Who Should Lead Information Technology? Your 4 Options

You have four main options when deciding who to hire to lead information technology. Much depends on your business goals, budget, and organizational maturity. Ideally, you want an IT leader who creates business value by spearheading strategic planning of technology investments. 

However, this level of IT leadership isn’t always feasible. The hiring decision ultimately boils down to achieving alignment with the direction, financial capabilities, and growth objectives of your organization. 

In the association space, organizations typically hire an IT manager or IT director until a chief information officer (CIO) is brought on board to lead information technology. The CIO can either be in-house or virtual. Another option is to outsource all IT functions to an out-of-the-box, all-in-one IT service provider.

Let's walk through your IT leadership options and how you can decide the best hiring choice for your organization.

Option 1: IT Manager or IT Director

When to Hire an IT Manager 

If your organization has less than 15 employees or so, then it’s wise to hire an IT manager or director to plan, direct and oversee day-to-day IT operations and tactical planning. At this size, your association likely isn’t ready to hire a full-time CIO. 

Until an organization has reached critical mass to hire a CIO, then an IT manager and/or director typically leads all IT functions and any additional IT team members.

What Does an IT Manager Do? 

IT managers are like internal project managers for all IT projects and operations. They are tactical, hands-on leaders who oversee daily IT operations. They also serve as the liaison to all other departments and vendors that sell and support the technology stack in the association industry. 

As the shepherd of the IT department, he or she guides your IT team in fulfilling its roles and requirements. The IT manager must know the strengths and weaknesses of all the IT team members. They also need to know all vendors and players in the industry. This insight helps to ensure the performance of IT operations and infrastructure.

What is an IT Manager Responsible for? 

In the association space, an IT manager typically oversees the systems your team uses to engage with members and the tools that members use to conduct business with your organization. This includes supervising functions such as: 

  • Fulfilling staff requests and ensuring smooth operations of the help desk, whether it's internal or outsourced. 
  • Procuring and deploying workstations to employees.
  • Procuring and managing access to software licenses.
  • Managing vendor relationships. 

Outgrowing the tactical IT leader means that it’s time for a CIO.

Read More: 14 Skills of Successful Association IT Leaders and CIO Execs 

Option 2: Chief Information Officer

CIO is a technology leader that sits at the executive table

When to Hire a CIO 

When you've secured a larger budget and reached a certain level of digital maturity and organizational growth, then it’s time to mature your IT organizational structure and leadership. This means bringing on an in-house CIO or leveraging virtual CIO services. 

There are several “aha moments” when you know it’s time for a CIO. Reaching one or more of these boiling points means you either need a fractional CIO or a full-time CIO. 

  • Reaching $10-15m in revenue. 
  • Shifting to digital transformation. 
  • Adopting new digital tools to unleash the power of technology and your data. 
  • Being unable to extract the answers you need from your tools. 
  • Experiencing communication and technical issues between end-users and IT. 
  • Facing member experience issues.

Read More: When Should My Association Hire a CIO? 

What Does a CIO Do?  

The CIO is a rapidly evolving role. Once focused on running IT and technology operations, CIOs are now central to every strategic business conversation. As a business technology leader, this person has a digitally innovative mindset and a keen focus on accommodating future growth.

What does a CIO do

Value Creation

Whether in-house or virtual, the role of the CIO is to recommend IT investments that drive continuous value creation and digital transformation to senior leadership and stakeholders. This means guiding the people, process flow, and technology decisions through robust yet flexible strategic planning. And it means setting up and strengthening a data-driven culture. 

CIOs are essentially responsible for bringing the vision and direction to your organization’s digital priorities including your technological and big data investments.

One of the main roles of the CIO is to build competitive differentiation through digital services and your digital member experience.

Today, virtually every organization has become digital to some extent or another. The CIO is there to help you compete harder than ever by translating your business into digital services. This includes all critical assets, content, and data.

Read More: Top 5 CIO Priorities in 2022

Digital Identity

CIOs aren't just responsible for translating your business into a digital competitor. They also must continuously optimize the delivery, operations, and security of your digital services, products, and assets.

