Most housing providers are underway with digital transformation projects in one shape or another and right across society our reliance on technology keeps increasing. So how do organisations keep up? Board directors might think that digital change is expensive to implement, but what they should really worry about is the cost of getting it wrong.
We’re seeing technology and data threats escalating up to the top of corporate risk registers. As a result, boards are rightly looking for greater levels of assurance that their IT strategy and change roadmap are safe, secure and delivering the best value for money.
The value of an IT director
If the IT risks are so high and the cost of change is so large, it’s alarming that fewer than 10 per cent of UK housing providers have a dedicated IT director. Positioned correctly, these roles can confidently plug the gap between the executive board and IT management. Even worse, we very rarely see non-executive directors with a technology background.
The good news is that this is starting to change as more boards are recognising the importance of making wise choices about technology investments. Many board members are concerned about how they can drive up assurance levels for technology projects in a function that is already complex and bewildering to most people. The result can be a swing between the IT team taking too many risks (maybe some unknown) or being overly risk averse and missing out on the benefits of brilliant new technologies – either result is expensive in one way another.
The list of things to pay close attention to is a long one, including things such as creating your IT digital strategies and technology roadmap, implementing governance models and project methodologies, portfolio and risk management, license audits, and cyber security and GDPR assessments. You’ll also need to manage option appraisals, procurement, contract negotiations and carefully control budgets along with improving service and delivering project benefits. Then there’s making sure you have the right target operating model, recruitment and leadership approaches.
As an IT professional, I’m delighted to see large organisations recruiting senior IT leaders onto their executive teams and boards, but the challenge is how can smaller businesses keep up, when they can’t (and shouldn’t) justify a full-time IT director?
The flexible solution
How can you get experienced, director-level IT leadership at a fraction of the cost of a (six-figure salary) CIO? The answer is to share them – the ‘UberDirector’ or ‘Directoroo’!
More companies are turning to the professional ‘gig’ economy to increase efficiency and flexibility and achieve results in a cost-effective way; the demand for freelance, portfolio, or ‘gig’ careers continues to grow, with an estimated 32 per cent of professionals in the UK now being self-employed.
You can engage a very experienced IT leader on a part-time basis for a variable number of days per month to suit your business needs. They’ll provide peer-level assurance to the executive team and lead the safe delivery of technology change.
Benefits to the board
The benefits to housing providers’ boards of using a virtual IT director are huge. As well as only paying for what you need, independent IT directors have a heavyweight portfolio of work to draw on and share with the team. These tested solutions from real-life, hands-on experience can be a fast track to avoiding problems and achieving the successful delivery of major IT-based projects.
An additional bonus is that this freelance approach means that there’s no pressure from working for a large vendor with mixed levels of capability looking to ‘land and expand’. They work on-demand and only continue while they are adding value – very often flexing the amount of time needed with contracts being easy to start and finish. This model is much more efficient than the traditional interim contract of high day-rates for fixed full-time periods.
A recent study by a transformation and technology recruitment firm reported, “Around 70 per cent of traditional contractors are seriously under-utilised for long stretches of their contracts.” Put simply, your fractional IT support should focus on value-adding activities.
Support for the squad
When you’re choosing the right fractional IT director, it needs to be about more than just executive assurance. There are benefits for the IT management team too – skills and knowledge transfer are a crucial part of the mixture, along with coaching from a ‘critical friend’. They should bridge the gap between the executive strategy and practical delivery. On-demand IT directors should be willing to roll their sleeves up and lead by example, working closely with in-house teams to inject energy and enthusiasm.
If the IT and change team in your business is over-stretched and struggling to ‘keep the lights on’ or if they are about to embark on a new unfamiliar transformation journey due to a merger, divestment, organic growth or simply a new digital strategy, then a shared IT director may be the perfect solution.
Andrew Giles is the founder of Fractional IT.