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When Do You Need to Hire a CIO? Or Eliminate the Position? – By: Chris Gebhardt

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Author: Chris Gebhardt, Director of IT at Air Medical Resource Group

One thing we can all agree on: Technology is ubiquitous.  Whether you are dealing with your own data centers, contracting them, or pushing towards the cloud, each and every one of uses technology.  At what point does a growing company need a Chief Information Officer and in contrast, when is that CIO’s role completed?

The CIO is not the IT Director nor is the CIO the Chief Technology Officer.  Let’s examine each of these roles real quick:

  • IT Director: Deals with the hourly and daily needs of the IT Team.  Charged with implementing the plans and directives at a functional level, aka, the boots on the ground.
  • Chief Technology Officer: A strategic position that focuses on the hardware and software implementation.  The CTO focus is on the next big thing from Microsoft, Dell, HP, and software development trends with an eye on advising the CIO.
  • Chief Information Officer: The senior information technology executive in a company.   The CIO looks across all business units for process integration opportunities with technology for the benefit of people and the business.

Companies are quick to hire an IT Director and the start-up world follows with CTOs.  But CIOs appear to be after a company matures and begins to reflect on what they could have done better.  That may be the wrong time.

I don’t believe there is a magic number of employees or sales that dictates the perfect time to hire a CIO.  There are some indicative moments though.

Desire for Efficiency
When a company begins that retrospective look at their processes and technology, it is time to bring a knowledgeable CIO on board.  More importantly, it is time to vest the necessary responsibility, authority, and accountability in that person.  The authority aspect being key to the success moving forward.

Disparate Systems
In conjunction with Desire for Efficiency, when systems are out of control, not talking with each other, and business units complain about being held prisoner by other units lack of production, the time for a CIO has already passed.  Jump at the opportunity to bring that strategist on board.

Executive Team Disagreements
The last thing you may think is to add an additional opinion to the mix when senior executives are disagreeing.  However, each of these functional areas is focusing primarily on their area. The CIO is the aisle breacher who can work with mid-level personnel to bring unity and balance to the Force (sorry, had to nerd out for a moment, just bought tickets to Star Wars!)

Distributed Responsibilities
Sales should focus on Sales.  Customer Support focuses on the customer and retaining them.  When IT assets and responsibility move to these line units, less time is available for the mid and senior level managers to focus on their core responsibilities.  But wait, what about DevOps?  Yes, DevOps mixes the development and operational teams together for faster, better development.  However, the core responsibilities for the IT team still rest with IT.  The CIO and IT Director should be managing the systems in a responsive manner so Sales, CS, HR, and other business units can focus on their core functionality.

Failure To Execute
This is one of my pet peeves.  Company leadership has great ideas to move forward. New systems.  New processes.  New directions.  Yet, nothing is getting done, it is getting done slowly, or IT is excluded for the foregoing reasons.  The CIO is instrumental in this situation to coordinate the company direction with the available IT assets and prioritize projects.

Time to Eliminate the CIO?
When does it come time to eliminate your CIO?  In short, probably never.  As companies embrace more and more technology, the need to be strategic in that deploy begets the CIO role.  Perhaps your company is operating at peak efficiency with ideal processes.  At that point, you may entertain eliminating the CIO.  But I would ask you one thing, “Who got you there?”

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