We have an IT manager; Do we also need a Virtual CIO?

Virtual CTO

It’s a truth with increasing impact that in today’s fast-paced business environment, technology plays a critical role in driving innovation, productivity, and growth. In some industries, it plays the most critical role in business expansion. As companies continue to rely more heavily on technology, having a competent IT manager &/or vendor partner is essential. And for some organisations, this may be sufficient; but not for all…….

For many organisations, even for those with a competent IT manager on board, a Virtual CIO can deliver significant benefits, unlocking ways technology can drive business growth and profitability.

First, a quick definition: a Virtual CIO (Virtual Chief Information Officer) is an outsourced, C-level technology consultant who provides strategic guidance on a company’s Information Technology (IT) to executive leadership and technology staff on a remote &/or part-time basis. The Virtual CIO works closely with an organisation’s IT manager, staff, &/or vendor partner(s) to develop and implement a comprehensive IT strategy that aligns with the company’s business goals.

One of the main advantages of leveraging a Virtual CIO is that they bring a fresh perspective and a wealth of industry knowledge to the table. Unlike an in-house IT manager who spends all or most of their time focused on the day-to-day operations of the company, a Virtual CIO can provide an unbiased view of the industry’s technology landscape, including what is being undertaken by competitors or organisations in adjacent sectors. With their broad experience working with other companies, they can provide insights and recommendations to which an IT manager may not have access.

This benefit is typically multiplied if the IT manager is “home-grown”. While a long tenure with one organisation does deliver real benefits, it also creates some blind spots due to the lack of exposure to other approaches and recent technological advances.

Human nature is one of the strongest forces in corporate life. The longer an IT leader has been employed at their organization, the less likely they will support (or even see) other ways of operating which may unlock significant innovation, because those paths come with an implied critique of their previous decisions. The art of a CIO Consultant is to reveal these paths in a way that retains the morale of the core existing IT team, whose partnership will be needed to achieve the transformation.

Jeff Roberts, Founder of Innovation Vista

Another benefit delivered by a Virtual CIO is that they can bridge the “gap” between IT and the rest of the company. IT work is so distinct from the work of most other functions in a business that misunderstandings across that gap are common. Business leaders and staff find it fairly easy to envision the responsibilities and processes of other business groups, but often have no idea what happens on a day-to-day basis within IT, nor how the skills of various IT professionals differ from one another.

Misunderstandings about business within IT are just as common, and often lead to unhelpful mindsets wherein IT’s context for decision-making is limited to “the platform” rather than “the organisation”. In general, dysfunctional relationships are commonplace across this “gap”, which is dangerous in a world of innovation moving as fast as ours is now.

Virtual CIOs (at least those vetted on our criteria) have two unique qualifications to bridge this gap, which are not shared with IT leaders at the manager/director/VP level:

  • They have achieved success in a C-level IT role (CIO, CTO, CDO, etc.), often in multiple tenures, requiring that they communicated and partnered well with business executives and operations staff in these organisations
  • Having entered the Consulting sector, they’ve also gained skills in quickly diagnosing organisational dynamics and grasping business models, in order to quickly gain traction for real insights and recommendations


This bridge delivers value in both directions. By working closely with business leaders and departments, a Virtual CIO can ensure that an organisation’s IT solutions and policies serve well the overall business strategy and needs, even creating competitive advantage where possible. Likewise, they can help demonstrate the value that technology brings to the company. As a result, IT is seen as a true enabler of the business, both deserving of a “seat at the executive table”, and delivering value as a result of their involvement in the discussions at that table.

A Virtual CIO can also help with IT budgeting and resource allocation from their perspective of consultant and fiduciary. They can assist in identifying areas where IT spending can be reduced or where additional investments may be beneficial. Working with the IT manager and with the board and C-suite, they can ensure that the IT budget is aligned with the company’s overall financial goals.

A Virtual CIO can also help with vendor management. With their deep knowledge of the industry, they can provide guidance on vendor selection, and can enter contract negotiations from a position of experience and knowledge of the market dynamics. They can also help ensure that vendors are held to service level agreements and providing value to the company.

So clearly, there are multiple ways that a Virtual CIO delivers value to their client, even when that organisation has a competent IT manager on staff. Their unique expertise, properly focused on the highest-leverage activities of IT leadership, can deliver enormous ROI, opening the doors to IT capabilities and performance which otherwise usually remain closed. As technology continues to play an increasing role in business success, companies that invest in a Virtual CIO are likely to see significant benefits, and may indeed emerge the ultimate leaders in their sector.