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What Does It Take to Stay at the Top of Our Game?

People are the most important part of any business.

We run conferences where we hear from expert speakers and run workshops to share knowledge, skills and experience. So, when you take on one of our Principals you get the benefit of all this training and the whole team!

Here is a snap shot from our most recent conference…

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Hiring an Interim Chief Information Officer

Companies often contact us because they want to hire an Interim Chief Information Officer (interim CIO) and they are looking for an interim CIO agency. The term CIO is often used by larger businesses, or by business owners who have a background in larger companies.

We generally use the term IT Director as this is has a broader meaning and covers a wider range of skills and backgrounds.

What is an Interim CIO?

An interim CIO will generally be a Board-level position and will normally have the following objectives:

  1. a robust, secure, trouble-free infrastructure (eg example desktops, email, phones, network, file storage)
  2. efficient line of business systems including processes, people and technology and everything needed to make this work well (eg training, data standards, documentation)
  3. deliver digital initiatives which probably encompass customers, partners and suppliers
  4. ensure compliance and risk management (eg GDPR, PCI, ISO27001).

Click here to download our CIO CTO and IT Director Job Description

The breadth of each of these points and the balance between them will depend very much on the nature of your business.

The Right Interim CIO for Your Company’s Strategy

It is critical to establish the balance between the 4 points above and to attract an individual who has a track record in your critical areas.

Your company strategy may be to achieve lower price, better service or both. You may be looking to focus on internal efficiency, or excellent online experience. Or you may just need to overcome specific issues or risks. Before embarking on a search, you should untangle these points so you know the kind of interim CIO you’re looking for.

In addition, there are 2 other fundamental questions:

  1. Are you looking for someone to envisage and lead major change, or to manage gradual improvements and fix specific issues?
  2. Are you looking for someone to manage internal teams or external suppliers or both?

There are personality and behavioural differences between people who thrive in situations of major change and those who manage steadier improvements. Similarly, there is a great difference between people who build and enthuse internal teams, and those who manage external suppliers through contracts.

How to Hire an Interim CIO

There are a large number of agencies available for interim CIOs that can be found easily on the web. Senior professionals are very credible so we would advise careful preparation for interview and that you diligently take up references before making any offers.

We advise that you consider the following points in relation to interim CIOs:

We spend a huge amount of our time recruiting the very best CIOs in the business to form our elite team of “fractional CIOs”. Our team are committed to working for our clients for the long-term, on a flexible basis, so during intense periods they can spend the bulk of their time with a client, and during quieter periods then can have a lighter touch to keep the client’s IT on track.

When one of our fractional CIOs joins your senior team then they immerse themselves in your business and aim to be with you for the long-term. We’re completely independent and only recommend the best for you.

There is no lock in to our contracts at all and our clients simply work on a “pay as you go” basis, so our people have to make a difference every day.

We use the term IT Director rather than CIO as it is recognised more broadly in the UK. We use the term fractional rather than interim to emphasise between how we work over the disadvantages of an interim.

If you’d like to discuss in more detail how a fractional CIO can benefit your business, please get in touch via our contact us page or call 0203 020 1864.

Work Life Balance for Top IT Leaders

If you’ve got to the top in IT, the chances are that a lot of dedication and hard work got you up the slippery pole of leadership to earn you your boardroom seat. Once you’ve reached the top however, what next? Repeating the same thing in different companies can quickly lose its appeal with satisfaction often levelling off, if not dropping away. It’s at this stage in life/career when many stop and ask themselves those big life questions: “Why?”, “What’s it all for?”, “What’s in it for me?” often concluding that “There must be something more!”. Unfortunately, at the mid/late career stage your home life usually demands a certain level of income and the idea of starting afresh or giving it all up for a life in the country looks all but impossible. And yet the prospect of living a Groundhog Day career leaves many people cold and keen for something different.

If the idea of continuing that corporate grind makes you want to bang your head against the wall in frustration, there is good news. The world of work is rapidly changing and there are different options for even those at the pinnacle of their career.

While we’ve all heard of the Gig Economy, the media of late has tended to portray it as somewhat negative and exploitative.  Whilst acknowledging this interpretation, the CIPD’s 2017 Gig Economy report also however describes it as “a new form of flexible working that gives individuals new choices about how, when and where they work”.

It’s at the senior levels of business leadership that the Gig Economy works well, with positive impact for everyone involved. The traditional Permanent, Interim and Contract models of working available to C-suite IT leaders have more recently been joined by Fractional working. Fractional working is all about providing a fraction of your capability, energy and skill to multiple clients for a fraction of the cost. You could also call it a Portfolio Career; working for yourself, with multiple clients, doing what you do best. Others have described this method of working as “an IT Director as a Service”, but it’s so much more than that!

This is no flash in the pan; it’s a growing sector of work and is symptomatic of what’s happening across the wider workplace. Companies are looking to hire skills as they need them rather than have them on the payroll. At the lower end, this can of course be exploitative – think cabbies and bicycle couriers – but at the top end, it can work very much to everyone’s advantage. Small and Mid-Sized businesses rarely need a full-time IT Director, but there’s no doubt they would benefit from the skills and knowledge of that person in the boardroom, and increasingly they’re willing to pay for someone who understands their business from a technology perspective.

This new way of working is proving particularly popular in the SME space where business leaders have become used to utilising cloud services and benefiting from the significant advantage this brings to the bottom line. Freelancers have supported business for many years and there are plenty of ways to connect with these people and garner their skills, but these are usually the hands-on “doers” rather than the strategists.  Strategic input can’t be provided by the hour so the basic Freelancer model doesn’t work when it comes to providing this kind of input and value-add. It requires longer-term engagement and an intimate knowledge of the business.

