vCIO stands for Chief information officer

Virtual CIO: What it is and Why Your SMB Needs One

As we all continue to deal with the wide-scale transition to online business, more and more roles are naturally going remote or being virtualized entirely, from virtual assistants to virtual customer service representatives. 

But while it’s relatively simple to virtualize a low-level role in an organization, the same can’t be said for a company’s CIO, which is a highly specialized position. 

Traditionally, CIOs have played an essential role in businesses, especially for companies struggling to grow and keep up with relevant technological advances. 

A seasoned CIO can come with the experience and expertise to address any pitfalls to avoid and give a fresh perspective on solving deeply technical problems and strategizing future actions. 

However, most SMBs simply don’t have the budget to take on a full-time, well-seasoned CIO, which is why virtual CIOs are a great option. 

Virtual CIOs can play a serious role in helping businesses such as yours make the transition to online as smooth as possible, and in a way that makes sense for an organization of your scale. 

In the following sections, we’ll walk you through what a virtual CIO is, what they do, and why you should consider them for your business.

What is a Virtual CIO (vCIO)?

what is a virtual vio

A vCIO serves as a Chief Information Officer, but rather than being a full member of the staff and thus coming with an expensive salary/benefits package; they work with your company on a flexible basis that is convenient for both parties. 

One of the primary benefits of hiring a vCIO over a traditional CIO is that the vCIO’s are more fit to leverage cross-company experience.

Having someone on your team with more diverse experience means that you can utilize what they’ve learned and the different perspectives they’ve gained from working across multiple industries and companies. 

A vCIO who’s working with multiple companies is also going to be at the forefront of current best practices across different sectors, so they’re more likely to be aware of what outside developments might impact your organization. 

On the other hand, A traditional CIO may only have worked at a handful of companies in the same industry throughout their entire career. 

Paying attention to what’s going on outside of the business might be part of their job, but their focus is going to be much more narrow.

A traditional CIO will also be more likely to struggle to view the business from an outside perspective. For a vCIO, this comes naturally to them because they will be used to handling a lot more projects simultaneously.

The primary function of a vCIO is to help your company create strategic IT goals, manage those developed strategies, and implement larger IT projects. 

Virtual CIOs are hired through IT consulting service firms or offered through managed service providers like Commprise. 

What do virtual CIOs do?

the function of a virtual cio

A virtual CIO will work to understand your business’s core processes so that they can properly develop a strategic blueprint for your business. The strategy they develop should emphasize the security of your company. 

With all the work that goes into simply running your business, it’s easy to overlook important things such as IT audits, compliance issues, and keeping up to date with the latest tech so that your company can avoid or get past any technological gaps. 

A vCIO would take these tasks off your hands in an efficient way that aligns your technological needs with your core business goals. 

Despite having a flexible schedule, the vCIO will also be available to provide your company with advice and insights regarding your business’s technological infrastructure and needs. 

They will also be able to dive into any current IT projects that are underway and suggest ways to upgrade or restructure them for greater performance. 

One of the other benefits of going with a vCIO contracted through an MSP is that they’ll be able to not only create the strategies your business needs to succeed, they’ll also have the resources of the MSP behind them so that your business can implement the projects they come up with. 

It’s important to note that while a vCIO typically comes as a single individual, what you’re really paying for is the thought processes and services that they provide. And you can get those things from an MSP as well.

How will a Virtual CIO Service Help Your Business Grow?

virtual cios can help stimulate business growth

The specific skills of a vCIO vary depending on the person. Generally, you can expect them to be capable of aligning your IT systems and subsystems with the objectives of your business. 

In the same way that a traditional CIO has a vested interest in the success of your business, your vCIO will be equally committed to delivering results. 

Improved IT Infrastructure

Having a strong IT infrastructure for your business is crucial for business success for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly, because it helps your business collect data in real-time to make improvements to the way you do business. 

