vCIO and Managed Services: Apples and Oranges?

At a recent glance into the state of the industry, it appears that there are a large number of small IT consulting companies that consist of one (or a few) high-level engineers that offer C-level consulting to businesses. These companies (which I would classify as vCIO firms) often have trouble finding the right customers for their services and look to solve this problem by adding recurring Managed Services such as Help Desk, NOC, and Security.

At the same time, there are a lot of Managed Services companies that are typically larger in size, stocked with mainly low-level technical talent and looking to expand their offering to include vCIO and high level business consulting. To them, they see this as their ticket to increased hourly rates and a value proposition more suitable for “same-side selling.”

There are also companies that claim to specialize in both, in sometimes a very confusing way. They aren’t quite sure where their real value lies and they frankly don’t execute either side to the level that they should. To be completely honest, there was a point where our own IT firm likely fell into this category and it took a lot of hard knocks and self-realization to grow past it.

Adding vCIO As An Offering

While all of these types of companies are justified in wanting to increase their value and the revenue potential of the customer, one has to question whether or not Managed Services and vCIO can truly co-exist under one roof. Can a company that is built for high-volume ticket resolution also offer high-value business consulting and do so without a conflict of interest? Can a company of high-value business consultants hire or outsource a properly staffed Help Desk / NOC and is it even worth their time for them to do so?

These are the questions that providers are often left asking, and to me the answer is quite simple, as it has more to do with the individuals than the group. It is my humble opinion that a true vCIO should be someone that could legitimately be hired as a full-time CIO at a multi-million dollar organization. This is not an “Account Manager” in disguise, but someone that has over a decade of experience in solving business problems through technology. If you do not have this type of person on your payroll and their time available to offer your customers, then you likely should not be offering vCIO as a service. It’s really that simple.

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The Ideal Clients for vCIO

The challenge with vCIO in its purest form is that it requires a very specific type of customer. This type of organization often makes business decisions that include the use of technology, but have come to the realization that this is not their area of expertise. They then seek the advice of a high-level technology strategist (vCIO) to participate in their decision-making process and help see and understand things from a technologist point-of-view.

This company will come in all shapes and sizes but the key is that they value this type of service and will utilize it for it’s fundamental purpose. An example would be a company that has an internal Help Desk, or “IT Guy” and needs help managing them from a technical perspective. A lot of businesses that hire internally, do so without the ability to oversee technical personnel (who are sometimes more “green” than they lead on). A vCIO can help sniff out these “newbs” and steer the technical direction of the company, letting internal personnel tackle the day-to-day, all without the need of a full-time CIO hire.

A poor fit for vCIO is a company that doesn’t need to consult with an outside consultant for business-level decision making or doesn’t see the value that this can offer their organization. Some companies are more focused on quieting the “noise” that technology issues create in a way that is inexpensive, and inevitably short-sighted. These companies may still make decent Managed Services customers, but they are not a fit for vCIO.

Finding Potential vCIO Prospects

After you have a few vCIO customers under your belt, you begin to see the patterns as to what these prospects look like and why. This is because the need often comes down to organizational structure and how a company operates within their industry. If you can identify a company that has the right combination of individuals (and the ideal gaps inbetween), then there is a good chance that organization has a need for this type of consulting.

So where do you go to find a list of companies and the type of people that work there? Well, LinkedIn is a good start. Because vCIO is all about selling an “individual’s” talent and experience, personal brand becomes one of your biggest assets. This is why creating a reputation on platforms such as LinkedIn can help you build an audience of potential customers and provide them value in the form of content on a regular basis.

If you can provide content that helps them make legitimate decisions for their business, then this trust will inevitably create opportunity down the line. As prospects begin to engage, you will notice the organic growth taking flight and will begin to gain interest from companies that you would have never thought were the right fit (but actually are). This is the magical thing about content, as it has a way of always ending up in the right hands and having impact in ways that you probably never anticipated.

The bottom line is that if you want businesses to trust you as a vCIO, then publicly proving your value is the best place to start. When applying for a C-Level job, you are relying solely on your reputation, experience, and expertise to win you the position. In this sense, selling vCIO is no different.