Create and Pursue a Short List of Measurable IT Goals
Typically, college/university leaders will have some very specific goals in mind when contracting with an interim CIO. It's always a good idea to collaborate with the client on these goals. Without specific goals, your engagement will be dominated by operational management such as putting out fires rather than making substantive progress on initiatives that will bring productive change and improvement to IT operations and services. In my current engagement, I wrote my six goals on a whiteboard in my office to remind myself about what I've committed to accomplish. If you're not careful, it's much too easy to get embroiled in, and distracted by, day-to-day operational issues.
You will frequently find yourself getting dragged into numerous long-standing flash points or issues that are peripheral to your goals and that, on closer examination, would be difficult if not impossible to resolve during your engagement. As I encounter these issues, I always ask myself: "Is this something I should be spending my limited time on, or is this something better left to the permanent CIO who will follow me?" Remind yourself that there are a limited set of IT issues that you can reasonably resolve in a year.
Since we know that the evolving role of the higher education CIO has thrust the CIO into almost every aspect of the campus, you will find yourself tempted to try to influence change in a number of leadership and functional areas that, in many cases, are deeply rooted in history and campus culture. Once again, remind yourself that your role is limited in scope and time and that your ability to influence broader change on the campus is also quite limited. Carefully leading disruptive change is certainly a key part of any CIO's role, but in a limited CIO engagement, going down this road is probably not wise.