Outsourcing has always been a key component of the technology sector; however recently it has been not just basic IT services, but key CIO roles taken on by outsiders. The term ‘virtual CIO’ (vCIO) is gaining increasing momentum, and refers to an individual or service that is charged at an hourly or flat rate fee for the provision of services that incorporate technology and business strategy. vCIOs are particularly popular with small and mid-sized businesses, because they make the strategic guidance of an expert affordable. Additionally, this innovative solution can help address the industry-wide shortage of seasoned professionals with cutting-edge experience in both technology and customer services, by making sure those few individuals with these skills can utilise them across a broad spectrum of different businesses. This service is currently delivered both by independent consultants and service providers.
Who are these vCIOs?
Choosing the right vCIO is a big challenge, and the CEO of an SME must make sure that they assess whether a particular candidate will be able to adapt to working in a much smaller organisation, without being blinded by an impressive CV. Judging prospective vCIOs’ ability to successfully operate in your particular business environment is crucial before giving them the job, especially because many of these individuals will be very good communicators with carefully honed interview skills.
The face of IT has changed drastically in recent decades. Originally perceived as an internal service which helped employees to perform their jobs more efficiently for a price, technology is now integral to most companies, and indeed for many has become the primary mode of delivery for customer service. Experts who have worked in large corporate environments have often had the greatest exposure to customer-centric IT. Those who have truly placed the consumer at the forefront while simultaneously master-minding the IT transformation of their business and guiding the board along with them, are a rare breed. However, it is precisely these type of individuals who are able to bring their years of experience to bear in a virtual CIO role. In the latter part of their careers, corporate veterans with years of experience in IT can look to this role in order to become their own boss and achieve a better work-life balance.
The advantages of having a vCIO
There are two obvious primary reasons why taking a time-share in an expert CIO is beneficial: access to a diverse and experienced knowledge range; and cost-reduction. Another less obvious benefit is that of being able to access multiple sources of specialisation, as and when needed. For example, some organisations will outsource by taking on a vCIO to oversee a particularly complicated project, like overhauling the entire service management function. The specialist knowledge that an external consultant provides will also come with the benefit of objectivity; it is easier to make tough decisions without the influence of employee allegiances and other internal factors. Outsourced CIOs are able to highlight the failings of certain individuals or departments without worrying about any political ramifications or the career of a friend or colleague.
It is often stated that IT directors lack influence at board level because of their lack of business and communication skills. Consequently, many smaller businesses would really benefit from harnessing the experience, contacts and skillsets of individuals who have spearheaded major customer service transformations at the helm of large enterprises at an affordable price.
Unlike many other types of outsourcing, hiring a vCIO does not have the negative connotations which can lead incumbent IT teams to feel threatened or fearful for their jobs. This is because the vCIO will rely on the internal IT team to implement their proposals as they will often operate largely remotely and be more focused on the strategic rather than tactical issues.
In the same way that the cloud brings SMEs the opportunity to acquire advanced technology which previously was only within the grasp of larger businesses, the use of a virtual CIO offers an affordable way to gain vital skillsets to build a customer service culture at the heart of the IT function. Whether that be in the form of an independent consultant or by engaging a service provider offering a portfolio of different skillsets, the trend is set to continue and potentially accelerate. If properly managed it is likely to have the positive side-effect of passing along these valuable enterprise skills to those rising through the ranks to become tomorrow’s corporate leaders.