Your vCIO service will provide you with regular and comprehensive reviews of your company’s IT infrastructure and security. These reviews keep you aware of what can be improved and address any misalignments with your infrastructure, applications, and security. 

They’ll then follow up their reviews with guidance on how to move forward strategically and which solutions can fill in any gaps.

Guidance on IT Security and Cybersecurity 

The cybersecurity of your business is perhaps the critical issue that a vCIO addresses, especially given that cyberattacks have only continued to become increasingly sophisticated and frequent. 

According to Accenture, 43% of cyberattacks are directed towards small businesses while only 14% of them are able to defend themselves adequately. Hiscox, an insurance carrier, reported that such incidents could cost businesses an average of $200,000. 

Given the danger, one might assume that every single business transitioning to remote would do so with a Cybersecurity Threat Prevention Plan, but that’s not the case. 

In fact, research from Alliant Cybersecurity reported that one-in-five SMBs made their transition without any clear plan to mitigate the risks of cyberattacks. 

If your company lacks an in-house cybersecurity expert, then you should absolutely consider bringing on a vCIO. 

In fact, the role of security has become so important that there’s now a new designation for a vCIO who specializes in cybersecurity: a vCISO (virtual chief information security officer). 

This service is designed to help give businesses like yours expert-level security guidance at a scale and budget that makes sense. 

Your vCISO service would likely begin with a risk assessment of your business’s security plan that encompasses your entire company, from your internal training programs and security policies to your business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plans.

The vCIO is also responsible for helping to maintain your industry’s specific compliance regulations. This function is becoming increasingly important given the state of the HIPAA privacy policy rules and regulations.

Data Backup and Recovery

How would your business respond to a disruptive event that results in data loss or disruption? Is there a set plan in place that informs your company how to deal with your data being held for ransom by a cybercriminal? 

Many businesses either lack the time or the expertise to put together a comprehensive data backup and recovery plan that properly addresses these potential disruptions, but a vCIO would be able to provide assistance in putting these things together. 

If desired, the vCIO could also help your business set up cloud backups and determine which cloud solutions are right for your business.

All of these initiatives will be part of an effort to help maintain business continuity. And in the event of a critical failure that impedes work, they’ll assist with recovery so that your company can get back to up to speed as quickly as possible. 

Alignment of IT with Business Objectives

As mentioned earlier, your vCIO won’t merely work with you to understand your IT strategy and business goals. 

They’ll also work with your company to understand which technologies and IT best practices you need to adopt so that your business not only stays on track but also stays up to date.

Because technology is constantly changing, and at a rate that’s faster than ever, your vCIO service will most likely develop a long-term relationship with your business. 

For this reason, it’s also useful to think of your vCIO service as an outsourced technology department that manages your long-term IT strategy while also helping to onboard your team to new technologies. 

How much does a vCIO Cost?

cost of executives and vcios

As mentioned earlier in the article, one of the primary benefits of getting a vCIO service for your organization is the amount of money you end up saving, compared to if you went with a traditional CIO or even an internal IT team. 

But how much does a vCIO actually cost? The answer depends on a number of factors, chief among them being the size of your organization, the service level agreement, and the complexity of your business’s IT infrastructure.

For very basic plans, expect to pay at least $250 per month for most a la carte vCIO services. 

For larger organizations and enterprise-level companies, costs can go up to $6000 per month. At this level, the vCIO functionally acts as a substitute for a full-time traditional CIO. 

We’ll break down the primary factors below. 

  • Size of Organization — The reason the size of your organization impacts the cost of your vCIO service is fairly simple. If your company is smaller and has fewer people to manage and train, the vCIO won’t have as much to do and can operate on a more part-time basis. If your company is larger and has many people to onboard, train, and manage, working on a part-time basis won’t suffice and they may even need to utilize the resources of the MSP from which you contracted them.
  • Service Level Agreement — When contracting a vCIO through an MSP, the MSP should provide you with a service level agreement (SLA) that helps you measure the quality of the services you’re getting from them, including your vCIO. The greater the range of services, the greater the cost. 
  • Complexity of IT Infrastructure — How complex is your IT infrastructure? If your business operates with a relatively simple IT infrastructure, managing, monitoring, and improving it over time will cost much less than if it’s larger. Making changes to more complex infrastructures often take more time, especially if said changes impact your business fundamental IT systems (for instance, migrating from on-premise to the cloud).

