When assessing their IT staffing needs, more associations are asking the question, “Do I need a CIO?” Although the Chief Information Officer (CIO) role is becoming more common, most associations still don't have a CIO and some associations still don't have a director of IT.
It’s far more likely that they have the “Jack of all trades” IT generalist who is in charge of the help desk, the servers, the database, etc. They're doing a little bit of everything.
Not long ago only a handful of associations had a CIO. The thinking was “IT is a back office function, right?’ The world has certainly changed. Our members bring consumer-level expectations for engaging with us. This expectation means that our technology leaders now need to be future-focused as well as operationally competent.
Most associations now realize the need for IT leadership to have a ‘seat at the table’ and participate as a full member of the senior leadership team.
An IT director will generally be operationally focused and look at problems from a day-to-day tactical perspective. We think of this as ‘keeping the lights on’, and in our best-of-breed technology stacks it can be a daunting task.
By contrast, the CIO is tasked with looking at the tools, systems, and processes through a more strategic lens. The CIO is both a futurist and primary customer advocate when it comes to how the technology fits with the business model.
The CIO must understand the value creation objectives of the organization and guide the people, process, and technology choices that power the underlying technical components of the association. For most associations, this requires a new way of thinking about IT. In order to meet the digital expectations of members and customers, the CIO is a critical resource.
The challenge is to find the right type of person: An IT professional who can be successful at working with key business users and stakeholders. If you put somebody too technical at that table, it usually doesn't work out. It’s about finding the right mix of operational skills and strategic focus.
There are a few key indicators that it’s time to consider extending beyond operational IT to Strategic IT.
When your team doesn’t have the information they need to plan and execute strategy, and they are collectively asking, “do I have the right tools, people, and processes?” That’s an indication that you might need the services of a CIO. We often hear comments like, “My staff are complaining about the software or lack of access to software, saying they don't have the tools they need.” If they have to wait too long to get the tool they need to do the task, that’s a strong indicator that you are creating too much friction in your technology systems.
The right tools also include access to data. Once your organization has matured to the point that they start asking deeper questions and you're not getting those answers from the tools that you have, that is a sign that you need a technology leader who is focused on supporting the business through establishing a data-driven culture.
A lot of times conflict happens between IT and other departments. This is generally due to the jargon-filled world of technology. The primary role of the CIO is to cut through the jargon to establish clear communication channels for all stakeholders. According to the industry benchmark data from InfoTech Research Group, only 69.5% of association executives believe IT communicates with the staff effectively.
The number one way to improve the overall satisfaction of the end-users with your IT department is to improve communication. That communication gap between the department and the end users is a sign you need CIO services. Someone in a CIO role will be focused on stakeholders and communicating with departments in a way that the end-users can understand.
When you’re receiving complaints about IT functions, but the CEO and senior leadership can’t identify the problem, that indicates you need a ‘translator’.
A similar situation happens when your IT team is saying one thing and the rest of your staff are saying something else, and there's a disconnect.
Worst of all, if you as the CEO or senior leadership can't understand what your IT employee is telling you, you probably need a CIO.
In the association world, a change in leadership such as a new CEO coming on board is a perfect time to ask, “Do I have the right mix of staff on my senior leadership team?”
Another natural opportunity to examine your need for a CIO happens when your organization recognizes the need to digitally transform, but they can't do large-scale projects with the limited IT personnel you currently have.
As a general rule, you want to hire a CIO before you're breached. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. If you hire a Managed Service Provider after a breach, that’s a good indicator that it’s time for CIO services.
Many associations are doing phishing tests now with staff, and it’s becoming an industry standard. If your staff is consistently failing those tests, that is an indication you need better policies and better training, which a CIO can help develop and execute. With the right balance of policy, tools and training, staff can perform their work in a secure and efficient manner. This reduces risk for the association.
The CEOs we work with often ask “I have this many staff, this size budget, etc. am I ready for a CIO?”
Generally, we’ve found that the tipping point is somewhere between $10-15m in revenue. Organizations at that size are ready to either hire a CIO or hire virtual CIO services.
But even smaller organizations could benefit from CIO services. It’s a good way to start dipping their toe into learning the value that a CIO can bring to the organization. There can be a lot of benefit in bringing someone in on a fractional basis, even just to advise a couple of times a year on strategy and then give the roadmap to the IT generalist to implement.
Afterward, your organization can continue to work with them, whether it's quarterly check-ins or a weekly engagement. That would make sense for an organization that's not ready to hire a full-time CIO.
Often IT is managing the day-to-day of member requests or overseeing the tools members use to conduct business with the association. Functions like buying a membership, registering for a meeting, buying a book, etc.
Those all rely on technology that bridges the gap between the end user and the association. If you don't have the right tools in place, it's a painful experience for the customer, but it also represents your company's image to the outside world, and to members. If it looks clunky or breaks down frequently, you're not representing the brand very well. This is where the CIO can bring a more strategic perspective to the table.
Having a seat at the table is the most important thing that a CIO brings to an organization. That IT leader role should be a member of the senior staff and should be sitting in every strategic conversation that the senior staff is having. That’s important even when the conversation is not relevant to software or hardware, because your CIO needs to understand the business goals of the organization.
Many times there are technical implications to projects that the leadership team may not be thinking about. IT staff are also an asset for tackling process issues that are not inherent skillsets for folks in other departments.
That's where the magic happens. When the CIO knows about what the business is trying to accomplish, they can bring the right tools to the table and participate and add value to the conversation in a way that is creating real value for the organization.
There's a unique set of vendors that serve the association industry. One advantage to working with a company like Cimatri is that we know all of the players in the space.
We know all of the people who sell and support the association technology stack. That relationship has allowed us to learn the strengths and weaknesses of all the different tools that are available. As a result, we can help you find which ones are the best match for the needs that you have as an organization.
A virtual CIO from a consulting firm like Cimatri can provide a wider range of experiences. We’ve learned which solutions are proven and successful from working with many association clients.
Our IT Business Alignment Assessment measures stakeholder satisfaction and what value IT is bringing to the organization as a whole. If you’re trying to figure out if you’re at the tipping point and ready for CIO services, an assessment process like this would be an excellent place to start.
We help our clients measure four key satisfaction metrics:
If you are concerned about IT staffing and whether you have the right people in place, you might consider our CIO coaching programs. Our coaching services are designed to help our clients make IT staffing decisions. We can work with existing IT staff and executive staff to establish the strategic framework you need to be successful with IT initiatives. Our coaches can help your existing IT leadership add strategic planning skills to their portfolio.
Ultimately, we want to make sure that your people, process, and technology solutions are focused on doing the right things that bring value to the business. For organizations that need more help but can’t afford the cost of a full-time CIO, a virtual CIO solution offers a lot of value. At Cimatri, we work with clients to scale the engagement of our CIO services to meet the needs and budget of our clients.
If you’re questioning whether you need CIO services, chances are good that your organization is experiencing one or more of the situations we talked about earlier. Our CIO services enable your senior leadership team to work more effectively and collaboratively with your IT staff, providing a better experience for your stakeholders.
Interested in learning more about how Cimatri can help your association with IT services? We’d be happy to meet with you to determine if CIO services are the right fit.