How To Go From Acting CIO to Actual CIO

How To Go From Acting CIO to Actual CIO

Most of us thrive in relatively defined structures where we understand the parameters within which we can act, succeed or fail. As such, we are typically very uncomfortable in liminal states -- when we are neither here nor there, neither in nor out, neither fish nor fowl. CIOs who are in acting or interim roles must exist in this grey area, often for protracted periods of time while performing Herculean feats of turnaround, firefighting and influence.

Whether you're a number two with a shot at the top or a consultant brought in on an ad hoc basis, the odds of getting the full time job are typically not great for interim CIOs. It's relatively easy for an external candidate to convince a hiring committee that he will do great things in the future. An internal candidate has to do great things in the here and now. And while an external candidate can paint a beautiful picture of future alignment and prosperity, an internal candidate has no choice but to expose the current and ugly truth about an IT organization.

So how do you shift from acting to in charge? To find out, I checked in with several CIOs who successfully made this transition. Follow their tips, and you may find yourself happily erasing the "interim" from your office door.

Don't be a baby-sitter. In July 2006, ICG Commerce, a procurement outsourcing provider, hired Rick Bunker for a week-long consulting engagement on IT management strategy.

"I gave my report and figured I was done," he says. About a month later, a new CEO joined the company and asked Bunker to present his findings once again. The CEO liked what he heard and asked Bunker to consult as an interim CIO for a three-month assignment. "Two months into my consulting engagement, when it was time to finish up or begin a new statement of work, they asked me to take the permanent role," he says.

Interim CIOs are often asked to babysit an organization and leave the major strategic moves to the permanent CIO. Bunker warns against allowing your role to be defined this passively.

"If your CEO tells you to keep things calm before the new person starts, you're in a terrible position," says Bunker. "Your peers will see you as ineffective -- and they are the real decision-makers as to whether or not you'll get the job." When Bunker joined ICG, the company was transitioning from a product to a services strategy, and the IT organization was misaligned to the new business model. In his first two months on the job, Bunker restructured the organization, adopted an agile programming methodology and set up a new technical training program.

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