The need for experienced CIOs to serve as “interim” executives on a temporary basis has grown considerably over the last few years. As part of our IT search practice, we are frequently asked by health systems to recommend individuals to serve in this role.
The requests have become so frequent that we identify qualified people in our database as “Available as Interim CIO.” Here are some scenarios when an interim is needed, and the key qualities to be a successful interim CIO.
There are several reasons why health systems are in need of a temporary person to lead their IT enterprise. A few recent examples that come to mind:
- CIO abruptly retired or took a new job
- CIO was laid off, fired, or removed
- CIO was promoted to a new area outside of IT
- Associate CIO was not in place or had left
In all these cases, the health systems had no CIO successor role or associate CIO who could move into this important position. They had no time to waste without a qualified CIO at the helm, and so needed an interim immediately. Since even a retained search can take up to six months to get a new CIO on board, we typically see interim CIOs in place for six months or up to two years or more.
What does an organization look for in a successful interim CIO? He or she must be a mixture of problem-fixer and change agent, and must have a strong combination of both strategic and operational skills. The ideal candidate will have these key attributes:
- Knowledge of EMR/CPOE systems and implementations
- Executive presence, professional demeanor
- Outstanding communication and interpersonal skills
- Flexible schedule, ability to start quickly and travel every week to site
- Proven trouble-shooter, problem-fixer
- Experience in IT organization restructuring
- Change agent, transformer and leader of people and projects
- Familiarity with IT governance, HIEs, ACOs, ICD-10, Meaningful Use, and other key initiatives
Many major healthcare IT consulting firms have “rent a CIO” as part of their services. A number of independent consultants who used to be health system CIOs are vying for these temporary CIO positions.
Pluses and Minuses
Why is this type of role attractive? As a free agent, an interim CIO has a chance to transform an organization to make it better. There is no need to relocate, and all expenses are paid for during the engagement. The interim CIO gains an incredible amount of knowledge to take to his or her next interim role. In some cases, the organization will hire the interim leader on a permanent basis.
The drawbacks are that the interim CIO will always be an outsider. The huge problems and heavy lifting left by the predecessor will fall on the shoulders of the interim. If you are interested in this type of role and feel that you could excel at it, do some homework on what it entails and put your name in the hat!