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Interim IT hiring: Is the downturn driving its rise?

Some think that employers like interim IT managers because they have clear goals and no political baggage. Others say it's just because they're cheaper than consultants. Whatever the real reason, their use is on the increase.

In IT, it remains a buyers’ market because the supply of interim managers outstrips demand. Photo: Shutterstock

Regardless of the state of the economy, businesses always want to find exceptional talent to address their particular circumstances. To fulfil that need, it seems they are increasingly turning to professional interims.

Our research shows that the number of interims on assignment for more than 170 days is up six per cent on last year and the number of assignments extended remains above 70 per cent - with 40 per cent of these for six months or more.

And, as usual, IT featured prominently in the expertise required. So why is interim management so popular in the IT industry?

In little more than 20 years, interim management has evolved to become a key strategic approach in executive appointments. The UK has the most established interim market in the world and for many organisations, even in these straitened times, hiring interim talent is the norm.

This billion-pound market is growing internationally too and IT interims are a large part of it. Interim managers have traditionally been used to fill senior management capability gaps or remedy in-house skills shortages.

However, they are increasingly used more strategically - to mentor and upskill existing client teams, to deliver major projects and programmes that bring about significant business change, or as an alternative to management consultancy.

For example, we were recently engaged by a FTSE 100 support services company to provide a number of senior-level executives during a period of significant change because the organisation lacked the appropriate skills inhouse. We provided individuals experienced in finance, sales and marketing and business strategy who both planned and led the transformation.

Focus on agreed business goals

Interims are attractive to employers because they are focused solely on delivering agreed business goals and come with no political baggage.

They often cost a fraction of the rate imposed by consultancy firms for their senior staff. They are experts in their fields who are able to provide independent experience at board level, and can be turned on and off quickly to suit business needs.

In an unpredictable economic environment, many organisations are containing costs through large-scale outsourcing and shared services programmes, while others with money to spend are investing in re-engineering programmes, underpinned by technology, which will enable them to take advantage of the upturn when it comes.

The convergence of many business functions with telecommunications and the absolute need to spend on an IT estate that may have lacked investment is also starting to be a factor for businesses to consider. It is in these circumstances that a professional IT interim is used.

For example, we recently placed a senior level interim into a growing business services provider with a remit to rationalise a hotchpotch of technology - which had developed organically as the business grew - into a global common platform that will support the organisation in its next stage of evolution.

Interim management is buyers' market

However, not everything in the garden is rosy. In technology, it remains a buyers' market. The supply of interim managers presently outstrips demand for their services.

With an ability to pick and choose, employers are prescriptive in the skills and experience they want and are more risk-averse than in better times. Decision-making has slowed down as organisations consider if their investment is absolutely necessary, or it is passed further up the food chain - these factors have stunted the hiring process considerably.

Day rates have by and large held firm, but the challenging environment has forced many interims to be more flexible.

Outside IT, other sectors have fared relatively well. The banking and finance sector remains reasonably buoyant and the government sector has started to show some signs of recovery after cuts.

As a result, employers and interims expect to see more assignments in the market as the economy recovers. The IT recruitment market itself remains on an upward trajectory, albeit at a shallow incline. We hope it will end 2012 in a better position than it started.

About

Bruce Mair is head of IT practice at Alium Partners. He has more than 20 years' experience in IT professional services, initially with Ernst & Young and Accenture. Most recently, he worked for networking forum CIO Connect.

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