Hiring an Interim IT Director, Interim CIO or Interim CTO

Hiring an interim IT Director, Interim CIO or Interim CTO is made more difficult when IT is not an area of expertise for the existing Board. It’s difficult to know what to look for, and it’s difficult to know when you’ve found it! There is a huge difference between some who is credible in an interview, and someone who is actually capable of doing the job!

Describing the Role

From a naming point of view, the differences between IT Director, CIO (Chief Information Officer) and CTO (Chief Technology Officer) are confusing and there is no universal agreement. In all cases the role covers information systems and the underlying technology. It may encompass strategy, business process and management information, digital and online, and office and facilities management as well.

Generally a CIO might be focused on business processes, management information and business strategy. They will ensure effective operations and delivery of technology including infrastructure and management of third party service providers but they are less likely to be detailed technical experts.

A CTO will probably have a software development background, perhaps for digital projects including ecommerce and customer interactive systems from social media through to customer portals. They are often aligned with marketing strategy and understand how to fund product development, and may be able to represent your company in relationships with external investors.

The term IT Director is probably the broadest term. It generally encompasses strategic leadership of all aspects of IT and its usage in business. IT Directors should have experience of business systems, software development, projects of all kinds, and IT infrastructure and facilities. For simplicity we use the term IT Director to encompass all 3 roles.

Upsides to hiring an interim

  • Interims have very wide experience as their typical assignments are shorter, so they should have dealt with a large number of situations like yours.
  • Interims will not expect to be on the payroll, pension or bonus scheme. They will not have the overheads or protections of an employee so your risk is much lower.
  • They are generally simply focused on getting in, getting the job done, and then moving on – so they can make a big impact quickly and they’re less interested in office gossip, social events and they are not trying to climb the greasy pole.
  • They can generally start immediately.

Downsides to hiring an interim

  • Interims will generally not be available for an interview until very close to the start of your project. They will want a firm start date and they will expect to be paid full time from that date until the project’s end, when they will want to make a clean break so they are available for their next assignment.
  • They can have a “lone wolf” attitude, they may not be interested in the people and cultural aspects of your business, you may feel they are going against the grain of your business … they may know this but they may not even care!
  • They have little buy-in to your long-term aims, or the long-term impact of what they are doing! So the long-term viability of their solution, people they might hire, or supplier relationships they create may all be dubious – it’s no surprise as they won’t be with you in the long-term!

Key questions to consider when defining the role:

  1. Who will the individual report to? To work across the whole company, to change processes and how people work, the person needs to be part of the senior team and may need to report to the CEO.
  2. Will the individual be responsible for your company’s Digital Vision? If you have plans for ecommerce or social media marketing then will the person be responsible for this.
  3. Do you need a supplier manager or team builder? If your IT is largely or wholly outsourced then this requires a leader with strong contract management skills who is very used to commercial negotiation and procurement. If your IT is largely insourced then your IT leader needs the personal style and leadership qualities to inspire and build a team.
  4. Is the plan for major projects? The mindset and attitude of a leader who drives change is quite different to the person who oversees a steady-state.
  5. Is there is already strong technical management in place, or IT infrastructure provision is outsourced to suppliers who have proven themselves technically capable? Or do you need a technical leader to provide technical vision and oversight?
  6. Does your business include complicated processes and no existing senior leaders with time to address issues?
  7. Is there a clear need for good data management or good management information, or are these issues already covered off by existing roles?

Personal Fit

Cultural fit – If the person doesn’t fit in to your culture, then they’re never going to work. People don’t change their culture so you need to find an IT Director that fits your culture otherwise, in the long run, it won’t work. Do you feel they are at home I your business? If not then they’re not right for you.

Understandable – as the CEO, you need to be able to understand them and they need to be able to translate your business requirements in to technology solutions. They must be able to explain complex technology concepts in ways that you can understand and to demonstrate why, in business terms, what they’re suggesting should get the go-ahead. If they just talk gobblygook all day long, you’re going to fall out quickly.

Delivery Focused – IT projects have a reputation for always being late and never delivering what was expected. That’s because it’s hard and it needs focus and attention. So, it’s important that your IT Director has a proven track record of delivering successful projects that have made a difference to their business. An interim IT Director will most likely be delivery focussed because that’s generally what they are measured on because they’re a short-term capability that delivers something. If you don’t have a load of things that need delivering, then perhaps an Interim IT Director isn’t the best solution.

Socially Adept – It’s surprising how many highly experienced professionals still can’t communicate with other board members or those further down the company’s hierarchy. But we all know most IT change programmes fail because of a lack of people engagement. So if they’re not socially adept, then they won’t be able to make the difference you need them to make.

Feel free to download and use this job description with our compliments.

At Freeman Clarke our people are more than just interims. We have pioneered the idea of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT directors, CIOs and CTOs. A fractional IT director feels and acts like any other member of your senior team, rather than having the short-term, narrow attitude of an interim.

We are the largest and most experienced team of fractional IT directors and we only hire the best in the business – fewer than 1% of the people who apply to join us are able to successfully complete every stage of our recruitment process.

Our people can work with you on a flexible basis, ramping up and ramping down as you need them or as projects go through different phases. We aim to be with you for the long-term, and our people will care as much about your business as you do.