Aren’t CIOs just for Large Companies?


In today’s fast-paced and highly interconnected business environment, technology has become an essential component of every organization’s operations. As a result, having experienced IT leadership is critical to an organization’s success, even for small companies.

In large organizations, this experienced leadership usually takes the form of a Chief Information Officer (CIO). There are related titles such as Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO), and Chief Digital Officer (CDO). Some of the most complex organizations staff multiple executives and split the role. But CIO remains the most common title for the top information technology leader.

Many small and midsize organizations go without a CIO due to budget constraints, and often make the mistake of thinking that they’re not missing much. They have small C-suites in general, maybe only including a CEO, CFO, and COO. They believe they can get by without a CIO because they don’t have the same scale or complexity of IT needs as larger organizations. However, this kind of thinking can be detrimental to a small or midsize business’s success; even at that size they can face significant IT challenges, and/or have IT opportunities which can dramatically effect the organization’s performance.


We encourage clients not to look at the cost of IT leadership in isolation, but in the context of trade-offs with the performance and cost of IT as a whole.


As Always, Asking the Right Question is the Key

Budget constraints are certainly real, and in some smaller organizations these may truly be sufficient to keep them from considering any but the most affordable IT leadership options, or fully outsourcing their IT to a vendor.

We encourage clients not to look at the cost of IT leadership in isolation, but in the context of trade-offs with the performance and cost of IT as a whole.

For example, our Virtual CIO service offers proven IT leaders at a fraction of what they would cost if hired full-time. Often, organizations pay ~1/3 what a seasoned full-time CIO would cost; they receive 40-50% of the consultant’s time, and 100% of the quality of decisions and leadership. Their focus on the highest-leverage CIO functions yields enormous benefits where their expertise matters the most.

In fact, the impact of that expertise typically pays for itself via efficiencies elsewhere within IT and/or productivity gains within the business due to improved IT performance. It is a self-funding position for the majority of our clients.


It Matters Whose Hand is on the Steering Wheel for your Technology – even for SMB

New advancements in technology are emerging at a rapid – and accelerating – pace, and small organizations may struggle to keep up with these changes without the guidance of an experienced CIO. A CIO can help a small organization stay up to date with the latest technological advancements, implement new systems and software, and optimize existing technology to improve operations and efficiency. Often, the first competitor to take advantage of new capabilities – the “first mover” – is the company which will gain the lion’s share of the growth in that space. Nowhere is this more true than with technology capabilities.

Another critical role of a CIO is to ensure that a small organization’s IT infrastructure is secure. In today’s increasingly digital world, cybersecurity threats are a constant concern for businesses of all sizes. Small organizations are often more vulnerable to cyberattacks because they don’t have the same level of security resources as larger organizations. A CIO knows how and where to install prudent, robust security measures to protect an organization’s sensitive data, and to ensure that the organization is compliant with any applicable regulations. Without that expertise making the “triage” decisions, organizations can do too little, or be distracted by the latest “shiny object” tool and spend money without an overarching strategy to inform why. And again, these benefits don’t require that a company hire a CIO full-time for a half-million dollar compensation package; the right expertise, even on a part-time basis, will yield the right strategy and execution.

A CIO can also help small organizations leverage technology to improve their customer experience. With the rise of e-commerce and online customer service, technology is playing an increasingly important role in how organizations interact with their customers. An experienced CIO can help a small organization implement digital tools and processes that make it easier for customers to engage with the organization, whether through a website, social media, or other online channels.

Finally, a CIO can help small organizations maximize the value of their IT investments. Small organizations don’t have the same financial resources as larger organizations, so it’s crucial that they make the most of every dollar they spend on IT. An experienced CIO can help small organizations evaluate their IT investments and determine the best way to allocate resources to achieve their business objectives. The “best” platform may not always be the right answer, if a cheaper solution would deliver the majority of benefits relevant to that operation.


Most Small & Midsize Organizations need a CIO’s Expertise – It’s a Matter of Finding the Right Structure

Hopefully the points above make it clear that MOST small and midsize organizations need experienced IT leadership from a Chief Information Officer. By providing guidance on technology trends, cybersecurity, customer experience, and IT investments, a CIO can help small organizations overcome IT challenges and succeed in today’s digital world. As technology continues to play an increasingly important role in business operations, having a CIO will become even more critical for small organizations. This is not a landscape which is being simplified, by any means.

If your budget can’t accommodate a full-time CIO, consider other more affordable options such as a Virtual CIO, potentially 1/3 of the cost of a full-time hire, or even a Tech Advisory consultant, which is even cheaper. Engaging that expertise will make an enormous difference, and will typically pay for itself. Leaving the need unfilled, believing that CIOs are strictly for large enterprises, may leave your organization with blind spots about one of the most strategic aspects, and without doubt the fastest-changing of any aspect, of modern business.