What type of IT leader does your association need?

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Should your organization have a Chief Information Officer (CIO) or a Chief Technology Officer (CTO)? I can’t resist replying with the infamous consultant answer: “It depends.” More on that later.

But here’s the more important question to ask: What type of IT leadership should your association have in place? And, here’s the most important thing to take away from this blog post: No matter how small or large your organization, you must have someone leading technology at your association.

Why is a CIO necessary for all associations?

First, let’s talk about CIOs. Just what is a CIO? Dictionary.com says a CIO is “the person who determines the overall strategic direction and business contribution of the information systems functions in a business.” So, what on earth does this mean—in real life?

No wonder it’s a confusing topic—the definition of a CIO is grand but ambiguous. Let’s get down to basics here. In short, the CIO ensures that the correct technology is in place to support your organization’s strategic goals, oversees the technology you use every day to get your jobs done, and ensures the business intelligence (i.e., data, data, and more data) is there to make informed decisions.

Should you have a CIO on staff? In short, a big fat YES—in some form. You must have someone who’s responsible for maintaining a holistic view of all the technology in use throughout the organization, preventing the implementation of redundant systems, and ensuring the right technology is in place to support strategic growth.

The CIO is a unique but important role within an organization. This position:

  • Is simultaneously tactical and strategic.
  • Provides a clear vision on how technology will further the goals of the organization.
  • Has a comprehensive understanding of all technology initiatives and how each interacts or overlaps.
  • Provides leadership for technology selection and implementation.

Think about it this way: as the orchestrator of technology throughout the organization, the CIO ensures that the right technology is being used to advance the organization’s progress. Without a CIO, the organization may not leverage technology to its fullest potential.

What’s the best IT leadership for an organization of your size?

Size matters! The size of your organization (and your budget) will determine how you should invest in technology leadership.

Small associations

If you’re a [very] small organization (e.g., 2-5 staff), you don’t need a full-time CIO or even a Director of IT. Instead, focus your budget on three things:

Then, set your sights on moving forward with small, incremental investments in technology that align with your strategic goals and improve your IT maturity.

Medium associations

Small- to medium-sized organizations (e.g., 5-20 staff) most likely need a Director of IT to focus on providing technical support to the staff, coordinating all new and existing technology (e.g., management of the organization’s membership database), providing insight on how technology can support the strategic direction of the organization, and project-managing new initiatives.

Large associations

A fine line exists for larger organizations as to whether you need a CIO or if a Director of IT suffices. Medium- to large-sized organizations (e.g., 20-45) are on the edge of this line. If your organization’s strategic initiatives are not technology-intensive, a Director of IT may work just fine. However, if your organization’s strategic direction depends heavily on technology, you should invest in a CIO.

Not sure where you fall? You may want to undergo a technology maturity assessment to identify where your organization needs to focus its resources.

Very large associations

A [very] large organization (e.g., 45+ staff) with strong strategic initiatives must have a full-fledged CIO on board. The CIO is responsible for developing a technology plan that supports the organization and its goals, ensuring that business processes deliver efficiencies, and holistically integrating technology into the organization. Like the dictionary says, the CIO “determines the overall strategic direction and business contribution” of technology in your organization.

Do you really have to hire a CIO?

It’s a huge job, one that’s interwoven with nearly every product, service, and program offered by associations these days. In some cases, you may outsource some or all of these CIO duties—and remember that outsourcing is not a “bad word” if it helps move your mission forward.

If you’re concerned about the level of IT leadership, maturity, or planning at your organization, our consultants can help you determine the best direction to take.

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