© iStock/bato1995
© iStock/bato1995

The rise of the gig economy and the surge in temporary jobs is transforming the working patterns of IT business leaders.

Sullivan & Stanley founder Pat Lynes believes the trends have triggered an explosion in the demand for interim CIOs. His company helps businesses solve their problems and drive changes by parachuting interim 'SWAT teams' of leading executives into the organisation.

In the last few years, he's witnessed the interim talent pool expand rapidly, as a growing number of CIOs have become frustrated with corporate politics and are instead seeking roles in the "white collar gig economy". Lynes calls the developments "the interim revolution" and recently wrote a book with that title.

"People are realising they've got more choice," he said. "They're seeing that their peers have made the switch and are now running a portfolio with private equity clients, with corporate clients, with coaching clients, with NED trusteeships and they're thinking 'I want to do that'."

Those who make the transition can be tasked with a variety of assignments. Interim CIOs are typically hired to implement a specific initiative, to cover for an absence, to solve a strategic problem or to deliver a transformation project, as Ian Golding was when he appointed interim CIO of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

He left the charity ten months later with a comprehensive digital and IT strategy that his permanent successor could put into practice.

"An interim CIO can really help where an organisation is evolving and the traditional IT function is in need of evolution," Golding told CIO UK.

"An interim can come in and redefine and remodel how the technology of the organisation could be in readiness for a new CIO to take over."

They are also sometimes appointed to lead the handover process when a permanent CIO departs, as was the case when Richard Corbridge left Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) for a new role at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. To ease the transition, the HSE appointed National Director of the Health Business Services Jane Carolan as its interim CIO.

"Appointing a progressive, digital business leader to the role of interim CIO eight weeks before my departure has meant we have been able to work through a handover of the business, we have been able to agree priorities for 2018 and at this time in the Irish political calendar we have needed to agree how the budget for next year should be spent," said Corbridge.

Interim CIOs often enjoy highly rewarding careers, but they have to overcome some major challenges to get there.

Realities of the job

The main difference between a permanent and interim CIO is that of speed. An interim CIO is expected to make some impact in a short or finite amount of time before they have developed a deep understanding of the business.

Golding believes this presents both opportunities and challenges. "The opportunity is that the interim CIO can innocently ask questions without the knowledge of what's gone before, which can be quite helpful, and the challenge is to be aware of the environment that they're in and not be too disruptive," he said.

"The interim CIO has an obligation to make their mark and have a constructive impact, and they can bring that from their wealth of experience in different roles which often involve moving around for months at a time.

"They get great exposure to different things going on across different industries and organisations. This means an interim CIO can bring something quite special from the outside to help an organisation see what's possible."

These experiences also help them when they have to take on a more commercial role, which is more common for interim CIOs than their colleagues in permanent positions.

"Once they've got the first gig or two under their belt, they always say that they didn't realise I knew how much they knew," said Lynes.

"The reason they say that is because when you go in as an interim, sometimes you start to become the confidant of the CEO. Sometimes you become the board coach, and sometimes you're used as the sounding board for difficult decisions."

Interim CIOs who are employed to lead a handover can have a very different role. Before Corbridge left the HSE, he worked with his temporary replacement to break the job down into five themed areas that should be prioritised to make a rapid impact.

They raised awareness of the change by involving Carolan in all the HSE engagement events and using social media accounts and the #HandoverCIO hashtag to communicate with stakeholders.

They invited all the organisation's partners to an open interview with Corbridge and Carolan.

"The design of the session was to make it part of one of the quarterly Eco-System meetings but also to ensure that the partners could see that they were going to be able to continue to evolve the relationship they have from a traditional vendor relationship to one that continues to be described as a partnership," said Corbridge.

The interim skillset

Lynes believes that an interim CIO needs to have the right mentality rather than a specific set of skills.

"People looking to go into the interim market have to have a bit more of an appetite for risk," he said. "They have to be able to sell themselves more, and they have to be able to brand themselves in a crowded market and then commit to building and sustaining a thriving network that's going to work for them."

The role suits people who prioritise flexibility over stability, as Bjorn Ovar Johannson, the interim CIO EMEA and Global Program Director of Swiss consumer goods company Dometic has learned.

Johannson has served as interim CIO in various organisations since he took on the role for the first time at Proffice, a recruiting company based in his native Sweden.

His projects since have included managing a £40 million bank modernisation project for SEB Lithuania that improved the bank's bottom line by £35 million and executing the long-term IT strategy and roadmap to align with the growing needs of Proffice.

"It is not easy when working as an interim CIO because most roles require 100% focus and often significant travel," Johansson told CIO UK in 2016. "During my last assignment, I worked 60-70 hour weeks and travelled extensively to both the US and the Far East."

Golding believes that an interim CIO needs a broad range of skills and the confidence to apply them to unfamiliar situations.

"You need to access what's happening quickly in a confident way that also builds bigger success and doesn't just create a different set of problems beside the fact," he said.

"It's about finding the right things to do and at a pace that people are comfortable with to make sure that there is impact."

They also need to invest a lot of energy over a short period of time into a potentially high-pressure situation.

"You're often put on the spot to make decisions and that's not for everyone," added Golding. "It can be very exciting, but it can make some people nervous. Talk to some people that have done it and see if that mixture will work for you."

Network for success

Networking is another crucial aspect of the job.

"Both physical and virtual networking are important to build awareness and expand your contact base; I am part of several CIO groups including CIO UK and the CIO Forum," said Johansson.

"I try to speak with people in my network who work or have worked for the business - trying to understand as much as possible about the company by browsing the client's websites and while also reading annual reports and press releases."

Read next: A CIO Handover - Succession planning and passing on the CIO baton during a transition

Lynes recommends that interim CIOs brand themselves according to what they want from work and maintain an active presence through network groups to find new job opportunities that suit those needs.

"Start looking at who you're connected to on LinkedIn," he said. "Do a spider diagram of all the people that you've worked with, all the consulting partners that have worked with you, and all the people you've had in your programme team, and start reaching out to them.

"Get your network going from cold, to medium, to hot, because then the opportunities will start to come to you."