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Do All Companies Need a CIO?

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In my discussions of the evolution of the CIO role, including whether it's important for CIOs to have a technical background, I pretty much take it as a given that companies need a CIO or other high-level IT manager. If anything, some companies may need two folks in the CIO role rather than one.

 

But a post on the USourceIT blog has me thinking about it. The premise of the post is that while tech executives are essential in large enterprises, those with 500 employees or more, CIOs are less necessary in companies with 100 to 500 employees. It says a better fit for those organizations (which it calls Tier 3 companies) is an on-demand CIO (which I take to mean someone who assumes CIO duties on an as-needed basis).

 

The reasons offered:

  • Contract CIOs are less expensive than employing a full-time CIO.
  • Different contract CIOs can be called in to meet current needs. For instance, if a company's focus is on applications, it might want an applications architect.
  • Similarly, contract CIOs with specific vertical or horizontal expertise can more rapidly help align IT to business needs. Such alignment is a continuing challenge for many companies.

 

Of course, USourceIT has an ulterior motive in promoting these kinds if positions, since contract CIOs are among the services it offers. Still, it makes sense. I see a possible snag, however, in a contract CIO's unfamiliarity with company culture. I think this is often a problem for consultants and other external business partners brought in to help a company out. At least one person who commented on the post agreed with me. Wrote Jeff Hecht:

The advantage that [an internal] Tier 3 CIO may have is closer connection and greater understanding of the business. Its not as difficult to get good information on technical solutions as to understand what would really work for a specific enterprise.

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