March 29, 2021

Advantages of Interim or Fractional CIOs

Advantages of Interim or Fractional CIOs

What part-time CIO work is, who it's right for, and how to find the right opportunity

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Interim or fractional CIO roles help organizations fill gaps and manage business transitions. In this episode, Ryan shares his experiences with these roles as well as advice on who they're right for and how to succeed in a temporary leadership role.


  • What is an interim/fractional CIO?
  • Why work as or hire a part-time CIO?
  • What do part-time CIOs do?
  • How to get up to speed in a new environment
  • Who is a good fit for an interim/fractional CIO role?
  • How can you find part-time CIO work?

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Ryan Purvis  0:00  
hello and welcome to the digital workspace works podcast i'm Ryan Purvis your host supported by producer heather bicknell in this series you'll hear stories and opinions from experts in the field story from the frontlines the problems they face and how they solve them the years they're focused on from technology people and processes to the approaches they took they will help you to get to the scripts for the digital workspace inner workings

Heather Bicknell  0:32  
it's been a minute how have you been

Ryan Purvis  0:34  
yeah it's been a long time she's like ages i mean good thanks i mean good to see it has been quite busy i mean yeah we're moving into a house here so we've had to find a house and set it all up so that's been while we move into next week so that's been quite entertaining how thinks with you

Heather Bicknell  1:00  
good i don't know if you can tell that i have a new view here but i finally set up my standing desk so however many months after i started talking about it it's finally here so that's been fun

and how are you finding it

i like it a lot i i feel like it helps me stay a little bit more alert i just feel a little bit more consistently awake throughout the day which has been nice and yeah otherwise i just feel like it's good to you know get up stretch my legs yeah just wasn't feeling like i know i've started to see articles about how people's postures are being affected by the pandemic and the long term work from home and i can definitely see why

Ryan Purvis  1:52  
yeah yeah it's your comment about alertness is very important the other thing is well something to bear in mind of course is that we're if using any of these sort of smart devices it doesn't detect you moving because you rest your wrists usually on the on the counter so you need to actually move your hands away from the desk as well sometimes

Heather Bicknell  2:17  
yeah i did notice that i thought i would hit my standring just with ease but i noticed the first day i had it on i missed like four hours because my hands were on a keyboard instead of by my side so you have to still pay attention to it just kind of unfortunate

Ryan Purvis  2:34  
yeah but it's good it's good for you there's actually something else you said that they're saying that there's no evidence of standing all day helps you more than then sitting so you need to find a balance between the two i find that that the the alertness piece is definitely there

Heather Bicknell  2:52  
yeah and i have i haven't i still need to get just a regular standing mat so right now i have the balance board that it came with so i am like forced to shift around a little bit which is actually good i don't like to stand in one spot for too long and kind of fidgety so

Ryan Purvis  3:12  
yeah yeah good good well i wish you me happy hours of standing

Heather Bicknell  3:17  
thank you and then i can find these my new my new webcam at a normal angle it's just it's all come together

Ryan Purvis  3:27  
fantastic fantastic cool so we wanted to take a couple telematic couple things today

Heather Bicknell  3:32  
yes so i know you wanted to chat about interim cio work today so maybe you could just kick us off with how this came about

Ryan Purvis  3:45  
yeah so since its interim it's also what they call fractional so so i'm involved in a few groups as i mentioned before and you know something that i've noticed going up in my career as well is sometimes you don't need a heavy hitter to come into your business for a long period of time you need them for a short period of time and i say heavy hitter you know using the sort of baseball analogy of you need someone to come here to hit a home run to clear the bases or to squat you know you want that big mesh temperaments but then the rest of the team still has to do the normal things so where this is coming from for me is something that i'm doing as well is the opportunity to go in and help a business for a short period of time it could be six months could be it could be part time it could be you know it could be a year two days a week it could be six months full time but you bring in your experience you help them get on the path you get them through some some milestones and then you basically hand it back to either you help them hire someone to replace you that's more potentially called fitted to the business might might be a difference for in in costs as well. Or it might be geographically different. You might have some, you know, do you might, you know, I'm based in London normally or West Sussex, but I've been helping a company in South Africa. So when I go back to the UK, they want someone local that they can see, to help them through what they're doing so. So the sort of interim thing, as I said, you know, is what it is it's a short term engagement, I have a short term that could be, or could be fractional, it could be one or two days a week, but you're really bringing something to the party that that they couldn't necessarily get full time. But they get the value as well. And that's, that's really the crux of it, I think.

