if so tackle the upstream emergency first. In any case you need to prioritise and delegate.

If the emergency is not urgent from a business perspective, for example if your cloud service provider is looking to double their fees, but will become so if not addressed then the link between time and impact needs to be established and a timetable set accordingly.

If an event or even a trend emerges that enables your IT function to play an influential role in business strategy, you need to be able to act quickly. Poor prioritisation resulting in you being up to your elbows in cable and motherboards will hinder your ability to get involved.

Delivering a business class service while managing the associated technology is challenging. In respect of technology alone, evolving requirements, user empowerment, shifting architecture paradigms and technology advances all conspire to suck you deeper into the operational quicksand.

If you have a lingering sense of being under constant siege then one can only conclude your delegation skills may be in need of a refresh.

In respect of service, are your user-facing staff operating on a par with third party alternatives? Do you have time to proactively address this or are you focused on just getting through the day without being accosted by the leadership team? Poor service, and even a poor perception of service, has a corrosive impact on your reputation, which in turn will limit your strategic involvement in the organisation.

So not addressing these malignant issues today may indeed sentence you to eventual death by operational quicksand. The difficult question to ask oneself is whether the other leaders are interested in your input beyond IT service delivery. So this needs to be addressed before investing time in building an innovation lab to showcase how holographic augmented reality decision support tools could be a game changer.

Fundamentally the key questions that drive your prioritisation are:

  • Does anyone care whether you do this or not?
  • What is the impact on the business?
  • Can this be done by someone else, delegated or outsourced?

Clearly making interior design recommendations to you partner when your home is on fire would be a mistake. So forget investing time in strategic matters until the fire is well and truly put out.

Similarly problems such as rising damp need to be addressed before your interior design wisdom will be valued.

With this in mind, your priority today is to work on your IT function and not in it. That means  having a strong leadership team who can handle the day to day service delivery. Again your leadership team should take responsibility for addressing any 'rising damp'.

So job number one is to build your leadership team. As they get to work, the business will notice the service improvement. In fact this will be a key measure of your progress. The associated positive discussions will provide the conditions to segue your way into greater strategic involvement.

Again you are constrained to sequential processing. Addressing the most important issues today rather than kicking the can down the road will have an accelerating effect on your effectiveness. Rising damp is certainly less fun than interior design. But at least by addressing the former you have a realistic chance of doing the latter.

So what is your next move?