Hiring 'Assistant' CIOs: Now is the Time

By Allen Bernard

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For many, it may not seem like it but the economy is heating up again. Jobs are more plentiful and staffing firms, usually the first to see concrete results from any up-turn, are getting busier.

So, if you've been thinking about finding executive-level staff to lead some of the consolidation, IT/business alignment, vendor rationalization projects, etc. you've got going (or plan to get going) and act as liaisons between IT and the business units IT serves, now is the time, said Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of the staffing firm Robert Half Technology in Menlo Park, Calif.

"If you think you're going to need people in the near future you better start looking right now because the market is going to continue to improve," she said. "I don't think it's going to be a rocket ship per se, but good people are always working and the longer you wait to find those good people the less selection you're going to have."

Like others in the staffing business, Spencer Lee's clients are telling her they are looking for business analyst types who also understand IT. To find these specialized people, Aberdeen's Brian Sommer, director of Field Research at the Boston-based consulting firm, recommends raiding the ranks of your consultants. IT consultancies are rife with these skills sets and, as a career, consulting isn't what it used to be.

According to Sommer, consulting jobs are less stable, there isn't as much work as their once was (although this is changing) and, unless you want to spend your life on an airplane, do not offer the same quality-of-life a corporate job does.

"Longer term the career they signed up for ... is just not the bed of roses they might have hoped for," he said. "If there was a time for a CIO to think about making strategic hires, this is a time to steal some brilliant MBA types with great technical skills that could be good players on both the business units and on the IT side."

But you better move fast said Peter Woolford, manager of Technology Staffing for Tampa-based Kforce because consulting is picking up again and he is getting more calls from consultancies of all sizes for new hires. In particular demand are those people with a PMP (project manager professional) certification after their names. This relatively new designation is quickly becoming the equivalent of an MBA in the mid '80s, he said.

Woolford agrees with Sommer, however, that one of the biggest hurdles consultants face is travel and, therefore, if you can offer them a more stable lifestyle, doing similar work and equal or better pay, you stand a pretty good chance of finding someone to help you do your job.

As a consultant "[i]t's pretty much expected that every Monday morning you are on an airplane," he said. "So the place these assistant CIOs would come from is people that don't want to travel."

Outside of the consulting world you can also find these people at your competitors or in other, non-related industries, said Bob Molnar, a partner at the executive search firm Highland Partners in New York. So long as the person has IT project management experience and a track record of communicating complex IT issues to business people and, in turn, relaying their concerns back to IT in a language both sides can understand, then it really doesn't matter where that experience comes from.

As the former CIO of HSBC Molnar employed three such people.

"Essentially, they were my bridge between the not-so-business fluent IT people" and the rest of the company, he said. "They weren't just business analysts, they were people that understood an awful lot about the business processes and operations of the areas they were connected to and technology."