Project Practitioners > Niel Nickolaisen

Niel Nickolaisen

Niel Nickolaisen

Niel Nickolaisen is the CIO and Director of Strategic Planning at Headwaters, Inc. He has held technology executive (CIO) and operations executive (COO) positions; typically in turnaround roles. He holds a MS in Engineering from MIT and a BS in Physics from Utah State University. He writes columns for the CIO Leadership Network and Search CIO. He is also one of the founders of Accelinnova, a think tank focused on improving organizational and IT agility.

He is passionate about process simplification including strategic planning, Sarbanes Oxley, product development, and IT operations. This includes applying lean concepts to all types of business activities including IT.

Information Architecture As the Key To Effective Data Management
By Niel Nickolaisen
When I first started my career in IT leadership, I could not imagine ever needing a terabyte of storage. I figured a terabyte would take care of my organization's storage needs until my grandchildren were working in IT. And, it was a good thing that I would never need a terabyte of storage because storage was awfully expensive. Thankfully, the cost of storage has dropped dramatically because our need for storage keeps climbing. We just can't get enough. A terabyte? Even in my very simple business, we can blow through a terabyte in mere months. Three years ago we purchased... Read More»

Procrastination - A Critical Leadership Tool
By Niel Nickolaisen
Some young-punk kid (he is about 35 years old) recently stopped by my office. He wanted to interview me about any great leadership tips I had and was willing to share. I paused for a moment, reflected on a lifetime of lessons learned, mistakes made, successes earned, and how these translated to a critical leadership tool. I then replied: "Procrastination." This poor kid could not believe what I had just told him, "Procrastination? Do you really mean procrastination?" I replied, "Absolutely; and the sooner you learn how to procrastinate, the better you will be as a leader." I then tried... Read More»

Getting Real
By Niel Nickolaisen
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about reality. I have been thinking that, unless we face reality, we have almost no chance of achieving long-term success. About a month ago, a friend asked me to assess the issues with her recent enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation. It is common to expect some rough weeks or months once a new ERP system goes live but my friend’s implementation has been struggling for over nine months. As I met with the various department heads, it became obvious that the biggest issue is not with how the applications were configured. Rather, this... Read More»

Talk To Me!
By Niel Nickolaisen
Sometimes there is no substitute for personal, face-to-face communications. With e-mail and instant messaging technology, it is pretty easy to limit our personal contact with people. I sometimes find myself sending an e-mail to a co-worker who sits 20 feet away from me—a distance that invariably seems a lot longer when I am comfortably seated at my desk on an "emailing roll" Recently, I was reminded how relying on remote communications can slow down and even hinder progress. We were asked to change how our financial analysts access data. This was a fairly benign request that should have been relatively... Read More»

Clearing The Distractions
By Niel Nickolaisen
I am not sure about you but it is pretty easy for me to get caught up in being busy without really getting anything done. What I call choosing activity over accomplishment. My days can be almost entirely consumed with distractions. Meetings of all flavors, vendor events, getting caught up in staff disputes, sorting through hundreds of email and answering the few that require attention, and the general smoke jumping that comes with working in IT. Over the years, I have tried various ways to clear my life of distractions. For many years, I used a Franklin Planner to keep... Read More»

Smoothing Out Distributed Teams
By Niel Nickolaisen
Sometimes I answer a question that ends up getting me in trouble. A recent example of this occurred a couple of years ago. Our CEO and I had just finished a strategic planning session with our New Jersey-based division. As we drove to the airport, the CEO asked a seemingly innocent question, "Have you ever managed a distributed team?" Let's be honest, it is hard to work in IT without managing distributed teams so I gave my equally innocent answer, "Several times." The CEO paused for a moment and then asked, "What was the most challenging project you had to... Read More»

Performance Reviews That Matter
By Niel Nickolaisen
My absolute worst performance appraisal experience went like this: My boss's assistant telephoned me to schedule a meeting with my supervisor. I showed up, and my boss and I sat down in his office. He got straight to the point: "Niel, I am not sure what you do, but I understand you are very good at it. I want to show my appreciation by giving you a raise and this bonus check." I managed to mumble a thank-you, took my check and left his office. A few months later, this manager moved on to other things. But for two reasons,... Read More»

Getting Control of Charge-Backs
By Niel Nickolaisen
I recently participated in a study that assessed how many of us are using some type of IT charge-back program and, if we do have such a thing in place, the specifics on how the program works. The survey results show that while many of us have some type of cost allocation process in place, the specifics vary widely. I was not surprised. I have long been a charge-back skeptic. I once inherited a very complex charge-back process that turned major portions of my IT staff into billing agents. In addition, I found that having an IT charge-back system created... Read More»

To Virtualize Or Not To Virtualize, That Is The Question
By Niel Nickolaisen
One on my goal as an IT leader has been to ensure that IT does not get in the way of the business. For that reason, I was an early fan of virtualization. With virtualization, the days of telling the business they have to wait while we size, order, receive, configure, and test a server are gone. What used to take weeks can now be done in hours. But, in my constant quest to make sure that I am not too much on the bleeding edge, I surveyed my CIO peers to see what steps that had and had not... Read More»

When Force of Will Is Not Enough
By Niel Nickolaisen
Sometimes there is a really good reason for project success. And, sometimes, that reason has nothing to do with my motivation, determination, or "force of will". I was once asked to lead the restart of a project that had previously failed several times. I, fresh off a string of strong project management performances, was certain that I was the person that would finally deliver this project. After all, each previous attempt on the project had been missing two essential ingredients - me and my "force of will". Knowing this, I plunged right in; purposely oblivious as to real the reasons... Read More»

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