Do I really need another executive running around the place just to oversee my technology? Don’t I already pay people to do that?”
After 25 years in the IT support business, this is a sentiment I’ve heard over and over again; business owners just can’t seem to justify the need for a C-suite employee when it comes to their IT. That would be total overkill, right?
In many cases, it absolutely would.
IT management vs CIO guidance
First, let’s spend some time differentiating between what standard IT management brings to the table, and what kind of value a CIO offers. In most cases, the former will address:
- Keeping the lights on for your infrastructure by way of monitoring health and performance, and upgrading and replacing devices as they near their end-of-life
- Providing basic network security by way of centralized anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, and patch management
- Keeping your staff productive by fixing desktop issues
- Protecting your data with backup and disaster recovery solutions
- Providing ongoing technology recommendations
A CIO, on the other hand, would tackle problems that sound more like this:
- You’re especially vulnerable to cyberattack because your staff is not very tech-savvy, and you need to implement an ongoing Security Awareness Training program to keep your data and your reputation safe.
- Your cash flow is erratic because your accounting processes are inefficient, and you think you need to vet, identify, and implement a new software package to help stabilize.
- Your business is growing rapidly, and you need to proactively identify areas of your infrastructure that will not scale properly and could therefore hamper your expansion goals.
- You’re subject to government regulations, and you need to assess and maintain your compliance to mitigate your risk of a (costly) violation.
- You need help attracting and retaining younger employees, and suspect that implementing new collaboration technologies is an important first step.
These issues are far more complex, require knowledge beyond IT know-how, and focus on business problems more than they do technology.
Would this be level of support overkill for your business?
It very well could be. There are three basic technology management strategies that our businesses can employ, and only one of them will be the best fit for your organization.
- IT Management Only. This generally makes good sense for businesses that are smaller, that are steady-state, that don’t depend too heavily on their technology as a competitive advantage, and that have fairly straightforward needs as far as their systems go. They might see a slight improvement in productivity or risk mitigation if they were to have a CIO optimize their systems and support, but not enough to warrant the extra investment.
- IT Management + Virtual (Part-Time) CIO. Here, IT support (in-house or outsourced) is supplemented by an outsourced consultant who functions as that company’s CIO on a part-time basis. We’ve found this to be a successful setup in companies that have some deficiencies in the way of security, compliance, efficiency, growth planning, and/or business continuity, or whose leadership is anxious about not having a methodical long-term plan for their IT strategy. The situation isn’t so complicated that they need a full-time resource, but the company does feel that they will fall behind and open themselves up to risk if they don’t give proper attention to how their technology is supporting their business.
- IT Management + Full-Time CIO. This is an executive on your payroll. You’ll usually (but not always) find this arrangement in companies with over 200 employees and with an in-house IT team of at least 3 people. The CIO manages not only the company’s IT strategy, but also the IT team itself. This works well for companies who have a complex technology platform and even more complex technology applications that may require improvement or consolidation. They have deficiencies in the same areas as those who could use a part-time CIO (compliance, efficiency, etc.), but the scale is much larger.
Ultimately, the question we need to ask ourselves when considering a part- or full-time CIO is this: Would my company see significant, measurable results if my technology were better aligned with my business goals?
Until your answer is a confident “yes,” I’d recommend investing your money elsewhere.
As originally published in the American City Business Journals.