Are You Really A Virtual CIO (vCIO)?

Bob Penland

Bob Penland

Gary Pica

Gary Pica

So, you want to be a virtual CIO (vCIO). Join the crowd. TruMethods CEO Gary Pica and CTO Bob Penland concede that the vCIO term has been overused a bit in the MSP market. But what is a true vCIO versus all the pretenders in the market?

Think of it this scenario: Your customer may soon be acquired. Chances are, that customer will speed dial at least two strategic advisors. His or her:

  1. accountant
  2. attorney

A vCIO should also be on that speed dial list — perhaps event atop it. The customer should want to tell the vCIO about the pending deal… trusting the vCIO for strategic advice, guidance and feedback as part of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

Basically, vCIOs are MSP employees who have strategic business conversations with end-customers. They learn every piece of a customer’s business — past performance, current priorities and future goals. And they become go-to advisors to customers during key inflection points.

I’ve avoided the actual vCIO¬†job description and compensation plan. When time permits I’ll ping Pica and Penland for more details.

In the meantime, MSPs either need get serious about vCIO services — or stop using the term.

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    Jason Nelson:

    I couldn’t agree more and use this comparison all the time. We need to be tirelessly working towards this degree of influence and integration into our clients businesses. I am already planning on increasing our effective hourly rate targets to create room for more vCIOs. The vCIO should not only posses mastery of current technologies, but also be able to help clients with other business challenges. In the healthiest client vCIO relationships technology is about half the of the engagement time, or less. I’d like us to be positioned by 2018 in such a way that the majority of clients’ top hesitation to not renewing is the thought of losing their vCIO.

    Dustin Bolander:

    We put a strong focus on the vCIO role in the last 2 years and have had great feedback and client retention because of it. We’re putting highly qualified engineers in the position, not sales people, that has been key. We’re being asked to sit in client’s operations meetings, put together actual budgets (as opposed to suggestions or quotes), prepare reports for investors, etc. Biggest pain point for me now is that competitors are saying “we do that too” when we’re trying to land new business =)

    Joe Panettieri:

    Hey Jason: Please be sure to give ChannelE2E incremental updates. Let us know how the vCIO push goes by the close of 2016, 2017, 2018. Would love to hear about milestones, etc.

    Hi Dustin: Create a checklist of what a vCIO really offers. And make sure you have it handy the next time one of your customers says an MSP down the road offers similar services.

    Thanks for your readership.

    Edward Thompson:

    Thanks for this article. Have been looking at this option for my company. Read as an introduction, but this has helped enormously. One question – What could be the possible pitfalls of a vCIO, disregarding the obvious? Thanks in advance.

      Joe Panettieri:

      Pitfalls: Are customers willing to pay for a title, and can you prove that the vCIO role is truly value-add?

        Dustin Bolander:

        Going back my earlier comment, I feel like the title/role is a little bit tainted. I have had the comment from multitudes of prospects in the last year that they see no value in vcio – “its just the sales guy who comes in quarterly” which I think is a fair assessment. Most of the vCIOs I have seen are less technical and more sales oriented than they should be.

    Tim Ray:

    vCIO really is more of a business position than a technical one. Technical reports and suggestions can easily be provided and explained to company officers but I find it very rare that a technician or engineer has the interest, experience or expertise business functions. Yes, they can explain and plan the latest wireless technology and security but are they able to understand the purpose of the business and how the technology plan can help them achieve their company purpose goals rather than how fast the solution functions and how much it costs? Bring on someone that understands the purpose, the books and the business’ future goals first and then the technology can roll in behind. Without understanding the business end of the issue the technology is just a thing.

      Joe Panettieri:

      Tim: Yup… aligning technology to meet or accelerate your business objectives. It’s a new conversation for many partners. But on the corporate side, CIOs have been dealing with that for decades. InformationWeek actually repositioned its entire brand around that reality back around 1996 or so. Tagline at the time was something like “where business meets technology.” It was radical thinking at the time. But it was dead on.

    John Pritchard:

    Nice thread. For someone with as their domain, yes, I hope that I am looked at as a ‘real vCIO’ :-). I started 24 years ago as an independent consultant (vCIO in the ‘old days’) and then evolved into an agnostic IT services business – that found it could not be very profitable serving anything for anyone, and therefore evolved into a more aligned IT service business working toward MSP status. Having recently sold our IT business I have returned to that stage of ‘independent consultant’.

    So finally to the point – is it possible for an MSP to provide vCIO services? Shouldn’t the vCIO be aligned with the organization they are serving such that solutions not necessarily provided by the MSP be provided? I am willing to hear you out!

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