Interim Executives: Filling Critical Gaps When It’s Most Necessary – Part 5

Interim CIO: Repair, Recover, and Never Repeat Again

Most CEOs have a love-hate relationship with their IT departments. We love the solutions they bring us—when they are working. And when they don’t, they cost us undue stress and a fortune. 

For years, most companies leveraged technology for internal purposes: sending emails, keeping the computers running, and fixing things using a strategy other than “Have you tried rebooting the system?” As technology became less expensive and more readily available, with more options for nontechnology companies, IT became more customer-facing. Business use cases went from “How can it make our lives easier” to “How can it make our customers’ lives easier?” 

For companies in which the product and/or service being sold is not the technology itself, but is delivered or driven by technology, the IT department became the life-blood of the organization. This was the case for a client that was struggling greatly to build an IT department that could support its external and internal technology needs in a highly secure environment.

The CEO contacted us looking for an independent review and assessment of his IT department. Obviously, one of the first questions we asked was, “Why?” There had been mounting issues with legacy systems, a large client-facing project was six months overdue, and internal tensions erupted continually between the business units and the IT department. What finally prompted the call was a significant system outage and loss of half a year’s worth of data. 

An interim CIO, James, was quickly brought in, triaged the situation, and started to address immediate concerns while building a longer-term solution. The most immediate was restoration, recovery, and remedial actions for the system outage. Within six months, the team accomplished a full recovery. 

Meanwhile, James also brought the past-due project to completion. Within one month after the product launch, it delivered a 3 percent increase in revenue, which was outstanding for a new line of business. 

James’s biggest set of tasks was to put in place a longer-term infrastructure that would not only support the business’s current needs but also work closely with all business units. James helped bring in a director of IT operations for longer-term stability and day-to-day oversight of the department. Standard operating procedures were created; existing staff, as well as new hires, were trained on the new SOPs as they were on-boarded for overall consistency. These provided a solid foundation for increased discipline and predictability within IT operations. 

Part of the improved predictability was an annual IT budget to better measure the cost and ROI for all projects. The IT department in any organization is often seen as a standalone business, with the rest of the organization as the client base. Under this model, all requests are handled with the highest level of customer service, and projects have a top- and bottom-line dollar value. 

Finally, James put business intelligence and reporting in place to provide leadership with more timely information to aid in their decision-making. During the interim assignment, the organization’s IT department transformed from a liability to one of the company’s biggest assets. 

Lesson Learned

Longstanding problems and pains within an organization can become assets with a short-term, limited investment in knowledge, skills, and troubleshooting—assets that will more than cover the cost of the engagement in the longterm.

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