February 26, 2020

What Exactly Does a Fractional CIO 'Do'?



Published on February 26, 2020 by Greg Samuels


People always ask me, “What does a Fractional CIO or CTO do?”  

First and foremost, we are the individuals accountable for everything involving Information Technology at an organization.  We participate in all senior staff meetings for the company and assist with setting the direction for the organization as well as managing the day to day operations of the technology team. 

Even as Senior IT leaders, fractional CIOs do more than sit behind a desk, point and tell people what to do. We need to stay as flexible as our small and lower-medium clients to keep up with their ever-changing IT task list. I always joke with my clients that one day, I could be sitting in the Executive Team meeting and talking senior strategy; then the next day, I’m helping the network guys to carry printers down the hall. There isn’t a job that is above or beneath us.  CIOs are used to rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty while interacting with vendors, users, and Senior staff. Somebody who has been working in IT for a long time knows that there are a lot of tasks to be done; and being able to  take on any one of them is  a necessary quality to have.  

The ideal candidate for this job is usually somebody who has been in IT for at least 15 or 20 years. They started their careers from Junior Programmer or Junior Infrastructure; depending on which side of the house they grew up on. Then, they gained experience through leading a team or group of people, doing a high-level project or program management. Finally, they became an organization's Chief Information Officer or Chief Technology Officer. A lot of times the Director of IT, or even directors of major departments for bigger companies, will also work out well for this role.  

While each fractional CIO is different, there are a few necessary job requirements that make keeping track of clients and duties possible.

  1. Stay Organized and Involved.   Since you’re working with multiple clients, there will be multiple priorities you must manage. Organization is key in making sure none of your clients projects fall to the wayside. Communicating with your team and budgeting your time wisely can help you stay on top of your clients. This is essential so whenever you are not on-site with your clients, they don’t lose track of you and don’t feel you are not servicing them.  
     
    It’s also essential to be approachable as a Senior leader. One of the challenges we have in multiple organizations when we’re working with them is making some of the full-time staff don’t feel like we are an outsider. While we are outside consultants, the most successful relationship we have is when the clients recognize that we are part of the team.  Most of the clients that I have had over the years make note of my responsiveness to their concerns.  Initially Their messages start with“Hey I hate to bother you but I have a problem with X, Y or Z.”. Often that goes away when they realize that any time they ask me for some help; I can provide it. 

  2. Be Accountable.  Fractional CIOs take ultimate accountability over IT. They are Senior-Most Leader of the organization from a technology point of view. They are part of the Senior staff. Having that ultimate accountability means that you need to earn trust from both the IT folks that work under you and the vendors who work with you as well as the rest of the senior staff who may be working there full time.  A lot of vendors, providers use the word partnership as a way to describe how consultants work with them. “We want to have a partnership with you.” “We want to do business with you as partners.” I refer to it as when the CFO or the CEO looks to the IT desk, they look to their teammate which is us; which is that fractional resource.  

  3. Don't Expect a Typical 9-5. Another question I get is the hours that a fractional CIO works. A Fractional CIO will typically work 30 to 40 hours a week but not  with a single client. While a single Fractional CIO may be working full time, in one week they might be working 8 hours with one client, 8 hours with another client, 10 hours with a different client and 10 hours with another. It never going to be straight 40-hour at one single client.  If there is a client that needs a Fractional CIO for 30-40 hours a week, the cost model never works out. The whole idea is that you’re getting a six-figure resource for a fraction of the cost. With that cost reduction, you are only requiring the needs of the Fractional CIO probably 20 hours a week at most.

     

    The best fractional CIOs are experienced technology leaders who don't need the typical 9-5 with one client to feel fullfilled. Our firm is not based around hiring around a lot of people who need a full-time position. It’s based around with people who come to me and say, “Look I’ve been a CIO for 10 years. I now would like to work part-time for a client. I like to work 15-20 hours a week." These are usually the best candidates for our clients. 

 

Fractional CIO work comes in waves. The projects spin up, are very exciting for 2 or 3 months, then they level off to maintenance mode and you may be sitting on a shelf waiting for the next one to come on. If you're someone that needs 40 hours a week with full benefits and all trappings of large corporations; this job might work out for the interim, but probably won’t be for you in the long term.  

Being a Fractional CIO is not your traditional type of profession, and being a great fractional CIO doesn’t only require years of experience in the IT field but also a full commitment to continuously building great relationships with your clients.  For more information on Solvaria's fractional CIO services, visit our services page or contact us via the form below.

 

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