Weighing the Pros and Cons of a vCIO in CMSWire
As part of my role as CTO at Kelser, I am also vCIO for some of our clients, such as Hoffman Auto Group. A vCIO, also called a virtual or fractional CIO, performs the strategic function of a tech executive for an organization that doesn’t necessarily need a fulltime CIO in house.
I was recently quoted in an article for international tech website CMSWire called “The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Fractional CTO” The distinction between CIO and CTO is a little bit murky. I usually think of CIO as having more application development responsibility, where CTO is more infrastructure. Kelser’s vCIO offering is really vCIO and vCTO all rolled into one, depending on what the client may need.
One of the things I find most exciting about being a vCIO is the opportunity to be involved in a company’s IT strategy at the highest level and apply what I’m seeing elsewhere in real time. Naturally, IT professionals bring their previous experience to each job they have. Imagine being able to apply experience you gain immediately to another job. It helps things move fast and I think it’s a major competitive advantage for companies that hire a vCIO.
The CMSWire article includes a “Fractional CTO’s To-Do List,” from Tony Karrer, part-time CTO at Aggregage which I think is pretty spot on though it’s focused on tech companies. Here’s a broader version for most businesses in general.
- Articulate IT strategy that ties directly to the client’s overall business strategy
- Review third-party platforms to make sure they integrate securely and can be updated easily
- Delineate clear roles for internal IT staff and partners
- Identify and create a strategy to remedy problem areas within the client’s environment
- Anticipate future challenges and opportunities
The last point is crucial and something that I think vCIOs do particularly well. New team members often see things so clearly when they join a company…for about six months. Once they get drawn into the daily flow of work in the organization, they tend to lose their long-term vision. Since vCIOs alternate between different organizations on a daily basis, they always have fresh eyes for each client’s IT puzzle. They are deeply invested in the client’s success, but never so immersed that they lose perspective.
That’s why I take issue with the characterization from Brad Westveld of ON Partners in the CMSWire article that fractional executives can’t be stewards of long term vision, steering a company toward goals 5 or 10 years out. Since vCIOs have to refocus themselves for each client, it presents an opportunity to reconnect with the central vision and plan before every meeting and interaction. I would argue that vCIOs can often be better at seeing long-term strategy through to completion than full-time execs. Of course, the longer a fractional CIO is engaged with the client, the more effective he or she will be at enacting lasting change, but even a highly focused 6-month or year engagement can have effects felt 5 or 10 years down the road.