The IT lifecycle: Appointing a CIO

Timing is everything when hiring a CIO. The primary function of a CIO is to be forward-looking for developing and implementing IT initiatives, but it can be difficult for a CIO to fulfil this duty if he or she is brought on too late, and provided with inadequate technologies and processes.

The earlier a company invests in a CIO, the earlier everyone can be in tune with what will make the business most efficient. But most companies don’t know when it’s too early and when it’s too late.

In the first article of this three-part series on the IT Lifecycle, I discussed recommendations for when to hire an IT consultant, and what to consider when doing so. During this process, it’s important to recognise when a CIO will be a valuable addition. In this second part of the series, I will continue to follow Joe’s Widget Shop, a small software development company, as they move onto the next stage in the IT lifecycle.

I’ll provide you with insight on what to look for when appointing a CIO and what a strong CIO embodies.

When the timing’s right   

Joe is aware that a common mistake smaller companies make is investing in a full-time employee — who’s not a CIO — to run the technological and operational needs of a business. If you identify that your company’s IT performance isn’t running as efficiently as it should be – i.e. systems are crashing, collaboration is lacking and, as a result, sales are impacted negatively – you’re already late in bringing on a CIO. As executives may not be aware of the best systems and best techniques for reporting, a CIO can fill this void.

Joe understands that if he reaches the 100 employee marker and still doesn’t have a CIO, he will need to re-evaluate his company’s performance to determine if now’s the time. Ideally, Joe hopes to hire a CIO at around the 50-employee mark, as soon as the budget is right.

A CIO will hunt down the most compatible software-as-a-service (SaaS) products for the company, understand integrations between these SaaS products, and evaluate what the needs are for the business as a whole. Without a CIO, Joe knows that there’s a good chance the company will have implemented solutions on a case-by-case basis, or at the request of certain employees, which will ultimately lead to having a hodgepodge of solutions that either don’t work well together, double-up on functionality, or cost more in man-hours to maintain them – all major inhibitors to business growth.

If you solve individual needs along the way, you end up trying to patch things together down the road, and that’s no easy feat.

The traits of a strong CIO

Put simply, a CIO need to exude a love for technology and your business. To Joe, a passionate CIO is likely to be very knowledgeable about the various products and solutions available in the market, in addition to researching industry trends in his or her spare time; however, Joe will also want a strong CIO that understands how current technologies can increase his company’s sales and not just reduce costs or improve clerical productivity.

The goal of the CIO is to recommend solutions with the best capabilities in the marketplace to help a business maintain a competitive edge, and implement technology that won’t be obsolete for years to come. Joe wants to be able to say with confidence that his marketing and sales departments are using the best lead generation and CRM tools and receive feedback from those teams that the tools are integrated seamlessly.

If Joe’s lucky, the CIO he appoints will have been a developer earlier in his or her career, or attuned to IT responsibilities. Maybe the CIO will even know how to code. A CIO that was previously a developer will have a better understanding of the complexity of integration between different cloud systems. In addition, the CIO will know the capabilities of each system or combination of systems from a custom reporting perspective. This skillset may also enable CIOs to do some of the report development on their own. A CIO with a technical background will have practical experience with implementing and enforcing appropriate IT policies, as well as managing and offering guidance to IT teams.

Measuring the results

When it comes to measuring the success of a CIO, it can be relatively simple at a surface level: make sure that your amount of revenue per headcount is going up. Joe considers this as a vital metric to measuring a CIO’s success, as it is in marketing or sales.

In order for Joe’s company to be in a good position to appoint a CIO, it needs to be considering and implementing policies from day-one. In my next and final article in this series, I’ll be discussing the implementation of formal IT policies and procedures as Joe’s small company matures and begins taking on more employees.

Jonathan McCormick, COO of Intermedia

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