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BY: CAROLE O’BRIEN

Technology plays such an important part in any business, and on average the spend is around 5-10% of turnover, so ensuring that this money is spent in the right areas to grow is vital. For larger companies a Chief Information Officer (CIO) would be  employed to oversee IT and to meet the needs of the business strategy. 

This comes at a cost, with an average salary in the UK of £140k in 2021, way beyond the budget of most SME’s. Yet SME businesses need an IT strategy and apply the best technology for them to allow them to gain competitive advantage. Most rely on their internal staff or their managed service providers, but both come with difficulties and often gaps in skills and experience. Internal IT  departments may not have the experience or knowledge to work at the high-level strategy across all the IT elements. Managed Service Providers (MSP) can have the limitations of advising on  solutions that are in their portfolio and not have the knowledge or inclination to advise beyond.

There focus tends to be on the operational side rather than the strategic. A CIO however needs to  have a broad knowledge and experience across all areas of IT, is not tethered by skill sets, and has the working understanding of the importance of aligning business and IT strategy. Additionally,  there is a significant advantage if they have worked in a number of diverse sectors accumulating best practice with breadth of experience and a proven track record.

HOW CAN AN SME GET THE SAME BENEFITS AND BUSINESS ADVANTAGES AS THE LARGE COMPANIES WHEN IT COMES TO IT STRATEGY?
The answer can be a Virtual CIO (vCIO). They are a dedicated resource bringing the skills, experience to your business on a flexible part-time affordable basis. As with any CIO their primary role is to formulate strategic IT objectives, and then manage the IT strategy to meet the business goals.

The vCIO helps customers by maintaining and securing their existing IT infrastructure and provide  forward-looking services, such as developing long-term strategic IT goals, identifying opportunities to drive innovation, as well as assisting in business success and revenue. Advantages of  engaging a vCIO into the business, come in many forms. The first will be what they bring to the table beyond what a company has inhouse or through a MSP. They cross the boundaries between  understanding the business goals and bringing objectivity. They can also bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to legacy problems that businesses may not have  recognised or the resource to deal with.

A vCIO who’s working with multiple companies is also aware of what outside developments may impact your business, and at the lead of current best practice and new  technologies. They will not merely work with you to understand and develop your IT strategy to the business but will enlighten where the priorities for change need to be. They will develop which technologies and best practice will be paramount and meet the business’s future requirements.

Furthermore, having a full review of all elements will keep the business informed of any  improvements, misalignments, gaps, and remove waste. The security levels of all areas of IT would be appraised from end user to disaster recovery and everything in between. It would also be the  role of the vCIO to guide and report on compliance and where changes need to be made to comply.

Cost will always be one of the primary reasons and also consideration of recruiting a vCIO. The main advantage is receiving top-level individuals to fulfil a high-level role at an affordable price. As they are contracting there is also no other overheads such as benefits, pensions, and tax. There  is also the addition of a simpler onboarding without recruitment costs and reducing the load on HR.

Whether the cost structure is pay on demand (usually hourly or daily rate) where a vCIO is  brought in for a particular project or a flat rate monthly fee (similar to subscription) where the cost is spread over a contract with ongoing support. The actual cost will depend on a number of  factors, from size of the company, complexity of the infrastructure and the level of service. A good vCIO will show ROI.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE IF A vCIO WOULD WORK FOR YOURBUSINESS?
Firstly, think about what IT strategy do you have for your business and who is your main contributor. Are they ticking all the boxes a CIO needs? Is the strategy meeting its objectives and driving the business forward? If the answer is no or if you have no one focused on strategy at all, we can help you investigate whether a vCIO would be a positive way forward to help you grow your business and increase efficiency and profit margins.