What Is A Virtual CIO And Why You Need One

By Holly Dowden | January 23, 2020
Holly is the VP of Marketing at Ntiva, a full service technology company offering managed IT services, IT consulting, cybersecurity solutions and more.

In an age of digital transformation, high growth and intense competition, many job roles are being virtualized. This new kind of job role is gaining traction as a cost-effective way to provide smaller companies with the senior experience and expertise of an executive role including CEO, CTO, or CIO.

What is a vCIO?

A vCIO (virtual chief information officer) is a dedicated resource who serves as a Chief Information Officer on a flexible basis. The primary role of a virtual CIO is to formulate strategic IT goals for your company, and then manage an IT strategy and budget that meets those goals. Most vCIOs are hired through a reputable IT consulting service firm and have years of experience working as IT strategy consultants.

Why You Need a Virtual CIO

Regardless of what your business does, you use technology to run it. Your technology is the backbone of your business - without it, you would fail.

Whether its remote collaboration, processing payments, scheduling appointments, paying your employees, creating and managing content, or even just sending email - your technology is essential.

Every single business has some sort of IT support, but it can range from:

  1. Making a phone call to a friend when things go haywire
  2. A couple of guys on staff who pinch hit when needed
  3. Your own internal IT team
  4. You've outsourced some or all of your IT services

If you fall into #3 or #4, you will probably benefit from the strategic expertise of a vCIO.

This might range from a one-time project to a couple of hours a month on an on-going basis to help keep your business ahead of the curve.


Using a Virtual CIO For Strategic Advantage

Technology is complex and it changes fast.

Most companies have a hard time keeping up with their core business challenges, let alone managing their technology properly. Even small IT teams are often overwhelmed simply trying to keep internal systems and operations up and running, let alone do any strategic planning.

Many companies are stuck in a rut, continuing to maintain outdated technology that is hindering performance. The ultimate goal of course, is to leverage technology to increase revenue and decrease expenses.

But if you’re not using the right technology to help you reach those goals, there’s a good chance a big chunk of your budget is simply going down the drain.

When was the last time you took a good look at which applications you’re actually using and which apps you’re wasting money on because no one is using them?

You might have a great in-house IT team that is terrific at keeping your infrastructure up and running, but it often takes third party IT consultants to bring a fresh perspective.

An objective “hired gun” is in a much better place to identify issues that might have been overlooked and make recommendations about improving or replacing legacy systems and practices.

Many people ask "what is managed IT services" and the answer is, a great way to lower costs while getting access to expertise and technology you probably can't afford to provide in-house! This can include access to vCIO services.

Most Managed IT Service Providers offer vCIO services as part of their portfolio, so it's worthwhile to shop around to find the best fit for your company.

what is a virtual cio


Investing in vCIO Expertise

Developing a strategic technology plan can be a complex and difficult task, and not everyone has the skills to do it effectively.

A seasoned vCIO will have had the advantage of seeing hundreds of other companies struggling with many of the same challenges as yours, and knows which technologies are best for solving specific problems.

Beyond having deep technical expertise and being on top of the latest industry trends, a vCIO needs to have a good understanding of business management.

This is a critical skill that’s required to understand your business goals, ultimately turning your goals into a robust, long-term strategic technology plan that aligns with your company’s unique needs and vision.

Six ways a virtual CIO can provide value:

  1. Help set strategic priorities, key initiatives, and identify ROI
  2. Provide methods and processes to drive change
  3. Offer input on regulatory and compliance matters
  4. Evaluate current team skills and alignment
  5. Manage your day to day technology direction
  6. Support strategic vendor relationships


Read the Case Study: How a Virtual CIO Can Drive Strategic Business Growth


Keeping Your Network Secure with a vCISO

Security is one of the most important roles a vCIO plays in a company.

In fact, there is now a special designation for a virtual CIO who has in-depth cybersecurity experience - a virtual CISO (Chief Information Security Officer.)

Just like a vCIO, a vCISO is a service designed to make top-tier security experts available to organizations who need security expertise and guidance.

This has turned into a huge need, as cyber risk is now the number-one concern of executives.

The sophistication of attacks, the technologies designed to defend against them, and the global regulations emerging to address them is evolving rapidly and its super hard to keep up.

If you don’t have an internal cyber security expert or it doesn’t make sense to hire one full-time, you may want to consider hiring a vCISO.

Starting with a risk assessment, your vCISO will develop a strategic security plan that spans across your entire organization, and it may include security policies, training programs, business continuity planning and disaster recovery, implementing reporting and regulatory compliance, and much more.

Larger organizations will sometimes have both a CIO and a CISO and the tasks and responsibilities are divided up as appropriate.

But keep in mind these are just titles. A good vCIO should have all the expected technical skills and certifications that are necessary to keep your company safe!


How Much Does A Virtual CIO Cost?

Most small to medium sized businesses (SMB) can’t afford a full-time CIO and here’s why.

The compensation package for a CIO at a large company is around $500k, dipping down to about $150k in smaller organizations. Of course, there is often overhead on top of this in the form of benefits, bonus and profit sharing.

While pricing structures vary, a vCIO generally charges based on either an hourly rate or a flat fee, with the latter working as a subscription model where the client pays on a monthly basis.

The hourly rate can vary widely based on your location and a few other factors, but generally starts at $200 an hour and goes up from there.

A subscription service (monthly recurring) is even harder to calculate, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $2k to $10k a month, depending on the size of your organization, the services you want, and many other factors.

If your business is growing quickly, you’re going to need to do quite a bit of technology planning to make sure that your IT infrastructure keeps up, not to mention your security protection.

Most small to mid-sized businesses (SMB) have at least one person, if not a whole team, who is experienced with their company’s IT systems, but it’s likely there’s no one who even knows where to begin when it comes to devising a long-term technology plan.

Top three reasons why you save money with a vCIO:

  1. You save the cost of hiring and retaining hard-to-find, expensive talent
  2. You can optimize the costs of your current IT environment
  3. Keep your business secure - most SMBs wildly underestimate the cost of a data breach


Read the Case Study: How a Virtual CIO Can Drive Strategic Business Growth

If you would like to dig deeper, take a read of our case study which details how our vCIO services helped an architecture and design firm with their global expansion plans, ensuring they had the right technology in place for future growth.


Virtual CIO Case Study


Tags: Cybersecurity