by Brian Chant

The challenges and benefits of being an interim CIO

Sep 11, 20123 mins

Managing change in difficult environments is the core skill of the interim and this is why many organisations are turning to them right now.

Typically, they’re hiring interims for two reasons:

– To build corporate resilience to maintain competitiveness — to keep the lights on – To formulate a plan for strategic change and then execute it

The day-to-day skills required of the interim will depend on the role that the CIO will be performing.

If it is someone to maintain the status quo, then good people management skills and a broad knowledge of delivering a quality ICT Service is needed.

If the CIO is to initiate a strategic shift, then strong change management skills within an ICT environment is needed.

Change is usually initiated due to poor performance of the existing IT department.

This could be related to unacceptable ICT programme or project delivery. Typically, when they are running over budget, over time and have become de-scoped. Another reason could be poorly performing staff, through lack of skills or under investment in development.

High business growth coupled with IT cultural issues can require the recruitment of an interim. So can the need to control high IT costs or boost value-add from the IT department.

Most interim roles are secured by reputation and past references, either direct with companies or through high-end interim solutions agencies.

Past reputation is vital for an interim. They live or die by their current results and past performance.

The majority of companies that have hired an interim are very supportive of them. The keys to success are to build trust with the client and get to a position quickly where they are getting added-value.

As a minimum, interims should deliver their targets on time and within budget, and they should plan to over-achieve.

If hired to keep the lights on, then a good interim CIO will bring suggestions for improving the work practise of the IT department to achieve cost savings and greater output and quality.

If engaged to initiate and execute change, then the client will be looking for the introduction of best practise in the areas that are being changed.

Although not a comprehensive list, this may include:

– Process improvement such as ITIL or CMMi – Programme and project methodologies like MSP or Prince 2 – ICT security standards such as ISO27001

Interims don’t necessarily need to be an expert in these standards, but they should understand the benefits and constraints of implementing them.

Many organisations are choosing interims rather than permanent hires today because interims can often be in place within a week, they are typically overqualified for the job, and are brought in to deliver specific targets within a specific timeframe.

As a short-term cost, they may be attractive for organisations that have a temporary gap in their IT leadership.

Change defines the interim role and this contrasts it with permanent positions. Another difference is that, whilst interims need to be astute politically and persuade their team from the top down, they are in position for a short period and so do not necessarily need to become embroiled in the politics endemic in corporate environments.

Interim management is certainly not for the faint hearted, but given the continued pressure on organisations to cut cost and increase efficiency, they will become a growing breed of executive at the upper echelons of many organisations.

Brian Chant is currently the Group CIO of supply chain management specialist Achilles, a position he gained through Alium Partners

Pic: Tim Greencc2.0