As more businesses of all sizes transition to digital processes, and the tech skills shortage continues, the demand for virtual chief information officer (vCIO) services grows. Virtual CIOs help their clients build practical IT strategies, budget, evaluate new technologies, and plan roadmaps that keep technology up-to-date and secure.
However, deciding to expand into offering vCIO services and making it work with your existing managed services provider (MSP) business takes some strategy, insight, and planning.
Three members of The ASCII Group, Darren Crane, DLC Technology Solutions, Inc.; Ulrich “Uli” Okura Kirkegaard, Pacific Tech Gurus, LLC; and Carl de Prado, A2Z Business IT, share the stories about how they got started as vCIO services providers, the investments of time and resources it takes, and how to have it complement—rather than conflict—with providing managed services.
Why did you decide to offer vCIO services?
de Prado: We recognized that many companies do not have the financial means to employ a full-time CIO on staff, yet they need the support to reach their goals. We launched our virtual chief information officer service to provide businesses with strategic IT planning and management.
Kirkegaard: We found that small and medium-sized (SMB) customers, without proper guidance, often scatter their IT across various platforms, vendors, and providers. They should have a dedicated team to tell them what to do, what to buy, and how to consume IT. We call this outsourced IT admins, aka vCIO services.
Crane: As we began to work with smaller, growing companies, we saw a major disconnect between their business operations and their use of technology. This was a much different experience than working with larger enterprise-level companies. Smaller businesses didn’t realize they needed assistance leveraging technology to improve their business. We also saw almost no planning or budgeting. This resulted in a string of unexpected (and urgent) technology needs, which created a general lack of enthusiasm or respect for both their IT spend and their IT provider. Business owners needed to realize they weren’t in the best position to dictate how, where, and when to strategize and predictably leverage technology.
What does offering vCIO service entail for your business?
Crane: Virtual CIO includes having an assigned resource (the customer’s “vCIO”) from our team act as a part of the leadership team in the customer’s business. Some customers embrace this, including us in meetings and major decisions, and others choose a more quarterly or semi-annual approach. In either case, we construct a multi-year technology vision and plan for the customer based on company information such as mission, vision, major projects, acquisitions, growth/contraction, service line changes, industry pressures, and the like. Refreshing it annually with proposed projects, budgetary estimates, and other critical details helps to establish the totality of their expected technology budget for each upcoming year. Beyond advice, planning, and budgeting, the vCIO is also the quarterback for ensuring critical elements of the technology environment’s governance, such as periodic risk assessments, creation/maintenance of written information security plans, regulatory compliance, and all associated policies and procedures.
Kirkegaard: Being the vCIO allows us to be at the table when customers make IT decisions. It helps simplify our operation as we don’t rely on many different vendors and platforms—almost all customers use the same bundle of services and systems.
de Prado: Offering vCIO services required growing our portfolio to include higher-level strategic advising, ensuring that we remain at the forefront of the technological landscape, and establishing a full grasp of our client’s businesses to connect our customers’ information technology with their goals.
How did your business overcome the issue of recommending IT and providing it?
Kirkegaard: Always uphold customer’s best interests over profits. Even if we profit more from coax internet services than a new faster fiber, we will still suggest the fiber as better. Some customers are skeptical but decide to gain their trust by always being honest.
de Prado: Creating trust between the in-house IT team, letting them know they are valued and that we are not there to replace them. So, it is a win-win situation. By establishing an open method, we were able to resolve the potential for a conflict of interest when it came to recommending and providing IT services. Our suggestions are invariably founded on the requirements of our customers, and they are supported by in-depth market analysis. Furthermore, we consistently provide our customers with various options, which may include services offered by other companies.
Crane: We only include vCIO services as part of our fully managed IT offering. In that case, we are already providing 100 percent of the company’s technology needs. Even so, when we first started delivering managed IT services with vCIO components, we didn’t initially resell hardware, software as a service, telecom services, custom app development, or any product other than generalized service labor. However, our customers wanted it. They preferred one bill and one vendor that was fully accountable for the success of their technology platform. Our approach is one of complete accountability. If we recommend something, we stand behind it 100 percent. That is only strengthened if we provide the work to achieve the implementation. When a third party is required to implement something niche, the customer expects us to vet, select, and manage that vendor to ensure they work at the same high standards as our team. That complete loop of assurance lends to our high credibility and is evidenced by the long tenure that our customers have with us.
How Will You Write Your vCIO Story?
If you decide it’s a smart move for your company to meet the need for vCIOs in your market, you must determine the best approach to take with your clients and how to make providing these services so that you can continue to operate profitably.
When you find the balance, you can build deep relationships with your clients who will depend on your expertise and advice even more than now. Ready to take a seat with the C-suite? The opportunity is waiting for you.
About The ASCII Group, Inc.
The ASCII Group is the premier community of North American MSPs, MSSPs, VARs and solution providers. The group has over 1,300 members throughout the U.S. and Canada, and membership encompasses everyone from credentialed MSPs serving the SMB community to multi-location solution providers with a national reach. Founded in 1984, ASCII provides services to members, including leveraged purchasing programs, education and training, marketing assistance, extensive peer interaction and more. ASCII works with a vibrant ecosystem of major technology vendors that complement the ASCII community and support the mission of helping MSPs and VARs to grow their businesses. For more information, please visit www.ascii.com.