Is CIO for Hire the Right Move for You?

Is CIO for Hire the Right Move for You?

Interim CIOs on the challenges of parachuting in and setting things right when a company needs a temporary IT leader

CIOs are calling me. A lot. Most of them are nervous and thinking about their next job. Most are set on another CIO role and some are ready to move into "the business".

But a significant number are intrigued by the possibility of an "interim CIO" or "CIO for hire" role. They would like to join a firm whose clients are global corporations with messed-up IT organizations in urgent need of a temporary seasoned leader. They would enjoy, they tell me, the diversity of client company engagements and the challenge of parachuting in and setting things right.

Who wouldn't want an endless array of exciting new opportunities and a chance to play the hero? Of course, it's worth remembering that an interim role comes with its own special challenges. To paint a complete picture of what such a job encompasses, I spoke with three former CIOs who joined firms that offer interim CIO services as a part of their overall IT and management consulting umbrella. They offer some guidelines for the whys and hows of making the move.

1. Why Do It?

Change is your steady state. Lisa Metcalfe experienced an epiphany of sorts as she reflected on her career as CTO at Avista Advantage, CIO at Washington Gas and VP of IS at National Wildlife Federation. "What I enjoyed most about each role took place during the first six to 12 months on the job," she says. Once she had worked through that initial period of change, the work became less interesting. "I wanted to position myself so that the most challenging part of the job would be a regular part of my career."

After testing the waters by consulting on her own for a few months, she joined Tatum LLC, a large consulting firm that, among other things, provides interim CIO services to companies in immediate need of an IT leader. At first, Metcalfe worked directly on IT engagements, but she then moved into the role of regional practice leader, responsible for business development and the overall health of the practice.

You love the work, not the politics. "As a new internal executive, you have to spend a lot of up-front time on relationship building because you are there for the long term," says Metcalfe. "The interim role is freeing because you can focus directly on the work right away."

Metcalfe acknowledges that as an interim CIO, you need to build relationships as well. But you"re not there for the long haul. And, in a consulting engagement, "you have to make project work your top priority; if there is a list of projects, you have to start working through it pretty quickly".

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