Interim CIOs: Do You Need One?

Posted by Mark Becker on Nov 1, 2016 9:42:52 AM

The departure of a key IT leader places an organization at a critical juncture. Companies often find themselves with unclear short and long-term technology needs. Whether it was an unexpected chief information officer (CIO) vacancy or the company chose to make a change, the result is a void in IT leadership. That void slows down what could be critical IT initiatives.

Nevertheless, even the best-run department can leverage this situation and emerge stronger. An interim CIO allows a company to examine current policies, projects, and strategies, and in turn make changes for the better.

To be successful, executive management must agree on goals.

Typically, there are several key goals: 

  • A thorough review of department policies, procedures, and documentation with comparisons against industry standards and plans for improvement.
  • An assessment of staff competencies and current staffing levels.
  • Ongoing, professional management of current projects and an evaluation of current project management techniques.
  • Analysis of network statistics and a configuration review.
  • Verification and validation of the job description for the vacant position.

Assistance with recruitment and interviews of permanent candidates.

What to expect from the interim CIO:
The search for the right CIO can be a 6 to 24-month process. Therefore the interim CIO must be able to step in quickly, keep the IT department running efficiently, and be willing to stay for the duration of the search.
The interim CIO must also be a problem solver, strategic thinker, and exceptionally organized. 

Universal qualities for the interim CIO:

  • Executive presence and a professional demeanor
  • Exceptional communication and interpersonal skills
  • Flexibility
  • Proven problem solving techniques
  • Experience with IT restructuring
  • Experience as a change agent, transformer, and leader of people and projects

Knowledge of IT governance, and any unique factors to the company (in healthcare for instance, this would include topics such as meaningful use, HIPAA, HIEs, ACOs and ICD-10)

During the first two months of the interim CIO's engagement, the focus should be on departmental reviews. The remaining time should concentrate on finding a qualified replacement, maintaining key initiatives, and deploying identified changes.

Benefits of using an interim:
An interim CIO gives staff a sense of continuity, and gives executives peace of mind. An interim CIO allows a search for a permanent candidate to occur at a deliberate and thoughtful pace – not in a mad rush.

There is an advantage in allowing key projects and initiatives to move ahead. With a seasoned IT leader at the helm, your mission can continue uninterrupted. Many organizations even deliberately prolong the engagement of an interim, to make the organization as attractive as possible to the eventual permanent CIO.  

How do you find these people?: 
Look to your own business network first.  In today's fast-paced IT job market it seems there are always qualified executive types who are "between opportunities".  Some of these individuals may have never considered a stint as an interim CIO yet may be very open to the idea.  Bringing someone on in this type of scenario allows both parties to be very open and honest:  the interim position has a clearly-defined sunset date and everyone knows from the outset that this will be a temporary situation. 

Because of the popularity of the interim CIO, there are now firms who specialize in providing this service exclusively.  Using a placement firm provides several advantages, including finding experienced executives who have acted in an interim capacity previously, well-defined terms of engagement and some assurance that you will be well served.  An added plus is that the interim may well be open to a permanent position and you can essentially "try before you buy". 

Other scenarios: 
Even if your IT leadership is remaining in place, there are still situations where an interim can bring huge benefits.  An in-house employee who is new to the leadership position can be coached and mentored by a "shadow CIO" for several months or longer to get up to speed.  An organization facing large, one-time projects such as building a new facility or undergoing a merger/acquisition might turn to an interim who has experience in those areas in order to ensure success. 

Bottom Line: 
There are several different use cases where using an interim CIO can reap huge rewards without requiring long-term commitments to expensive staff.  If your IT offerings need a leadership tune-up, an interim CIO is certainly worth considering.

Topics: C/D/H