Do you have what it takes to be an interim CIO?

The interim CIO is the most prestigious temp job in IT. It’s not an easy role, but those who make it their profession appreciate its rewards.

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A growing number of IT leaders are joining the contracting community to become interim CIOs. Temporary leadership roles come with their own obvious challenges, such as speed-learning a company’s organizational structure, technology portfolio, and politics. But the interim CIO also has the opportunity to make vital changes in preparation for a permanent replacement. Success depends in large part on company culture, combined with the interim CIO’s skillset and adaptability.

Omid Shiraji, consulting CIO at Camden Council (and formerly interim CIO at the same organization) believes one of the key challenges is a misplaced perception around loyalty and longevity. “There is a negative perception that interims land with a short-term mindset; executing a specific brief and leave others to ‘pick up the pieces’ of the decisions they make, once they’ve gone,” he says.

But that isn’t what the interim CIO is about, explains Shiraji. Instead, the most successful interim CIOs think about sustainability up front and build it into their engagement. “They focus on what is right for the organization both immediately and in the long-term, and act with the accountability of a permanent leader. There is no other way to build professional credibility,” he says.

Setting expectations for interim CIOs

To begin with, everyone in the organization should be aware how long the interim CIO will be at the organization and exactly what that person is expected to accomplish.

“You know what time period you have and what you have to achieve, so there is no ambiguity that you can sometimes have with permanent roles. Then you’re able to focus on specific deliveries and not get bogged down on peripheral issues which can emerge in the permanent role,” says Stephen Potter, interim CIO at HS2 Ltd, the company behind a £56B high-speed railway in the UK.

The short-term effect can also help people within the business take more notice of what seems an external voice, giving them the opportunity to influence or execute their strategy more effectively.

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