MSP’s like Commprise tend to offer different packages that suit your business needs rather than delivering a one-size-fits-all service. These packages can scale depending on the size of your company.

For instance, if your company is less than 20 people and has a simple IT infrastructure, you may be able to utilize a more basic vCIO service if your IT project needs are relatively light. 

But if your company has 30-40 people and a more complex IT infrastructure, the costs will inevitably be higher. 

These costs can be fixed, monthly, or yearly; Commprise typically bills monthly for this service.

Any Downsides to Working with a vCIO?

cons of vCIOs

While having a vCIO has many benefits, there are some cons to consider before making a conclusive decision to hire one for your company. 

Unlike a traditional CIO, a virtual CIO won’t be in your office. If your company is fully remote, this won’t be an issue, but if your company is on-premise or even just partially remote, you may prefer to have your IT staff at a physical workstation. 

Just because the vCIO comes with a fresh and multi-industry perspective doesn’t mean hiring one will be a plug-and-play situation. It takes time for your vCIO and MSP to become familiar with your business and it’s IT needs. 

And if your company is a larger organization with heavier compliance needs, an on staff CIO may actually be more suited to align your organization’s IT strategy with its risk management and compliance programs. 

Help Your Technology Work for You

technology helps improve business operations

By this point, we’ve covered the core subjects surrounding the idea of vCIO services, so you should have a firm idea of what to expect from the role should you inquire about it. 

As traditional CIO roles continue to expand into other areas in business, such as procurement, innovation, operations, and even human resources, the scope of vCIO services should advance similarly to accommodate growing business needs. 

Technology may be changing rapidly, but a solid vCIO will help steer your business safely through any turbulent changes in the coming years. 

In summary: 

  • What is a vCIO? — vCIO stands for a virtual chief information officer. They operate as a traditional CIO, but rather than being full-time with your organization, they work with your company on a flexible basis. Instead of coming with an expensive salary and benefits package, you can contact them through your MSP at a payment level that makes sense for a business of your scale. 
  • What does a Virtual CIO do? — A vCIO works to understand your business’s core processes and objectives and develops a strategic blueprint that aligns your IT strategy with your goals. They also help by conducting IT audits, managing compliance issues, and keeping your company up-to-date with the latest relevant tech for your industry to avoid technological gaps. 
  • How Does a vCIO Help Your Business Growth? — A vCIO helps improve your IT infrastructure, provide guidance on IT security and cybersecurity, setting up your business’s data backup and recovery measures and aligning your IT with business objectives. 
  • How Much Does a vCIO Cost? — The cost of a vCIO is considerably less than a traditional CIO, but the exact costs vary depending on the size of your organization, your service level agreement, and the complexity of your organization’s IT infrastructure. You can generally expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $6000 per month. The pricing models for vCIO services can be fixed, monthly, or yearly.

A vCIO for Your Unique Business Needs

high level executive

Businesses all around the globe are still navigating this new world of remote work and increasing technological advancement, and while not every business can afford to have a veteran CIO on their team full-time, any SMB can utilize vCIO services. 

The way your company manages its technology can make or break your business. On the one hand, technology helps you scale and can increase productivity in a myriad of ways, but if your IT systems encounter a disruptive event or your team struggles to adapt to the constant change, it can grind things to a halt. 

Avoid the downsides of technological risk at a cost that makes sense for your business by contacting Commprise about our vCIO services that come as part of our Managed IT services. 

Unlike other MSP’s that give you pre-packaged services that might not fit your particular business needs, we use our cross-market knowledge to create original solutions that give your business the edge it needs to stay ahead of the game.