Heather Bicknell  5:45  
So what's the normal, what did like the sets of scenarios where a company might bring in an interim or a fractional CIO Is it is it usually when someone's laughter maybe they haven't had a CIO in the past, and they are, they just need one for a short term.

Ryan Purvis  6:04  
Those are both good examples of exactly that. So you're not talking to a company at the moment, they have had someone in place for a long time, he hasn't done a great job, they've realized that they need to hire someone to come into the long term. And they in the short term, they need to fix a whole lot of stuff, because there are regular regulatory problems they've got to address. So that's, that's potentially where I go in, you know, one day a week, they've got they've got operational team, they've got engineering team to do all this stuff, but they just need direction, on where to focus. And then part of that process is to help them hire, they're going to they'll, they'll go find the candidates through a search company. But they'll want me to help them choose the right person. And as a role that I wouldn't want, I wouldn't want personally full time, which suits me as well, because I don't get you know how I would no conflict in the sense of well, none, you guys are good, because I want the job. It's a case of Well, I know I'm not the right fit, but I can help you with this problem. But then we'll put someone in place that that at least I can test them based on knowing the environment, which is always the other difficult thing is getting to know the environment. So if that comes off that that's a good example. The other one would be, they've never had one before. So so they need to justify maybe to the board or to shareholders that they need one. So then what they'll do is they'll run like a test six months or a year test with our PE at a premium. Someone to come in and and show them the value. And then if they exceed the value, they'll say, Okay, now we know we understand now what bring somebody in. There's other use cases as well. You know, you might have an acquisition, and you've got two competing CIOs and CTOs. And you don't necessarily give it to either one of them. You want someone independent to come in and do the merger. And then they again, help decide on who's the right person for the for the job. Yeah, I mean, it's, as I say, it's a it's a nice flexible consulting, engagement where you are, you know, the boundaries are pretty clear.

Heather Bicknell  8:21  
Yeah. Now, that's interesting. So what what are the kind of things that people do as interim or fractional CIOs? Is it typically centered around one big project? Or can people kind of come in and decide what the work is that needs to be done?

Ryan Purvis  8:44  
Yeah, when I used to that gets the favorite it phrase, it depends. And so I've come in, you know, once with an organization that was going in one direction, the CEO wanted to go a different direction. But he didn't want to create a political or religious argument about it. So So I came in and did an audit came back to the sort of board presented, what I'd found. And then what I did what I thought was the direction of travel. And that ended up being a year of changing with a business went by building out a new product in the in the suite. And that allows it so instead of having to move the whole organization to this new direction, we took a smaller, a small team built a new product, and then slowly pulled the teams in behind that new product to align the business in the right direction. So that's a good that's a good example of one that I've been involved in a couple of years ago. Another one is that I'm looking at at the moment is they've they've had a head of product, they now realize they need someone a little bit more strategic but they don't know What they need, you know, is it a CTO is as a CIO, they don't know if it's gonna be if the person I've got can step up. So I potential come in for the role for a couple hours a couple days a week, coach the person below See if that person is the right person? And if not, then look at hiring and someone else on top of them. So yeah, it varies. I mean, basically your your mercenary in the nicest sense going into for a mission that's clearly bounded. You know, I'm here to do this thing. And when that's done, either either there's a new mission or I'm or leave and say thank you, and it's great to keep in touch. It all depends.

Heather Bicknell  10:47  
Do you find there sort of consistencies that help you get up to speed and like ground and each new environment? Or is it really just a mixed bag? And, you know, surprises every time?

