And Now, the Virtual CIO

Life is too short for people to spend their time working. That may sound strange coming from the CEO and the vice-president of strategic services of a growing company, but it’s true. And that’s really how our company started.

Having been CIOs or directors of IS at both large and small companies, we recognized two problems with the CIO position. It seems that CIOs of small companies often don’t have enough challenges to fill their days. But CIOs at larger companies face a different problem: they don’t always have the chance to do what they are there to do.

As a CIO, much of your day is spent in meetings, and it is easy to become too involved in politics and not concentrate enough on the CIO’s core competency, which is business and IT strategy. Not only do you sacrifice quality of life by doing that, but you also work less efficiently when your time is divided.

We wanted to find a way for a technology expert to be a CIO and also be happy, have a life and be efficient. So we came up with an environment where technology executives can excel without sacrificing their lives to their jobs. Our company, which maintains a growing and highly experienced group of virtual CIOs, is based on that concept.

With our model, one CIO can serve up to three or four companies. Usually, the CIO spends one day a week on the premises of the company; otherwise he or she is virtual, and the client company can reach him or her by cell phone or e-mail. Currently, we have about 20 virtual CIOs, all of whom were directors of IS, vice-presidents of IS or CIOs for at least five years with a minimum of 20 years of IT experience.

Our CIOs have expressed to us the frustrations they felt in their past positions. Working virtually for more than one company, they can concentrate on the challenging activities they enjoy and can feel that they’re being effective without having to sacrifice their quality of life. People are much happier when they’re judged on the deliverables, not on the amount of time they spend in the office, in meetings or untangling company politics.

Through our experiences in other companies, we found that it can be lonely being the CIO – you’re caught between business and IS, and you don’t really belong to either. At the same time, you’re expected to know everything about technology, and you can’t show any weakness.

Because they have the knowledge base of many experienced CIOs under one roof, our CIOs don’t have that problem. We have weekly meetings with all the CIOs to go over what’s going on in each company. At any time, the CIOs can ask for help or advice from their peers.

Our customers are able to take advantage of the knowledge, experience and execution of a whole group of CIOs at once, and they consider us a real asset to their growing organizations. Not only do we fill the immediate need for executive IT management, but we also provide long-term strategic advice and direction, whether or not they have internal CIOs. Our IT war room fulfils the tactical needs of such organizations, for which convenience and easy access to key services is critical. We have successfully proved this business model in the most demanding of situations, and it is well on its way to expansion throughout Canada, Europe and the United States.

While the need to deliver results in the CIO job hasn’t gone away, the high-stress environment has. One of our CIOs tells us that his blood pressure is half what it was before he started working for us.

And when life is already short, that’s a great thing.

Krimo Salem is president and CEO of If & Then Inc. of San Jose, Calif., and Ananth Reddy is vice-president of strategic services at the same company. Mr. Salem can be reached at [email protected].

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