Your small or mid-size business likely contracts out its office cleaning services, depends on third parties to deliver its overnight documents or products, and pays good money to an accounting firm to handle its tax and audit work. It may even use outsiders to handle H.R. functions from recruitment to payroll management, and even benefits provision and administration.
So why not do the same with your Chief Information Officer function?
Finding the right fit
Your company needs a seasoned technology pro who looks beyond your equipment and software needs, but rather looks deeper down to see the big picture stuff like the nature and kind of IT platform on which it operates. It needs a financially savvy technology pro who not only understands all the technology options for your company’s future but also understands how to make the smart tradeoffs to get the maximum return on investment.
There are important and sophisticated tasks that need to be done, but there’s simply not enough such work that needs to be done to keep a highly qualified CIO fully engaged every day of the year. And your SMB may not have the budget to pay such a professional the big salary they likely can get from larger companies that won’t have any trouble keeping them busy and intellectually engaged all the time.
So why not try a “fractional” CIO?
How does a Virtual CIO operate?
Though the most common term for such experts is Virtual CIO it’s probably good to think of them as a “Fractional CIO,” because the model closely resembles the “fractional ownership” model used in selling limited-time use of everything from vacation condominiums to private business jets. When you employ a fractional CIO, you are buying his or her time and expertise for a given amount of time each week, month, quarter or year, depending on the contract arrangements. In effect you are “time-sharing” the use of that CIO with other companies that employ him/her when he or she is not working for your company.
That part’s easy to understand. And so is the financial attraction of such an arrangement. You buy only the amount of CIO time, expertise and savvy that your SMB needs.
But there’s greater value to the Virtual/Fractional CIO approach than might first meet the eye.
In many cases, your company is not hiring a single IT gunslinger on a part-time basis but rather a full team of able experts who collectively do the work of a big corporate CIO in assessing your company’s current capabilities, future needs and financial and managerial capacity to acquire and effectively use new technology equipment, processes and procedures, and who then can support implementation and training.
Important questions to ask
How do you determine if a Virtual/Fractional CIO is the right approach for your small or mid-size company? Here are some key questions to ask yourself:
Do you already have full-time, in-house IT management? If so, are they focused solely on running your existing systems, or is anyone looking at the big picture to plan for growth and remaining both competitive and cost effective.
Do you have a strategic technology plan? If not, is there anyone in your company capable of putting a far-sighted, technologically-advanced yet efficient and cost-effective plan together?
Does your IT budget reflect an understanding of the rapid development of new tools and approaches that can make your company more productive?
If your answers to these questions are more negative than positive, then your enterprise likely could use the services of a Virtual CIO. A Virtual CIO approach could help resolve your business’ dilemma about whether it is financially and operationally better to upgrade your equipment, or to make the change to new technology platforms, approaches, software and equipment.
An outsourced CIO plays a vital role in any early-stage company. The outsourced CIO helps implement technologies and IT processes which are effective, scalable, stable, and secure. Here are a few reasons why every early-stage company needs an outsourced CIO on the team.
An outsourced CIO knows the technologies that have worked well in the past. However, the CIO watches emerging tech trends that might benefit your company. The CIO knows when it’s time to make purchases and when it’s time to hold off, which helps you avoid costly mistakes.
Your outsourced CIO will look at many things as he develops your business technology strategy. Assessing the company’s current needs serves as the first step, but the CIO will also evaluate future needs. It’s also important to assess the technology your competitors may be using so that you won’t be at a disadvantage.
If your business is already at the stage when an in-house IT department makes sense, your outsourced CIO can help you make informed decisions about new hires. This means vetting candidates, and giving you unbiased opinions about applicants. In the end, you’ll enjoy a full house of employees who are a good fit for your company. This means you’ll reduce turnover, which can bring a host of painful and expensive headaches.
Your ultimate goal; the success of your company; is the focus of the Outsourced CIO. Every suggestion or decision made by the CIO is in alignment with your business’s best interests. Getting the work done right is the most important mandate of the CIO.
An entrepreneur also wants to make sure every rupee spent is spent wisely. Developing a supportive technology infrastructure will be one of the most expensive parts of your business overhead. An expert’s guidance is invaluable at this stage, since it will help you keep your initial tech spend in check. You’ll also be able to get more out of the technology you do purchase, simply because the CIO will have the expertise to help you and your employees develop a solid process which will help you make the most out of every purchase.