Ryan Purvis  11:05  
Yeah, I think I think we're very arrogant to say that they're all the same. And you can, you can pick it up in a couple of hours, and whatever, I think every environment is going to be different. purely because you have different people involve different personalities, you will, you will see common patterns of things. And we certainly will be questions you ask every time because you want to you want to get a lay of the land, you always want to have a picture to to what the environments got. So you also want to talk to the business a lot to you and understand what their expectations are. Usually, that's where I would start anyways, just trying to get their view on everything. And trying to understand usually where their frustrations or their their pain is, and then sort of work that backwards towards what's the landscape, because sometimes your biggest problem is the way that that it has been set up. Which is usually as a rigid organization that doesn't respond well to change. Which is ironic, because, you know, technology changes all the time. But the frustration the business typically has is that they want to do something, and it can't meet that demand. And usually says no. So they go around it. And then you end up with with shadow IT, which is the business going and buying a whole bunch of stuff on their credit cards and expecting it automatically merged together when they wanted to. Yeah, that's that's sort of one one scenario.

Heather Bicknell  12:34  
Yeah. So who would you say is a good fit to work as you know, in this role either fractionally or, as an interim CIO? Are there certain, you know, qualities that you think help? Like, can people do it on top of their existing roles? How do people get into sort of this line of work?

Ryan Purvis  13:01  
Oh, yeah, yeah, I think, I mean, this is very much a network driven industry, you might you will have some some headhunters or research, searchers that will will find these roles, you know, they've been appointed, etc. but usually it comes through a contact, who the who they've, they've been contacted by someone else, or know someone or whatever it is, and they've realized they're not a good fit. And it comes down, I mean, CRC restaurants sort of personality, it's someone that can talk to the business, but also talk to the technical folk, almost a translation layer, needs to be presentable to to the business, you know, at all levels. And then be able to set up, you know, based on understanding what's going on, be able to set up the direction of travel, and not necessary how to get there all the time, but be able to get that out of the people involved, because usually the people who have the answers, you just need someone to, to articulate that to the decision makers. That's that's usually how these things work. Yes, the third question in there.

Heather Bicknell  14:09  
I think just how you know who, I mean, you said, it mostly comes through networks. So maybe people can't really proactively search for these things as much

Ryan Purvis  14:19  
as you will see them advertised. I mean, there are a lot of interim roles. But the ones that I'm mostly seeing are the ones that I've been contacted. All I've seen someone in one of my groups post something and I've had Oh, yeah, that could be that could help too. And you have a chat with the person then you see if there's a synergy. Get us like over a cup of coffee and saying, well, what's your problem? Okay, your second help, you're not really my thing. But you know, john john over there, or Jane, they're better suited. Let me let me put you in contact with them. And then, you know, hopefully it comes off.

Heather Bicknell  14:52  
How do you how do you find the time for all of these things? Ryan? This is a broad question.

Ryan Purvis  15:01  
Well, I'm only, you know, with Harlow, I'm only part time, so a couple days a week anyway, so I've got the extra day or two here and there to do this stuff. It all depends on on the demand, you know, sometimes you've got to work them to work the late nights, early mornings to, to do something that you're going to be very confident, you know, that's why I say it's very nice if you go into the role. It's not, it's not a full time job where, you know, you're just gonna get paid a salary or whatever it is, and you're there five days a week, often you're cutting it based on what your availability is, and what their budget is, and what the expectations are. And you say, okay, great for this thing. I can do, you know, five days a month, for x x number, and this is your output at the end of it. And if it changes, then, you know, we talk about changes. It's not it's not a typical POC, so just because it's it's not it's not a what's the word, a consulting agreement, where you pave for, you know, one day a week or a day, right. And whatever happens in that day in 24 hours out deliver, you know, non stop, it's usually a results orientated delivery.

Heather Bicknell  16:14  
Do you feel like your background in consulting has, you know, has assisted you in this kind of thing?

