Do you need a virtual CIO?

May 2024 Editor's Choice, News & Events, Infrastructure

Despite reassurances from the country’s president that the plan to save Eskom is slowly bearing fruit, South Africa is still very much navigating harsh economic headwinds made worse by crippling power cuts, the highest interest rates since the global recession, unsustainable unemployment and more.

Craig Allen

Businesses are feeling the pinch because despite having to cut costs in an environment where consumers may not be spending as feely, they also have a workforce that is equally under pressure to make ends meet and often susceptible to more attractive job offers.

Factor this into the reality that we live in a digital world where a business’s IT infrastructure is more important than ever, we can appreciate the shared pain in the market regarding a crippling IT skills shortage. If you have a CIO, rest assured that your competitors have noticed and will come knocking on their door sooner or later. This is not cynical; it is a healthy dose of reality.

At first glance, contracting may look like a solution. Still, even with contracting, there comes a time when either the contract must be terminated, where the business loses continuity, or the person needs to be employed, which defeats the point of trying to cut costs. This is where the Virtual CIO (VCIO) becomes a compelling solution – especially in the current economic climate.

A VCIO becomes a trusted advisor to the business, and the best VCIO-managed services approach the partnership with a long-term lens. What does this mean? It means that if a managed service provider (MSP) is only contracted to take care of desktops, that is what they do. A VCIO, on the other hand, even if only contracted on one element of the IT infrastructure, automatically fulfils a CIO advisory role and alerts the business to risks in its IT landscape and the best course of action. This is far more valuable than a ‘tool for hire’ approach.

At qwerti, for example, we approach the VCIO engagement with a holistic view of the entire environment. Even if we are not contracted to handle other elements within the ecosystem, we proactively monitor and, aligned with ISO standards, flag risks in the business and log them in a risk register. We do this so that the business can make the decision on how to manage, insure against or fix the risk – because this makes business sense.

Think about the skills required to fulfil a CIO role. Then, think about the unique contexts of different environments. If a business is to build up an internal resource, it will cost upwards of R2,5 million in two years, including basic starting salaries and expensive certifications, and then they still sit with the risk of this key IP leaving for greener pastures or being out of commission for whatever reason.

Now, compare this to engaging with an MSP whose workforce of consultants is made up of former IT managers, operations managers, solution architects, and many more, from industries as diverse as mining, retail, and financial and legal services. This broad skill set becomes available at huge monthly savings, making the VCIO value apparent, but the value goes beyond mere savings and IP retention.

A good VCIO service provider will send these skilled and experienced professionals into a customer’s business to meet all the relevant HODs and develop a thorough understanding of the customer’s business. This includes a thorough grasp of their business-critical systems and a comprehensive audit of the IT environment as it currently stands.

Alongside the business, the VCIO will then look at all the risks, as well as the desired state of where the business needs to be in six, 12 or 24 months. A roadmap, with quantifiable milestones, is then designed and followed to close the gap between the two states – as well as thorough and ongoing risk analyses and managing of the IT landscape. This is where the value extends far beyond easily quantifiable cost savings because it is here where the VCIO shines as a neutral adviser with the business’s best interests at heart.

The world is evolving. The workplace is evolving. Costs and risks are increasing. However, managed services have evolved to support unique business needs within this new reality. A business would do well to consider the benefits of engaging a virtual CIO.

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