With more than four decades of IT experience and multiple executive roles, Greg Taffet has both seen and held a wide range of job titles. So he was surprised when a new one cropped up, and even more surprised when it was used to describe his work.\n\nThe title? Gig CIO.\n\nAfter his initial reaction, Taffet realized that the term made sense. He knows some IT executives who, with more available time thanks to reduced commutes and new remote work schedules, have taken on second executive positions.\n\n\u201cThey\u2019re picking up interim, fractional, or project-related CIO work,\u201d Taffet says.\n\nTaffet does work in a similar capacity, and although he doesn\u2019t use gig CIO to describe his work, he says the term makes sense for professionals who hold the top IT post yet are not staff employees.\n\nThese IT leaders more often call themselves fractional CIOs, contract CIOs, CIOs for hire, and sometimes virtual CIOs (even if they occasionally work physically on site for their client organizations).\n\nThey may work for multiple organizations at the same time, dividing their hours as needed among their clients. Some work for just one client for however many hours a week the job requires. Some stay with client companies for years in a part-time capacity until the companies are big enough to need a full-time IT executive. Others are hired as interim CIOs to lead IT only until a new permanent CIO is hired.\n\nIt\u2019s hard to say just how many CIOs work in such roles \u2014 figures quantifying them don\u2019t appear to exist \u2014 but they\u2019re an established and some say growing cohort of IT executives who fit a niche need in the labor market.\n\nBut the role is not right for every organization nor every individual, according to veteran contract CIOs and other enterprise executives. There are challenges and potential pitfalls for the entities hiring these workers as well as those who do the job.\n\nBut there are also plenty of benefits that come with this role for both the hiring entities and the CIOs themselves.\n\n\u201c[It\u2019s a] great way to access talent you might not be able to access full time. You can hire someone who is excellent at transforming IT and then promote an internal person or hire externally to carry it forward,\u201d says George Westerman, CIO award co-chair of the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium and senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. \u201cA contract CIO can be an excellent way to improve the performance of IT. A fractional one can be an excellent coach for one of your internal people who isn\u2019t quite ready for the executive ranks.\u201d\n\n\u2018Part of the executive team\u2019\n\nTaffet, who held multiple full-time staff IT and CIO positions before becoming a contract CIO, has seen the impact of that service.\n\nAs managing partner with Taffet Associates, he once worked for a manufacturing company that had a CIO but wanted him to come on as a secondary CIO specifically to handle an initiative that involved upgrading core systems. The arrangement enabled the existing CIO to focus on executing strategy, running the IT department, and collaborating with the business on its expansion plans \u2014 all while knowing that the major upgrade was in experienced executive hands.\n\nTaffet says the number of hours he worked each week varied through the length of the engagement, which itself stretched over three years. Taffet says the role, with its executive ranking, allowed him to execute the work with the required authority.\n\n\u201cPart of my role was knowing what decisions I could make, and which ones I needed clarification on; other positions, like a project manager, wouldn\u2019t have the level of business acumen needed for the role,\u201d he explains.\n\nGail Holmberg, area managing partner with Fortium Partners, which provides leadership-as-a-service, says such scenarios illustrate what sets contract CIOs apart from less senior IT roles and even IT consultants.\n\n\u201cFractional CIOs are part of the executive team. They\u2019re taking accountability for IT; they\u2019re not just providing advice,\u201d she says. \u201cThey\u2019re stepping in as a working executive to drive the technology forward.\u201d\n\n\u2018Raising the bar for IT\u2019\n\nOrganizations opt for contract CIOs for various reasons, according to multiple IT and business executives.\n\nSome organizations are too small to afford (and keep busy) a full-time CIO but need someone to develop and execute a strategy that supports their growth. Others, like the manufacturer that hired Taffet, have short-term needs for additional executive power. Then there are some who want a contract CIO experienced in certain areas, such as leading IT through corporate mergers, who then can lend his or her knowledge as the organization goes through those situations.\n\nThe unique circumstances that bring a contract CIO to an organization also often dictates the title given to the role. A small company that needs a CIO on a part-time basis for an indefinite period of time is more likely to go with the fractional or virtual CIO titles. Companies using a contract CIO for a specific period of time to oversee a particular project or to provide leadership between two permanent CIOs is more likely to be called an interim.\n\nVeterans of this kind of work say some companies want an executive-level IT professional to simply keep tech humming and manage the tech department; but, they add, that seems to be a small slice of the engagements.\n\nThey say it\u2019s more common for companies to hire contract CIOs to shape strategy, execute on it and take accountability for it \u2014 in addition to handling keep-the-lights-on responsibilities.\n\n\u201cAny time I\u2019ve served in that role, it was in a situation where the CEO or the board felt they were not getting what they thought they should from IT,\u201d says Larry Wolff, CEO of Wolff Strategy Partners, which provides digital transformation services and interim C-level leadership.\n\n\u201cSo my role [as a contract CIO] was always to turn around IT, take it from a cost center to a profit center, and create measurable value. For my engagements, it wasn\u2019t just fill in a gap. It meant raising the bar for IT and then bring in the next CIO who can sustain the improvements,\u201d he says.