CIO Chronicles: Conducting Business Success as an Interim Office of the CIO

Author

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Another important concept left out of this famous quote commonly attributed to the founding father, Benjamin Franklin, is CHANGE. Change is the other guarantee of life; nothing stays the same indefinitely, and business is no exception. Markets shift, customer demands evolve, and people leave to find new jobs and new opportunities elsewhere.

If your company has spent the time and effort to develop comprehensive succession plans and has an identified internal replacement for your key roles, then you deserve accolades for the resilience you’ve built into your organization. If you are like the rest of your colleagues who haven’t had the time or resources to create that kind of continuity, you will face a unique challenge when your current CIO eventually leaves.

If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll be given several weeks, even months, of advance notice and will likely be able to fill the position while the existing CIO is still in place and can personally assist with knowledge transfer. The rest of you will be faced with a significant challenge: how to keep things running during the time needed to find a qualified replacement and then onboard them?

CIOs are too critical to risk hiring the wrong person, yet taking too long to fill the void could have disastrous consequences for the company:

  • faltering projects
  • the departure of additional key personnel
  • decreasing levels of service
  • exploding budgets
  • cybersecurity breach

Enter the “Interim” CIO

The existence of a gap in IT Leadership is only the tipping point in determining the need for a temporary replacement, the rest of the equation has everything to do with the nature of the business and what’s transpiring at the current moment:

  • Is your company in a steady state, with no major initiatives in progress, and staffed with diligent and highly motivated IT personnel?
  • Or is your company in the middle of a major ERP rollout, struggling to implement updated cybersecurity policies and procedures, and underwater from a resource and capacity standpoint?
  • Or are you in the early stages of major M&A activity where things might look calm on the surface, but the tsunami is building unseen to most people?
  • Or are you somewhere in between?

An interim CIO is the right person for right now, and the “right now” has an enormous impact on what kind of leader you’ll need to get you through the next weeks, months, or even quarters before a permanent replacement can be found. Sometimes, they are a steward and other times; they are a fully functional change agent running the organization as any CIO/CTO would, making strategic decisions that will have lasting implications for downstream leadership. Do you need someone to keep the lights on or someone who can help stabilize infrastructure, build out a new disaster recovery facility, modernize legacy applications, and address shortcomings in organizational talent?

In either case, you need an individual experienced in shepherding teams through turmoil while maintaining operations and who can actively assist in hiring and onboarding their own long-term replacement.

What does Liberty do as an Interim “Office” of the CIO?

In the wake of an IT leader’s departure, Liberty Advisor Group’s explicit mission is to ensure uninterrupted business momentum. Continuity is critical, the creation of which means your interim leader must understand everything about your business goals, the current state of your IT department, all in-flight projects, and where there might be critical fault lines waiting to turn into an earthquake – all as quickly as possible.

We accomplish that by augmenting a single day-to-day “Interim CIO” with Liberty’s extensive bench of SMEs, providing a team that can cover as much ground as needed to build a picture of that current state quickly and effectively. The rest of your organization has the comfort and familiarity of a single leader with whom they can communicate, but behind that person is a team that can make an impact much more quickly than a single person. That is the power of an Office.

Once the Office of the CIO is in place, working to ensure continuity can be broken down into four main pillars:

1. Retaining Your Key People 

The equation here is simple: replacing people is expensive, and replacing key people is really expensive. Fostering a secure and understanding environment is critical to counter the uncertainties that push talent away and, with them, their precious knowledge. 

Liberty counters with exodus by creating a transparent environment where team members feel valued and informed. The knowledge and tenure stay in-house, enriching your enterprise.

2. Stabilizing Existing Critical Platforms

If your company is in a steady state, this pillar becomes less evident because continuity implies stability. Changes proposed or implemented by an interim CIO might not align with the vision of the permanent CIO, raising the chances that the organization will suffer through a whiplash-like reversal of course, which in turn puts pressure on the IT team and makes the new CIO’s job harder out of the gate.

BUT, if the technology ecosystem is in the middle of problematic outages, system upgrades, or scalability issues arising from accelerating growth, then there might not be time to wait for the permanent CIO. Reliable system performance now outweighs other concerns, but even here, managing these kinds of changes needs the right individual with the right outlook. Remediations can be built with the cooperation of existing personnel, preserving the rationale within corporate memory, and can be socialized with the rest of the leadership to ensure an understanding that action now is needed.

This was evident when Liberty was brought in by a healthcare company experiencing serious stability and performance issues with the centralized platform used by all of its 200+ locations. The existing team was in the middle of a well-intentioned but flawed migration to a cloud platform from their on-premise data center. Liberty’s team realized quickly that the system architecture meant the economics of the move would be substantially worse than the internal estimates, and moved quickly to halt the cloud migration. Our team then focused on a pragmatic upgrade and data center migration that would stabilize the system and allow for anticipated growth for a couple of years, buying the client time to perform a more disciplined and comprehensive solution assessment toward identifying their application of the future.

3. Building a Roadmap

Central to any interim Office of the CIO engagement is the knowledge that our presence is temporary, so starting on Day 1, we are focused on building out the materials and direction the eventual replacement will need to assume the reins.

It serves no purpose for our client to take the time and energy to educate and onboard the interim team, only to then have to expend the same time and energy on the permanent CIO. We create the documentation for our own replacement, a comprehensive assessment of the current state, and a roadmap of projects designed to address any gaps discovered during the engagement. If recruiting the permanent CIO takes longer than expected, we also have the option of commencing work on the roadmap.

4. Onboarding a Replacement

Once the permanent CIO is identified, we focus on ensuring that this person can hit the ground running, prepared for and able to make impactful changes quickly and with the proper background and supporting business cases.

Most often this takes the shape of a “100-day plan” tailored to their approach and benefitting from our experience and familiarity with the organization. Our goal is to function as a bridge, between the old and the new, and work alongside the new CIO for a period of time to ensure early successes and a positive perception from the staff and leadership team. To do any less, to us, would make all the effort leading up to the handoff a waste.

Stepping Stones to Success: How Interim Tech Leaders Shape Business Trajectories

In today’s tech-driven landscape, disruption reigns. An interim CIO is a crucial decision that can have a significant impact on your organization’s future success. Depending on your needs, you may require an interim CIO who can help stabilize infrastructure, build new disaster recovery systems, or take on other key responsibilities.

From strategizing to scaling, these versatile leaders bring fresh perspectives and expertise. Liberty Advisor Group can help your company navigate smoothly through technological changes, keeping it stable and preparing it for the future.

Contact Liberty Advisor Group to infuse tech expertise, know-how, and support into the very core of your business.

About Liberty Advisor Group

Liberty Advisor Group is a goal-oriented, client-focused business and technology consulting firm based in Chicago. Since its inception in 2008, the firm has been committed to helping clients solve their most complex business issues, delivering tangible results that drive growth and reduce risk. Year after year, Liberty has been recognized for its people, culture, and hard work. In 2023, Liberty was named to Best Place to Work in Chicago by Crains’ Chicago Business,  Best Workplaces in Chicago™ in 2023 by Great Place to Work and Fortune Magazine. Liberty Advisor Group has the experience to realize our clients’ highest ambitions. Learn more on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Author

Add insights to your inbox

Get the latest in leadership news delivered straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.