At What Size Does a Firm Need a CIO?
“Does a firm our size need a CIO?”
I hear this question quite often, and I always respond with more questions. Why do you think you need a CIO? Why do you think you need a CIO now? As a matter of fact, the need for a CIO has absolutely nothing to do with the size of the firm. The need for a CIO depends on how your firm wishes to leverage technology. If technology is still seen as a necessary cost center required for operations, you’re not ready to bring on a CIO. However, if your firm’s strategic plan includes a period of growth, expansion into new services and markets, or, most importantly, you’re ready to explore how technology can drive your firm’s strategic plan forward then you might consider adding a CIO to your leadership team.
Do we need a CIO and an IT Director?
This answer, like that of the previous question, has nothing to do with the size of your firm. The answer depends on the complexity of the environment. As an integral member of the firm’s leadership team, your CIO should be part of developing the firm’s strategic plan. Then your CIO should focus on the firm’s technology vision, ensuring that vision aligns with and supports the strategic plan and communicates that vision to all levels of the firm.
With your CIO focused on vision, an IT Director can focus on the goals of achieving that vision. The IT Director remains engaged and excited in the technical milestones and finds more support from the firm when the CIO has successfully achieved and communicated that alignment between strategic plan and technology vision.
These two roles work so very closely together that, in the right environment, they can be combined into one role. Yes, it’s easier to pull double duty in a smaller firm but double duty is more about finding the right individual who is strategic and can build alignment while still having the time and passion to achieve the tactical milestones.
Is knowledge of the accounting profession important?
Knowledge of the accounting profession is extremely beneficial to your CIO for planning purposes. Our profession’s calendar is riddled with deadlines and blackout dates that can throw new members for a real loop. Everyone knows the big Spring deadlines in March and April. They also know about September 15th and October 15th. But if your firm works with a lot of not-for-profits, major IT initiatives should be kept to a minimum in May as well. A CIO from outside the profession will quickly pick up the nuances of the public accounting calendar but project planning may be difficult the first year.
Secondly, a candidate with experience in a public accounting firm or in another professional services firm, such as law, will bring an understanding of the partnership organizational structure. Decisions are made much differently in a partnership than a traditional corporate framework. Your CIO will spend great deal of effort achieving buy-in across the firm for major technology initiatives. These political waters of consensus can be extremely challenging to navigate in a firm where the service line leaders protect the best interests of their team, or worse, where partners are protective of their own self-interests over the agreed upon plan for the firm.
In short, the answer to whether your firm needs a CIO, an IT Director and the necessary background for these roles is never straight forward. It largely depends on your mindset, your goals and how quickly you expect the person in these roles to hit the ground running. If you still have questions, Boomer Consulting can help you assess the needs of your Firm and build a transition plan that will ensure your CIO’s success. Or, if you’re looking for resources to get your new CIO or up-and-coming IT Director up to speed, our Boomer Technology Circles and Boomer CIO Circle are an excellent place to start.
Amanda Wilkie, Consultant at Boomer Consulting, Inc., has a computer science background, but she’s not your average geek. With two decades of technology experience, Amanda has spent 13 years driving change and process improvement through innovative technology solutions working across firms of varying sizes in the public accounting profession. She has held strategic leadership positions in firms ranging from Top 50 to Top 10 including her most recent role as CIO of a Top 30 firm. Amanda is a recognized expert in the profession who regularly speaks and writes on blockchain and cryptocurrency and their impact on the profession.