CIO by the Hour

The IT function at a biotech startup goes through a clear and well known series of developmental stages.

In the beginning, there is the Office Manager. That person hires a managed service help desk provider to show up a couple of days a week. They set up productivity software (Office365 or G-Suite), deploy a file sharing solution (Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, Google drive, OneDrive, or similar), and purchase the first wave of laptops, monitors, and printers.

As the company grows past a couple dozen people, leaders in human resources often step in to standardize processes like onboarding and provisioning employees with hardware and software. At the same time, informatics staff are quietly setting up one or more public cloud environments to get their jobs done. These environments, to put it gently, are only lightly integrated with the rest of the enterprise.

At around 80 full time employees, the IT organization tends to be formally handed off to finance. This is when we see auditors asking questions about policy, compliance, and accountability. This is also the time when the cloud environment has its first terrifying financial or operational hiccup. Multi-year licenses and contracts are starting to auto-renew, to a certain amount of surprise and consternation amongst folks who weren’t there at the beginning.

Around this time, people usually start talking about hiring a full time head of IT, who will have their hands full by the time they are recruited and onboarded.

Wouldn’t it be great to walk this road with a guide?

I’ve been designing and building organizations for IT in science since the early 2000’s. I was the first employee at BioTeam, where I led one of the best known consulting teams in the industry. I designed the IT architecture of the New York Genome Center, and led both research computing and information technology at the Broad Institute.

I serve as an experienced, impartial partner to organizations who are not yet ready for a full time IT manger, and who may never hire a chief information officer.  These engagements include some or all of:

  • Developing a roadmap and a strategy for IT
  • Financial modeling and budgeting for IT spend
  • Aligning systems between enterprise and scientific computing
  • Establishing guard rails and safety belts for cloud services
  • Establishing a tempo of leadership / governance conversations
  • Developing a policy / training framework for employees
  • Partnering with information security advisors to implement practical, effective, cost-appropriate measures
  • Ironing out any kinks with contract service providers
  • Developing a basic practice of data governance and classification
  • Authoring RFPs and job descriptions
  • Support planning office build-outs and renovations from an IT perspective
  • Leveraging an extensive network for technology providers and partners

The ideal time for a company to start this work is early – preferably when IT begins to grow and to transition away from the office manager. This sort of engagement usually starts with three to four months of focused work in which we develop practices, roadmaps, and patterns of conversation. After that, clients either become independent, or else they shift to a retainer model, with monthly or quarterly checkpoint meetings for steering and tuning.

If any of that sounds useful and helpful, please shoot me a note.