Interim CIO roles remain a popular career preference in an arena where even permanent business technology leaders can have a reputation for having relatively short tenures, especially in comparison to other members of the C-suite.
The 2016 Harvey Nash CIO Survey reported in an increase in CIO job moves with 15% of respondents having changed roles in the previous 12 months, and 31% of CIOs having been in the role for less than two years. The 2015 edition of the research found that CIOs remained as active in their career advancements as they had been in previous years - with almost a third having moved job in preceding two years and 58% having changed roles since 2010. The average life expectancy of a CIO, the 2015 report concluded, did not seem to be increasing - although in 2016 the executive search firm reported a marginal increase in the CIO life span.
Bjorn Ovar Johansson, who has written about mitigating operational risk for CIO UK and performed interim CIO roles for the last five years, said that he particularly enjoyed the "opportunity to enter totally new business environments and, ideally, make a real difference in helping the client sort out a major issue; anything from rejuvenating an - at least perceived in the eyes of the client - under-performing IT organisation or IT function, turning around a failed transformation programme, to defining, anchoring, and ideally, implementing, an IT or digital strategy".
Indeed, CIO UK columnist Ian Cox explained in an article in 2015 that CIOs are often hired to address problems, frustrations, and issues with IT which have been a burden on the organisation before moving on to another role.
"They therefore arrive in their new role with a mandate to implement change in the IT function and the organisation's system," Cox said.
"If all goes to plan around two years later the majority of the changes will have been implemented and the organisation will have an improved IT capability. Assuming they have successfully implemented their vision and strategy for IT, the CIO's credibility and reputation will be enhanced and they should be well positioned to use their achievements to go on to bigger and better things."
The CIO job is thus well suited to formal interim positions, and NHS Digital director Rachel Murphy, Johansson, University of Westminster Director of Information Services Carolyn Brown, and experienced interim CIO Bill Limond have discussed aspects of non-permanent roles with CIO UK, as well as offering advice to any senior IT leaders considering taking on an interim CIO job.
Interim CIO jobs - Making a quick impact
Murphy, who has performed interim CIO and CTO posts at the Department for Education and National Archives, said: "I love the first three months; it's about pulling the team together to enable them to transform with a target operating model."
Murphy also argues that an interim CIO offers the hiring organisation more than using established consulting houses.
"Consultants do what you pay them to do," Murphy said. "Anything more than that and you get into change controls.
"As an interim you wear multiple hats and bring processes that you have done before, and this can make things faster and easier for an organisation. True consulting means you have to draw lines around what you are doing and I don't like working like that.
"But as soon as I have fixed what I was brought in to do I have to move on."
In the 2016 CIO 100, Murphy added: "As an interim you are expected to pitch up and hit the ground running; it absolutely has to be about recognising the talent you have within your team and then building confidence in the team, focusing on their strengths rather than weaknesses."
Dr Carolyn Brown is a CIO 100 regular and is currently leading the technology function at the University of Westminster. Brown agreed with Murphy that making a quick impact was crucial to the success of those in an interim position.
"An interim has to make an impact quickly," she said. "By taking a pragmatic view and working hard at engaging with stakeholders I believe I can deliver in the time I have, partly because I have done so in previous roles.
"From day one the CIO has to engage with business leaders to understand and steer the offerings to customers, and ensure that what is promised and offered can be delivered from an IS point of view."
Interim CIO jobs - Earning trust and integrity
Brown said that commercial realities meant that CIOs, interim or otherwise, need to provide focus and offer solutions, and one of the best ways of doing this was to gain trust and cash in on the 'honeymoon period' to drive necessary changes.
She said: "I am confident of delivering change swiftly, based on past experience in other organisations. It is important to use the 'honeymoon period' to reach out to IS customers and inspire them with the belief that I can help them make their aspirations real, and also shape the IS department into what they want and need.
"The key to impact in all areas is trust. I've always been good at earning trust quickly. I believe it is done by demonstrating integrity, listening so hard it hurts, and taking action based on what I hear rather than dithering. People want to engage with you when they see promises being met, and they respond to clarity."