Ryan Purvis  16:23  
Um, yeah, I think I've been lucky in the sense of my, my career started off like that. I mean, I thought I was a developer, but, but even before that, I was always doing salesy things, always selling some idea to somebody. So I think that's always helped. And as I went through my sort of system, integrator world, of going into customers hear what their problems were trying to solve them, that has always has always helped me. And even when I moved to the UK, and I flipped over to the client side, you were still selling internally. But you also did, you know, in both cases, you're always delivering as well. So you always had to believe in what she was doing. And also taking the pain and the learnings from doing something. So that, you know, that's the experience that you're really giving to these organizations. So when you do intellect go in and I say this patterns, you can say, okay, so you want to move into the cloud, there's a pattern to doing that, where you're not just moving, lifting and shifting from on premise to cloud, you're redesigning the application to use Cloud capabilities, because you want to get the benefits of moving to the cloud. Otherwise, you know, what's the point he was was just there on premise in some cases? So yeah, I think it's all led to this. And in short, in the short answer,

Heather Bicknell  17:37  
are there any particular projects, or any of these initiatives that you'd like to dig into more? Were there any that stood out?

Ryan Purvis  17:49  
Um, so the one that I can probably talk about is the singular decisions. One, I mean, the rest, I'm sland NDA, so I can't. But that that was a good one. Because, you know, that was a business that had been doing something for 20 years, one way, realized that they needed to make a change, which is to go their Linux route, or provide a service within and this was packaging up their IP, into a product with their people. And that's, you know, that they went from from being called one one name, which was pay was that was the original business name, to the new name, which has singular decisions. And the product is called singular. In fact, there's something that I want to do to get Purvis on here to talk about it. Because that is a great example of a business that was brick and mortar, a call center, to now being a software as a service platform, with customers using this software. And it's done that in, you know, 334 years.

Heather Bicknell  18:51  
Do you think, has remote working made it easier for people to you know, find, you know, find people to step in? As a CIO? How do you do you feel like people are opening up there, you know, you mentioned, the company you're working with in South Africa that having someone local was important. But I'd imagine that people are looking broader as well and sort of opened up that that world.

Ryan Purvis  19:21  
Yeah, I think, I mean, I think you got to be pretty naive to think that you could only find good talent in your geolocation. So So, you know, a lot of these companies are, I'm still talking to back in the UK, even though I'm down here and in South Africa, because, you know, my, you know, this is not maybe America, my skills and knowledge will help them so, it doesn't matter that I'm not there every day, nine to five and in fairness, most of us to lockdown so we've met it anyway. But I think you honestly can look probably plus or minus three hours, maybe maybe longer, you know, to work with somebody someone's gonna have to put in some late nights early mornings if the geographic time zones don't work out but if that gives you a better result in the end then it's worth it probably and you know these guys in sa you know just happen to say you know we really want someone local but that's just a comfort level you know if they couldn't find someone and you know if we build a good relationship there would still be a case for that phone me and talk and like you know we talk on the phone every day anyway so you know what's the difference and it's not a lot of time for me it's you know it's half an hour a week you know it's it's the work that way

Heather Bicknell  20:44  
yeah so what are some things you learned from these experiences

Ryan Purvis  20:53  
um it's to me it's mostly on the on the people side and this comes back to the point that i think most of the times the answers there you just got to listen for it and you've almost got to let everyone you know but a lot of times you coming in there and the people that have to have the answers haven't been given the opportunity to talk it out or they've shared it but they haven't shared it out in the right way so they haven't been they haven't been taken seriously and you sort of know what's happening when someone turns it goes on when i told him to do this years ago and they didn't do it you know and here we are now and now they brought you in to come and tell us tell us what we already knew you know that it's that kind of you know openness and honesty that i look forward to getting i think that's where the the face to face stuff is missing because you want to have an honest conversation that's you know kind of set off the record but in the military aren't gonna video people feel like they are on the spot whereas a more casual conversation you're going for a walk having a cup of coffee across the table you know loosening up that stuff is missing but other than that it's it's good are learning the policy you know your questions get better you ask better questions when you come in you also learn from seeing some mistakes that you wouldn't have made you know you would have known your best practice you would never have done this in your head but i've seen someone who's done that now you can see the cause and effect of doing it that way and sometimes some of those things you think are best practices that are actually things you never do turn out to not be that good practice because actually the other way does work just as well it has different benefits you learn those things out so i always liken it to playing poker you only get good at playing poker the more winds you play against the more people that you play against and more variations that you play because then you start seeing little nuances that you hadn't seen before and and that sort of thing so it's a continual learning environment that's for sure

