Do you like to think of yourself as a virtual CIO to your clients? Then ask yourself these questions:
- Do you spend your face time with customers discussing recent technical glitches or long-term business objectives?
- Are you most often contacted by CEOs and business owners looking for expert technology counsel or office managers calling because email is down?
- Do you appear on your customers’ org chart?
- Do they invite you to strategy sessions?
If your answer to these and similar questions is no, you’re not a virtual CIO. “You’re a mechanic,” says Bob Nitrio, CEO of Ranvest Associates, an IT consultancy in Orangevale, Calif. And as every car owner knows, mechanics are all too disposable.
“Anybody ... can put in a new printer successfully,” Nitrio notes. A true outsourced CIO, by contrast, helps customers overcome challenges and seize opportunities through the strategic application of IT. Good luck getting that from your local dial-a-tech.
“If you’re good at what you do you’re going to create a stickiness that’s going to be difficult for somebody to break,” Nitrio notes, adding that you’re likely to collect heftier margins as well.
So what does it take to become a virtual CIO? Nitrio and other channel veterans recommend these steps:
1. Assess Yourself Honestly
Overpromising and under-delivering is never a good idea, so make sure you’re qualified to be a virtual CIO before positioning yourself as one. “You could erode a relationship very, very quickly,” warns Erick Simpson, senior vice president and CIO of Irvine, Calif.-based managed services training provider SPC International Online Inc.
Business acumen, more than anything else, is what separates outsourced CIOs from run-of-the-mill IT providers, so start by taking a frank look at how well you run your own company. If your strategic vision, operational skills, or financial know-how needs some sharpening, peer groups, vendors like Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, membership organizations like CompTIA Inc. and The ASCII Group Inc., and training specialists like SPC all can help.
2. Start Small
Becoming a virtual CIO is a process best taken slowly, so plan to dip your toe in the water before diving in all the way. “You have to be strategic about where you start,” Simpson says. That means offering strategic guidance on a specific aspect of technology like compliance or security before advising clients more broadly, and testing your business consulting chops on a few relatively unsophisticated customers before scheduling planning sessions with the savviest CEO you know.
3. Spread the Word
Once you’re ready to provide your clients with more than just tech support, make sure they know it. Calling attention to your virtual CIO abilities on your website and in your marketing materials is an important part of profiting from them.
Author, channel pro trainer, and former MSP Karl Palachuk, for example, still remembers how simply adding the words “business consulting” to his company name years ago inspired one of his oldest customers to ask him for help conducting job interviews. “It had zero to do with technology,” Palachuk recalls. The client just figured it was the kind of thing a business consultant does. Nitrio, for similar reasons, has long included the phrase “strategic business consulting with technology solutions” on his business card.