Interim CIO jobs - Reputation and an interim CIO's personal brand
Bill Limond said that reputation was one of the most crucial things in the armoury of the interim CIO or IT director, both in the role they are taking on and in being able to find another once they are looking out for their next position.
"Reputation, and above all credibility, are essential within your organisation to enable you get the job done," he said. "And of course, if you're looking to move up to a bigger role, reputation and credibility are vital in or outside the organisation.
"For an interim CIO like myself, who moves from organisation to organisation, reputation is crucial. I live or die by it. I need my 'personal brand' to sell myself. I'm only as good as my last role.
"The obverse is that a bad reputation makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to operate and get things done, let alone justify a place at the top. For an interim CIO like me a bad reputation would mean instant death. I would no longer be able to operate as an interim CIO or consultant.
"I do not have a Big 6 name to protect me, so I need my personal brand."
Interim CIO jobs - Advice for interim CIOs
Johansson, a Manchester-based interim CIO with a background in senior IT leadership roles across Europe, said that one of the biggest challenges coming into a interim role was "to quickly and repeatedly gain the trust, credibility and rapport in order to succeed with a very specific issue and often in a senior 'line management position' in totally different businesses and cultural environments".
"You may also want to be prepared for, and enjoy, long working days - typically at least 60-70 hours per week while on a CIO assignment," he warned.
Turn-around management specialist Johansson advised that in preparation ahead of an interim post was critical when going into a new organisation.
"Assuming you have already decided and agreed that 'I can succeed with this assignment' - then get on top of the new role as much as possible beforehand, make sure you have all relevant reading material and information available and spend a few days preparing, reading and planning before 'day one'," Johansson said.
"It it also worthwhile specifying exactly what you require in order to get off to a flying start when you come into the office for the first time - anything from PC, telephone, contact information, meetings scheduled with key stakeholders, and so on. I also find it extremely helpful to have agreed exactly what will be communicated, to whom and when, about my role and the purpose of me joining as an interim CIO."
The opportunity to experience new industries and new geographies were some of the key draws which appealed to Johansson about interim roles.
He said: "The appeal of interim roles is about two aspects; the privilege to work in different organisations and geographies and share some of my experience, and at the same time learn new things every day - and also the satisfaction of actually making a real different in helping resolve often challenging and critical business and/or IT issues for the client.
"Both are equally important and rewarding."
But Johansson warned that business and technology leaders looking at interim CIO roles need to be prepared - financially and mentally - for the relative uncertainty and quiet periods that come with taking on non-permanent positions.
He said: "Even if you are 'world-class' in what you do, you may have longer than anticipated periods on 'the bench'. Have you got the nerves and financials to survive without a monthly pay cheque for three months, six months or even 12 months? Are you seasoned enough to make a real difference to the client, have you got the network to secure new roles, and, do you really know what you are truly passionate about and excel at?"
"Once you know the answers to those questions you also know if you are likely to make it as a good interim CIO or CIO direct report. Two specific pieces of advice once being considered for an interim role would be to make sure you have a very clear assignment specification at least two weeks into the role and ideally beforehand, and, to ensure that you have at least 30 minutes air-time per week with your CEO or whoever you report into - ideally formalised in the contract."
Despite these warnings, Johansson said that aside from the occassional extended period between roles, he did not see many major 'cons' in interim roles.
"Having done 20 truly rewarding years in both commercial and IT leadership roles as a permanent employee in various sectors and subsequently five years as an interim CIO I don't see any major cons as an interim apart from unexpected long periods between assignments, or when being in a selection process, and finally ending up as runner-up," he said.
"On the other hand, this is part of the trade as an interim. Competition is tough, there are several really seasoned and qualified people out there and the market is sometimes rather buoyant. As someone recently put it; 'in periods of uncertainty, it is easy for senior management [i.e. deciding on bringing in an interim CIO] NOT to make a decision'."