This link between the efficiency of your digital products and services, the digital experience and omnichannel journey of your members, and the security of your technology ecosystem and data make up your digital identity.

Optimizing this digital identity is one of the primary responsibilities of the CIO. Within your digital identity, your CIO works to create and manage value while driving costs down and strengthening your digital culture of privacy and internal culture of innovation.

Read More: 18 CIO Interview Questions to Ask Tech Execs 

What Should I Look for When Hiring a CIO?  

As your organization’s head technology executive, your CIO must rise to the challenge of furthering your association’s digital transformation. You want someone with the technical vision and business wisdom to build organizational maturity and long-term resiliency.

On your leadership team, you want a CIO with a future-forward thinking cap. This person needs the right mix of operational skills and strategic focus to oversee your association's innovation and continuous process improvement.

If you put somebody too technical at the executive table, it usually doesn't work out. It’s about finding an IT leader with the technical and soft skills to successfully work with stakeholders and business users.

Read More: 14 Skills of Successful Association IT Leaders and CIO Execs 

What is the CIO Responsible for?  

The CIO looks at your products and services holistically to shape a clear path forward. This entails continuously weighing your strategic capabilities and the competition to generate sustained value.

The technology executive is focused on driving organizational efficiency, employee productivity, and delivery of association products. This means all touchpoints, products, services, software, processes, and systems are undergoing continuous improvement.

In the association space, this means:

  • Supporting your AMS, LMS, virtual meeting platforms, online community, and other critical platforms to run the business and service members.
  • Identifying the right mix of tools and vendors to support all meetings, annual conferences, and webinars hosted online
  • Using technology and gamification to turn virtual events into fun and interactive experiences.
  • Selling books and professional development resources as digital products using eCommerce.
  • Delivering continuing education courses online by translating the curriculum into a digital format.
  • Using APIs and eCommerce to sell standards and drive other non-dues revenue streams

Option 3: Virtual CIO

When to Outsource CIO Services 

It may make more sense financially and strategically to outsource your CIO services while keeping other IT functions in-house. If you need help positioning your organization and IT department for success but can’t afford the cost of a full-time CIO, then a virtual CIO solution is a great solution.

Our virtual CIOs have decades of experience with associations and non-profits and come aboard your team on a contractual basis. Afterward, you can choose to continue working with the CIO, whether it's via quarterly check-ins or a weekly engagement.

This kind of outsourced CIO solution makes the most sense if you've outgrown the tactical IT manager and IT director leadership role, but you're not ready to hire a full-time CIO.

Roles and Responsibilities

The primary objective of a CIO consultant is to ensure that your people, process, and technology solutions are doing the right things to drive continuous value to your association.

At Cimatri, we offer virtual/fractional CIO services to scale your digital transformation and diversify your revenue streams. Our virtual CIOs help your senior leadership work more effectively and collaboratively with your IT staff to boost stakeholder satisfaction and organizational cohesion.

Our virtual CIO consultants measure, track, and manage these key satisfaction metrics: 

  1. How IT executes internal requests.
  2. How well IT understands the needs of the business.
  3. Communications between IT and the business.
  4. Training quality and frequency.

Option 4: Outsource IT

An increasing number of organizations are outsourcing IT to an external service provider to improve the quality of service delivery, gain access to broader and deeper levels of technical expertise, gain access to training materials for their employees, and fully supported infrastructure hosting.

Outsource to a full-service IT provider

What's the Best IT Team Leader for You?

Deciding who to hire to lead information technology boils down to understanding your business objectives and IT strategy. The first step is getting a strategic IT plan in place that supports your overall business strategy. It's paramount to align your technology strategy and organization with your larger business vision before considering any hiring discussions.

Once this strategy is set, then you can think about the best person to lead your IT team and vision. It's much easier to identify whether to hire a CIO, manager, or director once you have a framework.

Read our handy guide, Do I Need CIO Services? to find out if you're ready to bring in a strategic CIO to compete in the digital economy.

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