Win the IT war with an interim solution

Interim managers combine the commitment of a full-time employee with the experience and authority of a consultant. Annie Gurton...

Interim managers combine the commitment of a full-time employee with the experience and authority of a consultant. Annie Gurton reviews the short, sharp shock benefits of a dedicated professional.

When Kippa Alliston launched Liverpool-based financial administration enterprise Liberty Pensions he only had 50 staff but needed a fully skilled IT department. The business demanded a broad range of IT services including internal and external communications, networking, PC desktop and Unix server management, Internet access and the capacity to start e-trading.

He considered using a consultant but a consultant would have produced a report, leaving Alliston to find someone to execute the recommendations. He wanted the commitment of an employee, but also recognised that he did not want to rush into recruiting a permanent manager.

"We had the needs of a large IT department in a corporate enterprise, but only had a small number of people. At that stage, I didn't have time to find a high-level IT manager, but that is what we needed.

"The answer was to use an interim manager who would become intimately involved and committed and be able to get to work straight away."

Alliston explains that in his experience an interim manager is typically in his forties or fifties, perhaps not quite ready for retirement, who wants to work part- or full-time for a short period.

"They know what needs to be done and can get on with it, unlike a consultant who might know the theory but hasn't done it in practice," Alliston adds.

Through specialist agency Executives on Assignment, Alliston found Ian Andrews, who had worked as a permanent executive in large financial organisations, then as an IT consultant and latterly as an interim IT manager.

Andrews says being an interim manager is great fun with the best of many worlds. He explains, "The focus is different when you are an interim manager. If I go into a firm as a consultant, I prepare a report and then walk away. As an interim manager I have to see things through. The emphasis is on delivery."

Typically, Andrews starts an assignment on a contract for a short period, such as two to three months, which is then extended. His last two assignments eventually lasted for one year and two years respectively. Andrews says, "It is very nice to have an opportunity to apply all the expertise I have acquired and see things through."

In fact, adds Andrews, the only real disadvantage of being an interim manager is having to give up the reins in the end.

Exerting control

Interim managers get properly involved with the company and its staff in exactly the same way as a permanent manager, offering leadership, exerting control and creating direction, and taking actions to develop activity and improve company and individual performance.

An interim manager has all the tasks, responsibility and commitment of a permanent manager, but with the short-term arrangement of a consultant. Andrews says, "The only downside for me is having to walk away at the end of a contract. You do become very emotionally involved in the firm and its people, and really want to see the systems you help create, implement and manage work into the future."

Bob Snell, managing director of specialist recruitment agency Executives on Assignment, says, "Interim management used to be all about crisis management, but now companies use interim managers much more strategically. They are a resource and can be built into business plans."

Snell says Alliston's needs at Liberty Pensions were typical of the way that interim managers are increasingly being used. He says, "Ian Andrews has a background of working in the IT departments of financial organisations so he was highly suitable for Liberty Pensions. He understood the requirements of the market sector as well as the technology that they wanted to implement."

Snell adds that IT experts are particularly in demand as interim managers at the moment, although now that the pressure to resolve year 2000 problems has gone, the emphasis is on e-commerce and euro-compliance skills.

"Many companies have cut back on middle managers over the past few years in an effort to flatten their hierarchy, and now find that they have no one of the right level and expertise to take over big projects," says Snell.

"The recruitment process for permanent staff has its flaws and consultants often fail to deliver what's really required - and are costly. An interim manager is not a stop-gap measure, it is a real strategic ploy to resolve a situation," he says.

Alliston says the only drawback of interim managers is that they are relatively expensive. "They are cheaper than a consultant for several months but are more than a permanent person, but then they often have far more skills and experience than you need. At some stage you will probably want to move to a permanent IT manager, but at least you have a safe pair of hands while you are searching for the right person."

The high cost of interim managers is a result of their high level of skills. Many have senior board-level experience, but because they have such high qualifications they are immediately effective. Andrews says he assumed instant control at Liberty Pensions.

"Because the emphasis is on delivery I was encouraged to assess the situation, plan and budget for what I thought needed to be done and then get the wheels in motion as fast as possible, with full support from Alliston. They had confidence in me, and in return I became completely involved and immersed in the organisation."

The degree of commitment demonstrated by interim managers is typical, according to Snell. "Even the best-managed companies can sometimes benefit from a fresh view on a situation, and when these people come into a company they are not only bringing years of experience, they bring independence. They act objectively and their observations can be insightful and useful."

Alliston feels that Andrews' contribution to Liberty Pensions was invaluable. "We have recently been bought by Schroeders, and I'm sure that this happened partly because the infrastructure of the organisation was so healthy, and that was because of Andrews' efforts.

"He ensured that the IT foundations were in place, with all the necessary processes backed up with the right technology.

"Andrews brought experience and authority, and made an extremely valuable and worthwhile contribution to the organisation."

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