The gig economy is no longer just for Uber drivers or freelance writers. It has now reached the role of CIO, as well, in the form of gig CIOs, fractional CIOs, contract CIOs, or virtual CIOs (vCIOs).
What Is a Virtual CIO (vCIO)?
A vCIO is an experienced IT executive who is hired from the outside to stand in as the client company’s chief information officer. The vCIO generally performs the same functions as a typical CIO. The only differences are the terms of their work contract.
What Does a vCIO Do?
Virtual CIOs serve a variety of functions within an organization. They can be hired as an interim CIO until the company hires a new one. They may also consult on a particular situation where expertise is only needed for a particular period of time or initiative.
A vCIO often operates on a high level of the business to consult on important decisions and ensure alignment between IT and business goals. Such activities include working with the client’s IT team to develop strategic IT goals, determine IT budget, introduce new technology-related changes, and advise on technology, infrastructure, and more.
Some vCIOs offer their services through a managed service provider (MSP) to take care of technical aspects of a company’s IT operations. A summary of a vCIO’s main responsibilities include:
- Advise on IT compliance, trends, and best practices
- Build a technology roadmap
- Meet regularly with management
- Propose tech solutions to achieve company goals
Does Your Company Need a vCIO?
The short answer is maybe. It depends on your company’s size, needs, and overall strategy. For instance, enterprises sometimes hire vCIOs to supplement existing in-house IT personnel in strategic planning and decision making.
Small and midsize businesses, however, potentially reap tremendous value from an experienced IT executive giving strategic guidance without drawing a full-time executive’s salary. Objectively speaking, hiring a vCIO has both advantages and disadvantages.
Benefits of Having a Virtual CIO
The benefits of hiring a vCIO include:
- Maintaining control of your company’s IT infrastructure
- Bringing in new perspectives and driving innovation
- Saving the cost of a comprehensive benefits package
- Bypassing the processes of long-term hiring and onboarding saves time
- Quickly realizing ROI from low-cost expertise
- Making expertise more financially accessible to SMB budgets
- Making decisions more objectively
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Drawbacks of Having a Virtual CIO
Your Company May Be Just a Number
Virtual CIOs sometimes have more than one client, meaning your company may not be that person’s sole focus. That could be a problem if your company is dealing with a complex IT issue that needs dedicated support and direction.
Lack of Knowledge About Your Unique Company
While a temporary CIO can bring fresh perspectives to your workplace, a virtual CIO may not be familiar with your company’s history, internal politics, and other unique intricacies. Lack of knowledge about your company’s institutional history could get in the way of the vCIO performing their job most effectively.
Grooming and upskilling a current employee from within your company’s IT ranks, who already knows the company well, may be a more suitable alternative.
Temporary Fix With Long-Term Ramifications
Given that vCIOs are hired to temporarily influence IT operations at a high level, the combination of temporariness and high-level impact makes hiring a vCIO a potentially risky undertaking. Their work could have consequences on the organization long after their contract expires. Depending on the current health of your company’s IT operations and the particular challenges it faces, it may not be wise to opt for the temporary fix of hiring a vCIO.
The Future of the vCIO
The role of virtual CIO empowers experienced IT professionals to become entrepreneurial consultants, taking on whichever jobs they want to. On the surface, then, it would appear that the role of vCIO is more lucrative, but that’s actually not the case.
Across job recruiting websites, the average annual salary for an in-house CIO consistently exceeds that of a vCIO. The average annual salary for a virtual CIO in the US is around $185,000, with San Mateo, CA, Richmond, CA, and Stamford, CT being the top-paying cities for this role. On the other hand, the average annual salary for an in-house CIO in the US is closer to $207,000.
So why would a CIO want to become a vCIO? For more variety, flexibility, and autonomy in how many contracts they can or want to handle at once.
As the Great Resignation continues to unfold and the IT job market undergoes a hiring crunch, the trend of vCIOs will be one to watch. How will experienced CIOs respond to businesses’ growing need for high-level expertise in an ever-evolving tech landscape? Will they increasingly move to contract work as vCIOs, or will they value full-time work at a single company?