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The power of an external CIO advisor

Written by Sven Van Hoorebeeck

Quite some companies, small and large, struggle with the delivery of their (IT) projects. Projects are late, over budget, or worse, don’t deliver the expected remedy for the business pain points. As a result, business leaders complain, IT is overloaded with status update requests, more overhead is added, new teams are appointed, project portfolio is reshuffled, agile is rolled out, etc.  A situation that undoubtedly sounds familiar. The problem? Many of the corrective measures are not advancing the project delivery at all.

At BrightWolves, we’ve found out that bringing in an external CIO advisor, who reports directly to the CIO or CEO, is a risk free and extremely (cost-)effective solution. Acting as a trusted person to the CIO and/or CEO, this external advisor will inject expertise in the organisation. And, thanks to the regular status updates with the external advisor, management will have an additional tool to get their teams to meet deadlines and keep up the pace of digital developments.

Typically, an external CIO will help companies on 3 levels: prioritize projects, challenge providers and boost delivery.

1. Prioritize projects

A CIO advisor should start with a complete review of the project portfolio. What are the interdependencies? What are the priorities? What are the technology choices made? Are there any other ways that the business can benefit from integrating digital technologies in current operations? Has the easiest and future-proof route been chosen? The best way for the advisor to get these questions answered is to be hands-on, in the field, having 1-on-1 discussions with different project managers. These discussions are also valuable coaching moments for the project managers, as they introduce an outside-in perspective on their challenges.

Based on these reviews, prioritization of the project roadmap is done with the CIO and CEO. The CIO advisor will map the digital projects on key dimensions such as resources needed, expected impact, feasibility, timing (how soon will there be positive results?) and strategic fit. This last dimension is crucial, as any digital project should not be a goal in itself, but a means to enable the business to reach its strategic objectives.

2. Challenge providers

External, independent, critical review is key when selecting an external provider (implementation, software, hardware, etc.). Competent CIO advisors have participated in supplier selection multiple times and, as a consequence, they have the authority and expertise to challenge providers.

For example, a business unit leader of a media group wanted to launch a new state-of-the-art chatbot application. He was about to accept a 1,5 M€ proposal developed by a leading software provider. Review by an independent CIO, however, revealed that most of the features could be developed inhouse for less than 10% of the initial proposal.

3. Boost delivery efficiency with monthly demo's

On this 3rd level the results are the most spectacular and the difference between average and strong CIO advisors is most obvious. CIO advisors should attend monthly demo days where project teams present their “as-is” product/deliverable and the plan and resource needs for the coming period. The CIO advisor can then challenge the team on its proposal and request, and emphasize deliverables over ‘status reports, Gantt charts, admin output’.

An example. The IT department of a large insurer was a bureaucratic procurement organization. IT project managers were running dozens of projects in parallel. And these projects were implemented by different subcontractors. Due to the important interdependencies between projects and the lack of accountability, deadlines were never met or pushed back. A three-month ‘financial reporting’ project ended up taking over a year and was eventually never implemented.

When a CIO advisor was consulted, he was able to put delivery pressure on PMs and subcontractors. The first demo day was rather an ‘excuse day’. One month later however, 20% of initiatives was put on hold, and another month later, 20% had been finalized!


Are you losing grip on your IT projects? Are budgets and results not met? Is the digital direction and the relationship between digital initiatives not clear? Before abolishing everything, onboard an external CIO advisor. (S)he will be the torch shining light in the darkness brought about by the abundance of possibilities digital technologies offer. (S)he will show you the potential of digital transformation for your business, help you prioritize your digital projects, select the right technology providers and, most importantly, set the right pace to boost your digital effectiveness!


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