Special services - how interim CIOs have become expert advisors

Interim CIOs and CTOs have transitioned into a new boutique alternative to major consultancies, and could be well placed for the post-Covid recovery

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In 2008 there were two flavours of C-level technology leader - a permanent CIO or CTO and the second was the interim CIO/CTO. Consultants, at that time, were non-permanent staff and rarely at the C-level. This is a slight simplification of the landscape. Today, the distinction between interim C-suite executives and consultants is more nuanced, and for very good reason. Permanent and as-required tech executives have reshaped. So is there still a place for the interim CIO? Or, is change management pace and scale such that a new breed of supporting actor steps in to help organisations change their narrative?

Despite, and because of the economic impact of the pandemic, organisations have a major appetite for technology-led change. Search and recruitment businesses report that demand for both permanent and interim CIOs and CTOs is healthy; saying that candidates should be optimistic, that organisations now realise that they don’t have the skills required to deliver change, and that the market for interims has exploded both sides of the Atlantic with high demand in Europe and the Americas. 

Back in 2008, interim C-suite hires often had to either come in and fight a fire as the organisation found its technology was a major risk to the business, or they took the helm of the technology department to ensure the lights stayed on whilst the business considered the place of tech and therefore its leadership in their business. Technology and change leaders today report that they are hired for a very different purpose.

"What I see most is a cry for help," says CIO Richard Steward who has held interim roles with major retailers and permanent roles in consumer goods and financial services. "An interim should be someone to fix a certain problem," adds Mark Lockton-Goddard, a former permanent and interim CIO who has held roles across Europe, and now heads up consultancy embracent. 

The pandemic has highlighted a range of business and digital problems and Lily Haake, head of the CIO practice at search firm Harvey Nash believes: "technology budgets will not fall off a cliff. In 2008 to 2009 we saw budgets decrease, but firms will not cut so deeply this time," she says. "The market is buoyant as technology and traditional business need to shift," says Adrian Wakefield, a former CIO in international engineering firms, and now a technology operating model expert who leads Transforming IT. "Being interim is really being part of the organisation and is vital at times of inflection, but advisory work is very different."

Those buying technology and change leadership are also far more well-informed about what they expect from a CIO or CTO, whether they be a permanent board-level staffer or part of a temporary programme. "We have seen a real change in client behaviour," says Darren Coomer, an interim CIO and founder of The S&A Group, a business, transformation and digital consulting organisation. 

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