The Fractional (or part-time) Director model works differently, using a professional services dynamic where there’s a team of like-minded, qualified people doing the same thing, sharing experience, sharing knowledge and helping one another so that everyone, client included, benefits.

More than 40% of businesses of less than £50M turnover don’t have anyone at board level who understands IT. With business increasingly technology dependent, most board-level decisions today need strategic IT input if they are to be sound decisions. Without a Fractional IT Director, the MD has very few, if any, places to turn to for independent strategic IT guidance and is thus making critical decisions with one eye shut. The Fractional IT Director fills the gap, enabling MDs to make robust decisions based on all the facts, including the technology facts.

What this means for the seasoned IT Director, CIO or CTO is that there is now an alternative to the traditional means of mid/late career progression that is a wholly new experience, one where the entire skill-set is invaluable and appreciated. One where a real difference can be made and where impact is clearly visible.

This is a highly enjoyable way to be an IT Director – multiple clients, multiple cultures, different stages of growth, different funding arrangements, a different journey every day. An escape from the corporate straight-jacket. No more presenteeism, no more timesheets. Work how you want and when you want, supported by a team of professionals all doing the same thing. This approach can bring its own challenges, but when you’ve got a network of like-minded peers around you, it’s a positive experience and not at all lonely.

A Fractional career is a lifestyle choice; it probably won’t offer the same level of remuneration as a full-time role. However, any earning reduction is offset by the flexibility and non-financial rewards that the way of working brings.  If you’ve begun to think that personal fulfilment is more important than the big bucks, then working fractionally might well be your next career choice.

Once introduced, client engagements are rarely short-term. Assuming you connect with the MD and his/her business vision, they soon turn in to long-term relationships. You quickly become an integral part of the strategic team, an essential advisor making a real difference to growth plans. Going native is a positive as a Fractional IT Director – you’re their IT Director, it’s just you’re not around the whole time.

The Fractional career poses less risk than going it alone or kicking off a start-up, but the risks are still higher than the other full-time career opportunities. There is an initial period, before client work starts, without income, and so having a solid financial buffer to cover those first few months, is prudent. This allows the time to build rapport with potential clients, develop the client portfolio and get used to working as a Fractional Director.

This is the only career path offering the opportunity to work in new sectors and industries. Recruiters and corporates hiring for full time roles increasingly only want candidates with specific industry experience and the complete range of prerequisite skills. As a Fractional IT Director, it’s all about relationships. If the MD likes and trusts you, prior specific industry experience comes second to fitting in with the team. Our model offers plenty of variety; as an example, one Freeman Clarke Principal is working for a law firm, an events business and a property sector business whilst another works with an accountancy firm, a media company, a vending company and a telecoms company.

Fractional working is the only model where work/life balance works for you rather than someone else or the corporation.  Our model means working approximately fifteen days a month rather than twenty. It means working when you want rather than when someone else demands, providing freedom and flexibility. No two days are the same and every day is rewarding, ultimately providing a good income AND significant personal reward. Our Principals report this way of working as being the best thing they ever did.

Freeman Clarke provides fractional IT Directors to MDs of fast growing SME’s throughout the UK and in Singapore. If you’re interested in becoming a Freeman Clarke Principal, or would just like to find out more about the Fractional way of work, please get in touch. [email protected] or call 0203 020 1864

7 Key Points When Hiring a CIO, CTO or IT Director

The IT leader is a critical role. But what is this role and how do you hire the best at an affordable salary?

There is no generally accepted definition of the differences between the roles of the IT Director, CIO (Chief Information Officer) and CTO (Chief Technology Officer). So for simplicity we use the term IT Director to encompass all 3 roles. In all cases the role covers information systems and the underlying technology. It may encompass strategy, business process and management information, digital and online, and office and facilities management as well.

The term CIO might be more appropriate for a role emphasising business process alignment, management information and business strategy rather than detailed technical leadership. In addition, they are going to be more focused on the operations and delivery of technology including infrastructure and management of third party service providers.

A CTO is generally someone focussed on software development, perhaps for digital projects. Ecommerce and customer interactive systems from social media through to customer portals are going to be where a CTO will be at home. They may be more aligned with marketing and revenue generation, and able to represent the company in relationships with funders and external parties.

An IT Director is perhaps the broadest term. It generally means an individual able to strategically lead all aspects of IT and its usage in business. They should have experience of business systems, software development, projects of all kinds, and IT infrastructure and facilities.

Feel free to use the attached Job Description to give you a template for defining this role.

Key questions to consider when defining the role for your organisation:

1. Who will the individual report to? To work across the whole company, to change processes and how people work, the person needs to be part of the senior team and may need to report to the CEO.

2. Will the individual be responsible for your company’s Digital Vision? If you have plans for ecommerce or social media marketing then will the person be responsible for this?

3. Do you need a supplier manager or team builder? If your IT is largely or wholly outsourced then this requires a leader with strong contract management skills who is very used to commercial negotiation and procurement. If your IT is largely insourced then your IT leader needs the personal style and leadership qualities to inspire and build a team.

4. Is the plan for major projects? The mindset and attitude of a leader who drives change is typically quite different to the person who oversees a steady-state.

5. Is there is already strong technical management in place, or IT infrastructure provision is outsourced to suppliers who have proven themselves technically capable. Or do you need a technical leader to provide technical vision and oversight.

6. Does your business include complicated processes and no existing senior leaders with time to address issues?

7. Is there a clear need for good data management or good management information, or are these issues already covered off by existing roles?

We only hire the best in the business – fewer than 1% of the people who apply to join us are able to successfully complete every stage of our recruitment process.  If you want to talk to us about what one of our team could do for your business then you can get in touch.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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