A Chief Information Officer can provide a wealth of experience to an organization when it comes to getting the most out of technology investments. Most CIO’s have been around the block a few times and have deep experience applying technology to solve real business issues. In addition, good CIO’s tend to have a business focused mindset and are not interested in implementing technology for technology’s sake. However, CIO’s are also expensive to find, hire, and employ, especially for small to mid-sized organizations that often don’t have the need, or the budget, for a full-time CIO. Engaging a CIO-as-a-Service (aka a shared or fractional CIO) provider offers these companies the ability to leverage executive-level technology expertise while only paying for as much as they need.
Organizations that leverage experts in this manner find the following advantages:
Expertise at Reduced Costs: The first, and most obvious, advantage is that a company can reduce costs while still gaining the experience and knowledge of a technology lead but without spending time and resource searching, interviewing, hiring, and paying an expensive full-time CIO. By contrast, a CIO-as-a-Service can deliver similar expertise but at a fraction of the cost and with added flexibility. Depending on the arrangement and need this type of arrangement can typically be utilized for anywhere between 25% and 50% the total cost of a full-time executive.
Utilization of IT as a Strategic Asset: For organizations that don’t have CIOs, IT is often viewed only as an enabler of the business when in fact IT should be leveraged as a strategic differentiator for a company. A shared CIO can provide this direction that is often missing in non-CIO led technology organizations.
Best Practices: Another advantage is that because shared CIO’s work with other organizations at the same time, there is an immediate extension of the knowledge pool and best practices that the clients can leverage.
Lack of Politics: A shared CIO has nothing to gain politically by working with a particular company. He or she would not be looking to advance their own stock internally to gain favor and therefore can focus on results without worrying about political perceptions. For this reason though, plans using a shared CIO should be diligent about what the individual is working on and what “success” in that endeavor looks like and the CIO should be up-front and very clear about any potential conflicts.
Flexibility: A shared CIO can provide flexibility. Many companies don’t need a CIO available 40 to 60 hours per week and they shouldn’t have to pay for capacity. Some will find too that they may need a CIO’s expertise on a less-than-consistent basis. There may be a critical project that comes up that needs additional knowledge for a few weeks but then wraps up. A shared CIO can provide flexibility to meet these needs by allowing clients to ramp services up-or-down as needed.
Cross Training: A shared CIO can provide mentorship and coaching to less experienced IT staff members during the engagement, thereby better enabling them to manage technology once the CIO is no longer needed. No one can turn an IT Director into a CIO overnight but by working closely with the existing team, a shared CIO can dramatically improve the management capabilities of the existing leadership and better enable the running of the organization on a day-to-day basis
Of course, using a shared CIO isn’t always the best option and there are some drawbacks. Using a shared CIO in a full-time role will be more expensive than a hired CIO and should only be considered a short-term/interim solution. Also, if a shared CIO doesn’t manage his or her client load appropriately, they can over-commit themselves and could lose some of the “ramp-up” flexibility that sometimes becomes necessary. This also means that the client must understand that sometimes the shared CIO will have to say no to certain requests in order to maintain his or her existing commitments. A good CIO will have other options to offer the client and the client typically recognizes the reasoning behind the CIO’s decision.
While not perfect in every situation, a shared CIO can be a great option for companies looking to make some strategic differences via their IT organization. A shared CIO can bring a variety of experiences from past clients and introduce a breath of fresh air to an IT team that has stagnated. Lastly, if an IT organization has been without senior leadership for some time, a shared CIO can help right the ship while also helping find, mentor, and hire/promote and generally prepare the organization for the future.