In the old Westerns, the taciturn hero would drift into town, and with a "yep" and a "nope" he'd see off the bad guys before riding into the sunset. These days, the household names of British business are increasingly likely to turn to a hired hand for help in a crisis. And while interim CIOs are hardly the stuff from which gunslingers are made, there is more than a whiff of the OK Corral about their tales from the frontiers of IT management.
The use of interim CIOs grew by more than 55 per cent over the past year, according to Paul Botting, chairman of the Interim Management Association, which represents the agencies that find temporary managers. Driving this growth, he says, is the increasing pace of business and a greater willingness to outsource.
"The growing complexity of projects means that organizations need to buy in skilled and highly paid specialists," Botting argues. "In some ways, they are trouble-shooters brought in to manage change. The change may be a merger, an acquisition, a startup or a turnaround. Whatever it is, it involves a risk or a problem."
Sometimes an interim CIO may fill in when a permanent manager has become ill or has left suddenly. It is quite common for an interim to be hired because they have particular expertise -- in e-commerce or in relocating IT facilities, for example. Very often, they walk into demoralized departments without proper leadership, where something has gone badly wrong.
Big Project Experience
Agencies that specialize in interim managers like to talk about temporary CIOs being over-qualified for the jobs they are doing and there are certainly many interims who made their names on big IT projects in the 1980s and 1990s. Bill Limond, for example, oversaw the introduction of systems for a completely new, deregulated gas industry. At the time, he pioneered outsourcing in the UK and transferred 2000 British Gas employees to a third-party supplier in the process.
For the past eight years he has been an interim manager, even finding time to set up an agency for interims called Patina People. "I found it a real challenge to be responsible for achieving results in a limited time-scale and then to move on," he says. "You've got to be over-qualified, very experienced and know how to prioritize."
Not that Limond has ducked many challenges as a freelance. He worked on a strategy assignment for BT, as CIO at the -Audit Commission, and had a similar role at Transport for London, where he introduced an online journey planner and reorganized the outfit's SAP system.
Those involved in the business are quick to draw a distinction between the qualities a manager needs to run a department in a steady state and those required when an organization experiences the IT equivalent of a Big Bang.
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