vCIO Role Explained

The vCIO role

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on a vCIO role for an MSP. I thought it would be interesting to examine what a vCIO is and what it does within an MSP.

It stands for Virtual Chief Information Officer and aims to provide the services of a CIO to companies whose size doesn’t allow them to have a full-blown CIO on staff.

I guess the key thing here is that the vCIO is designed to have a seat at the boardroom table of the customer. They are there to allow the MSP to be able to influence business and IT strategic direction for the customer. Traditionally, a CIO role is not necessarily that technical, instead it speaks to company strategy and deals with issues around governance, risk and security more than servers, desktops and firewalls.

The difference between any management position and any C level position is always strategy. When you have a seat at the board room table, you’re talking strategy and helping develop broad plans to meet the strategic goals. It is then management that takes those high-level plans and adds the detail and then ensures they are implemented in the best possible way.

Think of it this way. A board discussion might talk about the sorts of customers the company wants to deal with over the next 5 years and therefore the modifications they might need to make to their product and service line up which best fits those desired customers. The Chief Marketing Officer confirms they can develop a plan to target those customers. The Chief Operating Officer confirms that they can develop a plan with senior management for the tweaks required to modify the products and services to meet those client needs. The CIO will come up with a plan that will cover off the extra IT governance issues raised by doing more business online, changing the ERP system to meet the data interchange needs the new client base demands and the extra security concerns raised by having higher integration of their IT systems with their clients and with the internet and manufacturing systems.

Those high-level plans from the C level will be a broad-brush list of outcomes that need to be achieved due to the new company direction agreed upon. It’s then up to the managers to create a project list and develop individual project plans to achieve the outcomes desired by the C level plans.

In the case of the CIO and IT department, it’s the IT managers that would need to create projects like, review the ERP and work out ways to integrate it with our prospective clients processes, develop a cybersecurity plan for the website and confirm the most secure way to host and maintain a growing e-commerce site including privacy issues around storing financially sensitive data online, and do vendor analysis and a tender process for adding IoT technology throughout our manufacturing process.

For an MSP, the added benefit of providing vCIO services is it means they get a holistic view of the needs of the client and can easily provide extra services in a more coordinated way. Many of the IT projects that trickle down from the strategic plan can be implemented by the MSP thus increasing revenue and tying them closely with the customer in a long-term ongoing relationship. It helps to reposition the MSP from being ‘the IT guys’ that keep the system running to the IT management consultants that help guide and set the strategic direction for the company by showing the customer what is possible with the technology available today.

So, when you’re doing your career planning and you’re ultimately angling for a CIO type role, consider the vCIO as a step on the way and give yourself every opportunity to get involved in strategic level discussions by broadening your business exposure. For most candidates coming from a senior technical or management background their biggest hurdle will be proving their ability to develop business and IT strategy at a board level.

I hope this provides you a good picture of what the vCIO role for an MSP is all about. Reach out if you need career guidance in the IT industry.

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