Organizations often struggle with technology. Leadership teams need help understanding the state of their technology. What is holding them back? What risks do they have? How do they plan for the future?  How much will it cost? How do they set a direction that will actually help? With so many questions, they end up looking to their IT providers for help.

But IT providers are typically limited in what they know, and they suggest “solutions” that they can sell without understanding the full scope of the landscape.  They think they’re solving the problem, but they usually don’t see the bigger picture.  They may have plugged a hole in the boat, but they didn’t understand that there were other holes to plug or they plugged a hole that was above the waterline.  They missed the opportunity to understand the full picture, understand the business initiatives, and make a holistic plan of how to enable the customer to achieve those initiatives. In the end they fail to earn the customer’s trust which doesn’t allow them to be considered a strategic partner. But hey…they got a sale and a project to deliver, and most of the time, it’s this short-term outlook that creates long-term problem for the customer.

This is the point where the virtual CIO comes in.

It seems like everyone is offering a Virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO) these days. It’s the new buzzword in the industry and managed service providers love to tell their customers that they’ll be working with a vCIO. They like the idea of the vCIO because they want to be considered a “Strategic Partner,” a “Trusted Advisor,” or a “Part of their Customer’s Team,” but they fail to earn that level of trust because they don’t actually act like a CIO for their customers.

I’ve had several customers tell me not to even use the term vCIO in front of their executive team because they’ve had such bad experiences with so-called vCIOs that the term gives them anxiety. After I listen and acknowledge that bad experience with someone else, I then explain that although I am also a vCIO, I know how someone in that role should behave in that role. Then I assure them that we will work together to deliver and change their perception of what a vCIO actually is.

What should you look for in a vCIO?

A real vCIO is hard to find. It takes a convergence of skills to make a good vCIO. They have to have a good technical background. They will need to understand technical detail, understand the implications of technology decisions and set direction for your organization. If they don’t have a solid technical background, they will not be able to help you. They have to have an analytical mind and a desire creatively solve problems. They have to be someone who is relatable. They have to exude confidence, trust, and demonstrate a genuine care for your business needs. They have to have business acumen.  They have to be able to dig in and really understand your business to be able to help you. That can be hard to find.

A real vCIO will have the right mindset. The vCIO has to forget that they work for an IT company that is trying to make a profit. They have to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and every decision and recommendation has to be about what is the right thing to do for the customer. The ONLY way they will ever earn trust is to put you first and put themselves last. Not many people can actually do this. To a real vCIO, this is second nature.

A real vCIO will understand your business. If the vCIO doesn’t take the time to put the technology aside and focus on understanding your business, then they are not a vCIO. They should take the time to sit down and learn about you and your leadership team. They need perspective. They should understand your history, your culture, your products, and your business mindset. They should understand where you see opportunities for your organization and where you see risk. They should understand trends in your industry and the direction your industry is moving in. They should understand where you want your business to go and how you plan to get there. Without this understanding, how can they possibly make the right recommendations and roadmap for your technology? Every recommendation they make should be tied to a desired business outcome.

A real vCIO will have an in depth and comprehensive understanding of your technology. Don’t be afraid to push them on this! Many IT providers will do what is necessary to “get by,” but fail to understand your environment at the level of detail necessary. How do you make sure they know which holes need to be plugged? They should be reviewing your environment constantly and be able to show you what they look at and how well you meet their standards. For example, at TAG Solutions, we have over 500 standards that are reviewed multiple times a year for every one of our managed services customers. We can show your overall alignment score based on best practices, your alignment by category, and provide a detailed report of each of these standards and how well you align. Does your IT provider go to this level to understand your organization, to make sure they understand every hole to plug when developing your strategy, and even more importantly, do they hold themselves accountable?

Once your vCIO understands your business, strategic direction, and the state of your current technology, then, and only then, do they have the information necessary to create a real technology roadmap that will enable you to achieve your goals. At this point they should be able to establish a technology direction that makes sense for you and makes a real impact for your organization. This roadmap should plan out a timeline of initiatives that need to be implemented, what findings led to those initiatives, and how those initiatives support your goals. You should have a clear picture of how to improve your technology to enable success on your business goals. Your vCIO should be meeting with you on a regular basis, tracking progress on your roadmap and discussing any changes in your strategy.  If they are doing this correctly, then you should feel like you have a true partner and member of your team.

Have questions on a vCIO? Contact us here.

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