\n\nPros and cons to the position\n\nMatt Nerney, who works as a fractional CIO through his role as practice leader of IT executive services with TPP Global Services, says the increasing strategic value of technology is driving demand for contract CIOs.\n\nOrganizations that once could succeed with bare-bones IT infrastructure have realized they need a technology strategy to grow and thrive, he says. And those organizations are reaching that conclusion earlier in their evolution, when they\u2019re still too small to require a full-time IT executive.\n\n\u201cGo back, say, 10 years or whenever, companies could safely grow and ignore IT for a very long time. They could have a server in the background with just IT guys running it. Nowadays that [scenario] works for a shorter and shorter window,\u201d Nerney says. \u201cNow smaller and smaller companies are becoming obligated to have a strategic IT program due to compliance and regulation concerns as well as security threats. They need the insights that a CIO can provide but they don\u2019t need them all the time. A fractional CIO can develop a roadmap, prioritize IT and security. That\u2019s where the value starts.\u201d\n\nMeanwhile, larger organizations that had their CIOs depart without selecting a new one realize that the position is too critical to leave vacant. Or, in some cases, as Taffet\u2019s experience shows, they conclude they need additional executive-level IT talent to assist their current CIOs navigate particular challenges or initiatives \u2014 from derailed tech implementations to upcoming IPOs.\n\nIn such cases, organizations can seek out contract CIOs who have experience in that particular work, so they\u2019re getting the exact skill sets they need for the job at hand.\n\n\u201cThey\u2019re often senior in their careers, so you\u2019re getting the benefit of their experience,\u201d Nerney says.\n\nThere are cons to consider, however.\n\nLina Shurslep, who provides fractional CIO services through her firm MaxIT Solutions, believes fractional CIOs deliver significant value by serving as advisors to other executives at the organizations they serve.\n\n\u201cBut a potential disadvantage is the [contract CIO] doesn\u2019t know the company as well, and may not know the industry,\u201d she says.\n\nMeanwhile, Chuck Lear, who offers fractional CIO and advisory services through the firms Lear 360 and Consultants Collective, says some companies and their existing executives aren\u2019t always open to hearing from a new colleague coming in on a contract basis and then acting on his or her insights.\n\nHe also says some companies set unreasonable \u2014 even unachievable \u2014 demands for contract CIOs. Still other companies may not even know what they want or need from a CIO position.\n\nLear says he has navigated some of those scenarios, noting that contract CIOs like himself can often work with the client companies to reach expectations and terms to ensure success on both sides. But he says he has walked away from offers when it doesn\u2019t seem like a good fit. \u201cThere is work that gets turned away,\u201d he adds.\n\nThe contract CIO\u2019s perspective\n\nThe hiring organizations aren\u2019t the only ones who see pros and cons in this arrangement; contract CIOs likewise say they experience potential upsides and downsides to this gig.\n\nNerney, for one, says he finds the work exciting, as the contract CIO positions that he takes are generally tasked with transformation.\n\nShurslep says she prefers the contract work because it gives her more flexibility over her schedule as well as control over the number of hours she works; that allows her to pursue other activities, such as mentoring.\n\nOn a related note, Taffet says being a contract CIO, and the stream of new opportunities it brings, keeps him learning and challenged.\n\nAnd others speak of the ability to rapidly have an impact.\n\n\u201cThere\u2019s that newfound power. And you have that new power because they\u2019re hiring you to not have any political agenda. You have a clean slate and can say the things the way they are. It gives you a degree of liberty. You\u2019re the executive consultant in that board room, they\u2019re hiring you and paying you for your recommendations,\u201d says Herv\u00e9 de La Sayette, who had been a fractional CIO for two years before returning to a staff IT role in July 2021. He is now global head of ERP transformation for Hoya.\n\nHe speaks from firsthand experience. He once worked with a company that needed him to come in and create an IT strategy that would both align to the existing business and support new channels \u2014 but without the work getting bogged down in the workplace challenges that often accompany those types of bold moves.\n\nDespite those positives, there are some challenges and drawbacks to consider.\n\nContract CIOs say they face more demands to multitask and juggle capacity among multiple clients than staff CIOs.\n\nThey also have to pay more attention to their career path; even those working for firms and agencies say they must make time to network and promote their services to ensure they stay employed over the long term. Moreover, they must handle inconsistencies in demand and workload. As Nerney notes: \u201cI can\u2019t always control when I\u2019m going to roll off of one client and into another.\u201d\n\nContract CIOs also need to build up certain skills more than their full-time on-staff counterparts. For example, Nerney notes that contract CIOs must be able to quickly build trust and rapport to be effective, because they don\u2019t have the longer onboarding process that conventionally placed executives enjoy.\n\nAdditionally, contract CIOs, particularly the emerging gig CIOs cited by Taffet, must work to avoid any conflicts of interest that could arise while working for more than one entity.\n\nAs such, Taffet and others say that this line of work isn\u2019t for everyone. They note that CIOs looking to advance further within an organization to COO or CEO, those who favor stability over uncertainty or chaos, and those who take more time to grow relationships may not be good candidates.