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The case for an interim CIO

· Technology,Business,CIO


When an organisation is faced with a situation where their CIO will leave the organisation either voluntary or due to non-performance, an interim CIO can be engaged to manage the day to day IT activities and to ensure continuity of program execution. However, employing an interim CIO can provide broader benefits as the right contractor will implicitly assess the function and the IT strategy. This will provide a better starting point for the determination of the requirements for the permanent role leading to a higher rate of success in filling that role. This paper will outline what an organisation can expect from the interim CIO.

Business as usual

One of the key concerns when an IT leadership role is vacated, is the continuity of business as usual activities and the execution of existing or planned initiatives. Organisations often either have one of the direct reports step up into the role or let the one up level executive take direct responsibility for the function until a permanent replacement has been hired. Both options represent a risk to the continuity and performance of the function.

The direct report stepping into the role will need to continue to look after his or her original area and may not have the skill set to cover the entire function. It may also disturb team dynamics if it is not managed well. The one-up executive will often focus more on maintaining the team’s status quo and may lack the technical or functional expertise to make informed decisions about services and investments. Moreover, an executive’s time allocation required to manage the IT function is often limited resulting in a lack of progress.

IT function and team assessment

One of the benefits of bringing in an experienced interim CIO is that the contractor will conduct an assessment of the performance of the IT function and the IT team. Even in organisations with a very capable CIO, a fresh pair of eyes with a broad IT background will be able to identify improvement opportunities and/or risks. This may be in the area of existing in-house or outsourced operations, business engagement, financial management or vendor management. An experienced interim CIO will also be able to adapt to the organisation quickly and ensure that ongoing initiatives are assessed and executed if beneficial. On the other hand, it provides an opportunity to consider and review ‘pet’ projects that are not beneficial to the organisation and pause or exit them.

Future proofing IT – Strategic assessment

The third aspect that an interim CIO can bring is to review the IT strategy and ensure that it is supportive to the business strategy. Especially in the current era of rapid change and disruption due to digitalisation of almost everything, a strong interim CIO should verify whether the IT strategy is future proof and whether the organisation is prepared for (future) digital disruption.

An interim CIO should also be closely involved with the selection of the permanent candidate for the role. The functional and strategic assessment will provide a clear view on what kind of CIO is needed for the future and the interim CIO should be a key member of the selection panel.

What should you expect from an interim CIO?

The interim CIO should bring the following attributes:

  • Excellent business and technology management skills
  • Up to date knowledge of technology trends and digitalisation
  • Strong stakeholder management
  • Combination of strategic and tactical focus
  • Focus on people and team work
  • Fast learner with a hands-on attitude
  • Broad industry background
  • Program management
  • Vendor management

Getting it right

Every organisation is different and IT Leadership requirements vary widely. Depending on the situation, there may be a stronger need for strategic focus, specific technical knowledge or vendor management and negotiation skills. The requirements also depend on the bench strength of the IT leadership team.

Generally, it is advisable to look for more generalist skills than specific technological skills. The relative short duration of the engagement (3 – 6 months) and nature of the role require the interim CIO to engage broadly within the organisation while managing and developing the ongoing activities of the IT function.

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