Situations abound where a business could use supplemental C-level IT expertise to get through a transitory period of change. Maybe you’re between CIOs, or your senior IT leader needs some temporary executive-level help. Maybe the executive team needs some strategic IT advice, or the IT department needs a “shot in the arm” to get to the next level or deliver a new capability.

Flexible access to CIO-level expertise on part-time or temporary basis can serve to strengthen your IT function. Staffing services or consulting firms will provide a resource to cover strategic and/or tactical IT leadership needs. The resource can help with a short-term transition, organizational change, or other executive-level responsibility. Such a solution provides a viable and affordable option when an expert IT Leader is needed to augment the IT team or the business executive team.

Typically, the business requirement comes down to one of two scenarios:

  1. the IT organization doesn’t have the capacity to meet business needs, or
  2. the existing IT resources are missing the necessary capabilities.

Interim CIOs vs. Fractional CIOs

There are two common ways in which non-permanent CIOs are deployed. In the more traditional model, a temporary CIO is used as an interim resource to fill the IT leadership gap while the business looks for a new IT leader. The interim CIO joins the company for a predetermined period, with a start date and an end date.

During recent years, an alternate model for non-permanent CIOs has gained in popularity: the fractional CIO, also known as a part-time CIO or virtual CIO. A fractional CIO works for a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost it would take to employ a full-time CIO. Fractional CIOs typically provide ongoing services to several clients at the same time.

Through the years we have participated in a variety situations where interim and fractional CIOs have been used effectively—and not. The table below gives an overview of how we recommend placing such resources to best serve the business.

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Use cases for Interim and Fractional CIOs

Business ScenarioResource TypeResponsibilities
Recruiting a new CIOInterim CIOKeep IT running during CIO search
Onboarding or transitioning a new CIOInterim CIOPosition new CIO to hit the ground running
Supporting a mission-critical projectInterim CIOThis project cannot fail; lead the project a to successful outcome
Startup/SMB cannot afford a full-time CIOFractional CIOProvide vision and leadership
M&A eventFractional CIOProvide M&A guidance and experience
IT leadership augmentationFractional CIOProvide mentoring & coaching to IT leader(s)
IT strategy roadmapInterim or FractionalDevelop the IT roadmap; oversee execution
IT securityFractional CIOLead the IT department to compliance
IT outsourcingInterim or FractionalAssess opportunity; lead the selection and/or execution processes
3rd party vendorFractional CIOPerform assessment, fill gaps, manage vendor
Digital transformationInterim CIOGuide the organization along its digital transformation journey
IT/business strategy developmentInterim CIOWork with executive to ensure alignment

Each business is different, so your specific need may require a full-time resource for a certain period (interim CIO), tapering to fractional engagement. Other organizations may prefer to start with a fractional CIO over a longer duration who can step up to assist or lead as necessary.

As mentioned, the fractional or virtual CIO concept has been gaining in popularity over the past few years since the part-time, on-demand features of the role can provide great value at a lower fee. It can also be easier for management teams to sign up for this type of CIO support; the cost commitment is manageable and configurable to the needs of the business.

Former full-time, in-house CIOs provide fractional CIO services either through specialized consulting firms or through individual contracting. I find the fractional CIO concept to be a win-win for the CIO service provider and the client needing the CIO service. The fractional CIO gets to work on meaningful outcome-oriented assignments, and the client gets the C-level support they need, when they need it.

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The next time your business needs a boost in senior-level IT capacity or capabilities, try a fractional CIO. It works!