One of Differly's Factional CIOs, Jay Payette, recently gave a talk discussing modern generative AI technologies like ChatGPT in their historical context. One of the many insights shared during this session that stuck in my mind was the origin of the word “cybernetics.”  This is one of those words that I tend to think of as just being a quirky output of 20th century science fiction. It turns out its origin is quite interesting, originating from the Greek word for a “pilot” or a “governor”.

The Greek Kubernetes was the inspiration for mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener coining the term “cybernetics” in a 1948 book that explored the importance of feedback loops in self-regulating systems (such as in animals and machines). Such feedback loops are at the heart of how modern machine learning systems “train” themselves into powerful AI models like ChatGPT. While it appeared to many of us as though ChatGPT appeared out of nowhere in 2022, it was a notable innovation among many in the long history of this school of computer science.

Let's draw some practical inspiration from this lesson on the Kubernetes or “helmspersons” of ancient times by discussing the value of having a Fractional CIO like Jay in support of your organization. Anecdotes about ancient Greek mariners and the literary history of computer science set aside: a Fractional CIO is the affordable advantage that enables your organization to remain relevant and competitive while navigating today’s rapidly evolving business landscape.  

What is a Fractional CIO?

A Fractional CIO is a member of your leadership team who offers the same strategic insights and leadership as a full-time, salaried CIO but on a flexible, part-time, or project basis. Quite simply, this allows mid-sized associations and businesses to benefit from high-level technology expertise without the expense of a full-time hire.

The role of the CIO, either fractional or full-time, is to constantly pilot the organization towards an improved state of technology adoption that in turn makes achieving strategic goals a lot easier. Here’s how they do that:

Strategic Vision and Roadmap Development

A primary role of a Fractional CIO is to develop a strategic technology vision aligned with the organization’s goals. This involves assessing the current technology landscape, identifying gaps, and crafting a roadmap for digital change. By focusing on both long-term objectives and immediate needs, a Fractional CIO ensures technology investments support the organization’s sustainability, mission, and growth.  

Successful Technology Adoption

Fractional CIOs are at the forefront of technological innovation. They stay updated on emerging technologies and trends, helping organizations explore new opportunities for growth and efficiency. Whether adopting AI, leveraging data analytics, or implementing cloud solutions, a Fractional CIO guides organizations through the adoption of new technologies, ensuring smooth and effective integration. Not only are they experts at technology, but they are also experts at change, communication, and navigating the various barriers preventing organizations from fully taking advantage of what is available to them.  

Cost Management and Optimization

Managing overall technology spend while maximizing productivity is a common challenge for all medium sized businesses and associations. A Fractional CIO brings a keen eye for cost management and, more often than not, a great nose for sniffing out immediate opportunities for savings. They evaluate current expenditures, identify cost-saving opportunities, and – this one is important – they know how to negotiate with software vendors to ensure the best value for technology investments.

Risk Management and Compliance

In an era of constant cybersecurity threats, risk management is critical. While your Managed IT Services Provider is hopefully taking the necessary steps to secure your network and hardware, security threats much more commonly emerge from the people, processes, and the way technologies are used in your organization.  Fractional CIOs implement effective security frameworks, ensure compliance with regulations, and implement best practices for data protection. This proactive approach safeguards your organization’s assets and reputation.

Facilitating Organizational Change

Effective deployment and use of technology often requires significant changes in processes and culture. A Fractional CIO acts as a change agent, facilitating this transition and ensuring that all stakeholders are on board. While they do provide the basics of training and support, a Fractional CIO goes beyond the basic functions of IT by promoting a culture of innovation, fostering collaboration across departments, and ensuring that new technologies are not just installed as intended but that they are working as intended in pursuit of the organization’s highest-level objectives.  

The above five functions are essential for a modern organization to meet its potential, yet we find they are often not well attended to in mid-sized businesses and associations because they fall outside of the scope of expertise that these organizations usually employ. The Fractional CIO is the perfect solution to this: affordable, flexible, deeply experienced, and effective.

Interested in learning more about how we can help you tackle the problems outlined in this article? Send us a note - we'd love to hear from you!

About the author

Ian Clark

Ian Clark has 20 years of experience leading business growth and innovation in retail and B2C environments supporting a diverse range of functions including operations, procurement, marketing, finance, and IT. For over 10 years his focus has been solving challenging business problems and driving bottom-line impact by leveraging data and digital technologies.

Throughout his career Ian has applied curiosity, creativity, and constant learning to improve business performance and advance the status quo. Ian has extensive experience with data analytics, systems integrations, cloud computing, data engineering, and full-stack web development. He used this knowledge to dramatically improve operational efficiency and introduce operational discipline.

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