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There are many organisations now using the services of an external CIO Advisor to great effect having brought the solution in for a variety of reasons. This Insight illustrates some of the user cases for a CIO Advisor to demonstrate the value that such a service may bring to an IT Department, whether the need be driven from within IT or from within the business.
Small IT with no CIO
Smaller IT teams often have a Head of IT, even a nominal IT Director or CIO, but the common factor is that the Head of IT is also an operational resource with broad responsibilities across the function. In this situation, the Head of IT is unlikely to have time to be innovative outside of the core operation of the department and is also unlikely to engage regularly with the business to understand their imperatives.
Employing a full time CIO is an expensive option and brings with it the risk that an experienced CIO may well not want a role in a business of this nature leading to lower quality appointments. Using a CIO Advisor as a part time resource is more cost effective and will allow the use of extremely experienced people who have a good understanding across a variety of industries that will bring fresh thinking to the IT Department.
Using a CIO Advisor in this situation is not an admission of failure by the Head of IT but an acknowledgement that IT needs to progress and become more integrated with the business and take outside information and research to develop. Working with a CIO Advisor is a rapid enabler and a very effective way for the Head of IT to develop their own role into that of a CIO rather than having an external CIO imposed upon them.
Mistrust of IT within the Business
Many businesses still regard IT as a cost centre and place them in the same category as Facilities Management, Finance and even Human Resources. IT is necessary but not appreciated and rarely trusted and so their advice on the future of the business is not sought. IT responds by trying to keep costs down and expending their effort on keeping systems running whilst seeking budget only where necessary for replacements and upgrades. Any significant projects are initiated by the business with IT being brought into the process too late to have a meaningful impact.
When an IT Department is viewed as an internal service function in this way, a CIO Advisor can be used to engineer a change in perception by interacting with the business, often engaging directly at Board level and making the business aware of the changes that can be created through the use of IT. The CIO Advisor can act as an evangelist for the IT Department whilst gathering business imperatives from the Board and helping the IT Department translate these into viable technical solutions. Using external research and references to other organisations and verticals, the CIO Advisor brings IT to the forefront of the business process rather than a service department that is engaged too late and instructed rather than involved.
Immature IT Function that Requires Mentoring
Many IT functions are still relatively immature. That is not to say that they are simply new but rather that they are trying to evolve from the internal service function described earlier. Usually the business has recognised the value of IT and has asked for more input from IT but IT itself is having difficulty in rising to this challenge. New IT functions can suffer the same growing pains and a CIO Advisor can be used strategically to help set-up governance, structure and strategy or to change the underlying governance, structure and strategy in an existing IT function where change is needed.
The CIO Advisor will assist in re-structuring using their experience and knowledge of similar organisations and help promote the change through the rest of the organisation. Too often IT functions will undergo dramatic internal change but will not integrate this into the culture of the organisation and so the benefits of the effort are not realised. CIO Advisors are business focussed individuals with a strong technology background and highly experienced at promoting significant change so that it positively impacts the rest of the organisation.
The same approach applies to new and emerging IT functions as they need to be promoted within the business and shown as capable leaders in the modern digital world.
Business Seeking CIO to Challenge the Board
The need for a CIO Advisor can emerge when the business itself identifies that it needs to be challenged by the IT function and needs an individual who is very business aware but with high technology capability. The CIO Advisor will work with both the business and IT and bring them together in a more effective working partnership. The role of the CIO Advisor is to build the confidence in IT not only within the business but often within IT itself by reconstructing the relationship with the business and opening a channel of communication.
As the business will often seek the appointment, IT can feel marginalised, but a strong CIO Advisor will work equally effectively with the business and IT to integrate them and build back the value of IT to the business.
Interim CIO Function
A CIO Advisor can also act as an interim CIO where there is a gap in the existing business either as a full time Interim CIO or as a part time advisor to the IT Team until a new CIO is appointed. The CIO Advisor can also work with the existing team and identify potential candidates for promotion to CIO and then create and execute a development programme to enable these candidates to learn the additional skills that they will require. On-going personal mentoring programmes can also be implemented to assist the new candidate during the transition into their new role. Organisations often find that this approach is more effective and cost efficient than simply looking outside for a replacement CIO as it builds on knowledge and experience gained within the organisation.
IT Team Overwhelmed with Operational Issues
IT teams can simply become overwhelmed with operational issues and spend so much of their time fighting fires that there is no time for development or innovation or even, sometimes, putting out the fires. A CIO Advisor can work with the IT team to prioritise their issues and to introduce new governance, processes and tooling to achieve a marked reduction in the operational issues and return the IT team to a state of equilibrium.
At this point the CIO Advisor can continue to work with the IT team to develop a more effective approach to avoid the overload situation arising again and to ensure that the new governance and processes are properly embedded into the organisation.
This list of use cases is by no means exhaustive but is intended to show how both business and IT can benefit from engaging with an external advisor who will work closely with both elements and help introduce effective change within an organisation. Good advisors are those that engage with the business and are tied to the delivery of measurable objectives rather than those that simply observe and comment. These latter people often actually achieve much within a business, simply leaving it to an organisation to figure out how to implement their observations.
True advisors are engaged as part of the mechanism of execution and that approach should be a key factor in selecting appropriate advisors, irrespective of the use case that drives the decision.
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