Heather Bicknell  22:57  
i think the the comments about you know a lot of it being about people and culture and sort of these entrenched ideas about what works and what doesn't and maybe the things that people have you know raised raised the flag for again and again that get pushed to the side that the year that i'm the one to actually you know how being that across the finish line is so yeah everyone's so true

Ryan Purvis  23:26  
there's another side to it which is somebody asked to pick your battles which you know i was always told that i never really learned how to do that because we're coming back to this usually being a a green fence thing you don't get involved in some of the politics around some stuff but you're also not there to solve everyone's problems but sometimes the solution is to make making the way for those problems to be captured so they can be treated so it could be like putting in a risk management framework where people can raise risks those risks can be accepted they can be treated or they can be ignored beliefs now it's not it's tracked as opposed to just people learning about and and that's sometimes the constructive thing that you do is you add yet frameworks to handle things same as ideation you know everyone has an idea for a product or improvements to the product but how do those things get into the pipeline into the backlog how do they get prioritized up into the actual build and how do they actually get to look you know delivered so you need to do that's that's the stuff that you've that you're experienced coming into so okay well this is how we've done it somewhere else maybe that'll work here


Heather Bicknell  24:47  
this is reminding me of and i've been trying to remember this for like 10 minutes so maybe you'll remember and you can remind me but the conversation we had with mark chillingworth Their CIO writer. And he talked about these two kinds of CIOs, one on more of the product side. And then who was? was the other one? Yeah. Who was the other one? Do you remember what the other kind of persona was?

Ryan Purvis  25:16  
But it's probably the more internally focused CIO CTO versus the externally focused CIO CTO CIO, product versus infrastructure. Most of us, most of us were sort of CIOs CTOs. Kind of do both all the time. And then you'll find is a usually a sub role or division, that's crazy, which will be then a CTO or CTO, Chief Digital Officer, or, or tech lead or head of technology or something, or you know, whatever the label is. But what you realized pretty quickly as these roles are quite broad, and you can't do them all on your own, you need good teams and good people to take, take different initiatives on and you're really keeping it's like a conductor, you're just keeping everything in harmony. So the music sounds right. Audience plays a tune. That's that's, that's, that's appealing, as opposed to painful.

Heather Bicknell  26:14  
Yeah, that makes sense. Well, unless there's anything else you wanted to me, do you feel like we covered everything? Or is there any other aspect of this that you think could be interesting to talk about?

Ryan Purvis  26:31  
Well, well, I think I mean, to your point how to find these things. I mean, if anyone ever wanted to chat to me about it, they're more than welcome to reach out. You know, it's, it's as simple as you know, sometimes you talk about hearing a lot you're going you have a barbecue or briars, we would say, and a guy is saying to you, across the fire emojis, I'd love to build this app how to do it. Now there's, there's a conversation like that, which is usually, you know, 10 minutes, 15 minutes and then goes nowhere, or it's a follow up. And so well, let's whiteboard that out is actually going CSS and idea there. It's sometimes thoughts like that. And I think I think today's in today's age, it's so easy to reach out and talk to someone. Whereas before it wasn't Peter, so to do it. If you've got an idea or you've got a problem in the office, reach out. Thank you for listening to today's episode. Hey, the big news app producer, editor. Thank you, Heather. for your hard work on this episode. Please subscribe to the series and rate us on iTunes or the Google Play Store. Follow us on Twitter at the D ww podcast. The show notes and transcripts will be available on the website WWW dot digital workspace that works. Please also visit our website www dot digital workspace that works and subscribe to our newsletter. And lastly, if you found this episode useful, please share with your friends or colleagues.

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