It's no secret to executives of small businesses that good tech help is extra hard to find these days. In a market where Ferraris and options are becoming the currency of choice, a few companies are turning to an extreme version of outsourcing: they're renting chief information officers.
"The idea behind CIO outsourcing is that you're renting an officer of the company," says Aberdeen Group senior analyst Stephen Lane. "Ideally, that's someone who has the experience to get your company started with IT while you're building your own organization." CIO outsourcing goes beyond just hiring a consultant, Lane explains. Whereas a consultant carries out a particular job -- be it coding or assessment or project management -- an outsourced CIO becomes a member of the senior management team.
Janet Kraus, CEO of Circles, has worked with both consultants and a rent-a-CIO. Janie Tremlett, founder of the CIO-outsourcing program at Breakaway Solutions, spent a year on call at Kraus's Boston-based concierge-services company, working anywhere from one day a week to one day a month. Tremlett helped Kraus plan strategy, choose technology, design an IT organization, and even get financing. Circles then called in a development team from Breakaway -- a full-service provider -- to handle the implementation.
On an all-cash basis, according to Tremlett, a client would typically pay about $40,000 to have a CIO on board once a week for three months. (The average salary for an experienced CIO in 1999 was $152,000 plus stock options and benefits, according to a Computerworld survey; in this year's hotter high-tech job market, salaries can run even higher.)
CEO Kraus valued the arrangement's flexibility. In addition, Circles benefited from the fact that Breakaway serves a wide client base. "Janie wouldn't talk about specifics, but she would try to bring the learning of other clients to bear," Kraus recalls.
The ultimate measure of Tremlett's success may be the fact that she's still working at Circles. Fifteen months after she began working with the concierge business, it had grown from 12 to 100 employees but still was relying on its outsourced CIO.