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Pros and Cons of a Virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO)

Pros and Cons of a Virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO)

For many companies, a virtual CIO provides just what they need at an affordable price. At times when it isn’t cost-effective to employ a full-time CIO, this is a way to get the benefits without the expense. If your managed IT support services provider is a reputable company, they can probably find you a virtual CIO that offers the same level of expertise as a salaried board member. Still, a vCIO isn’t necessarily the right approach for everyone. With that in mind, let’s look at some pros and cons that come from the employment of a virtual chief information officer.

What Is A Virtual CIO?

For those of you who might not understand what we are talking about, a virtual CIO is not all that different from a regular CIO. As you probably know, a CIO is responsible for matters of technology and information. Their duties include the management of all IT-related projects and personnel, so they are a pretty important part of any company. At the same time, their services aren’t always needed, so they will sometimes find themselves in a position where there is nothing important for them to do.

That’s where a vCIO can be very helpful. They serve as an on-demand CIO, performing the functions of the job where they are needed. Because of this, they are paid by the job instead of being paid by the hour. This means significant cost savings for the company. The average salary of a full-time CIO is about 162,000 per year, and that doesn’t include benefits, bonuses, etc.

The Pros

Obviously, the main benefit of a vCIO is their lower cost of employment. It gives you a way to get the expertise of a CIO without paying nearly as much. There are many times at which you really need the help of a qualified CIO, but you never know when those times will be. By using a vCIO, you are basically turning one of your board members into an independent contractor.

Easier To Scale Your Business Expenses

There are also some definite advantages in terms of scalability. A lot of businesses tend to have problems with this issue and will end up spending large amounts of money on the latest tech. Then, that same tech becomes obsolete in a few months because something better came along. There are also times when a business does not grow at the expected rate. This can be a problem if you’ve already invested in a lot of IT equipment in anticipation of your next expansion. In both these situations, a virtual CIO can be very helpful.

Your vCIO can help you to scale your IT growth properly. That way, you won’t end up paying for more tech than you really need, and you won’t end up buying things before they are needed. Of course, you can also scale your use of the vCIO’s services, budgeting a certain amount of work-hours per month. By doing this, you can keep your IT expenses well within the scale of your business.

A vCIO Will Be More Agreeable And Compliant

Another advantage is compliance, as your vCIO won’t have the same level of authority in your company as a full-time CIO. They won’t formally be a member of the board of directors, so they won’t have any kind of controlling interest in the company. Because they are employed by an outside contractor, they have no reason to be anything but neutral. A neutral opinion can sometimes be a great thing when a dispute or an argument arises.

Here’s another thing: If you end up with a vCIO that isn’t satisfactory, it should be a simple matter to switch them out. That is to say, your IT support provider can probably find you a different vCIO if you aren’t happy with their initial choice. This is a temporary employee, so you are under no obligation to keep them around any longer than you want. By contrast, a full-time CIO would be much harder to replace or remove, should they become a problem.

A Predictable Expense

With a virtual CIO, you control the number of hours that they will work. That makes them a very predictable expense, and predictable expenses are usually less trouble. The cost of updating and upgrading IT equipment is one of those not-so-predictable expenses, but a virtual CIO can probably make the process a lot easier. They can efficiently determine what needs to be updated and what can be left alone, allowing them to save you even more money.

Better Planning And Organization

Most companies have an IT department, and the CIO is supposed to be in charge of that department. Some companies, in an attempt to save money, will opt to have no CIO at all. When that happens, the administration of IT infrastructure will fall upon the IT team alone, particularly the person in charge of that team. When you can’t afford to hire an in-house CIO, this might seem like an appealing option.

However, going without a CIO of any kind is likely to be a mistake. Today’s market is totally driven by information technology, and you need someone who can direct that technology with efficiency. With all the quarantines and lockdowns occurring these days, online business has become more important than ever.

In fact, this poll seems to indicate that online business is only going to get bigger. The poll involved more than 2,400 business owners, and most of them said that they experienced an increase in revenue after moving their business online. Only 19% did not experience any significant increase, which goes to show that not all companies need to do business in this way.

Your vCIO Can Call In Help

When you hire a virtual CIO, you aren’t just hiring one person. Thankfully, you are only paying one person! Nevertheless, it is important to understand that your vCIO does not operate as a separate entity. They are part of a dedicated IT company, and that means they will have resources on which to draw. If they find themselves in a situation where they aren’t sure what to do, they can draw on the experience of many other qualified individuals. In fact, they can probably find technicians that will work for you at a reduced rate.

For this reason, you should go with a provider of computer IT services that offers a 24/7 help desk. That 24/7 help desk functions like a free tech support line, and one that is staffed by people who have a reason to help you. Since you are a contracted client (as opposed to a random caller), they will know that their livelihood depends on keeping you happy.

When the vCIO calls them, he is sure to get better advice than the average person. This is not to imply any sort of corruption or favoritism, as it comes down to something much simpler: Your vCIO will be very familiar with the workings of this company, and will be able to work their system more effectively.

Better Responsiveness

An in-house CIO doesn’t really have a lot of motivation to streamline all the IT processes at your company. Once they have reached a certain minimum, they can just ride it out and wait until their services are needed. After all, their salary will be about the same regardless of the company’s efficiency. On the other hand, a virtual CIO knows that their continued employment depends on getting results. As such, they will probably be much quicker to respond when a problem occurs.

For instance, let’s say you are dealing with a minor data breach. An in-house CIO would probably look into the situation, give some instructions to the IT department, and then call it a day. Once again, their pay will be the same regardless. However, a vCIO will be ready and willing to put in work, especially since they are paid by the hour (or the job). Their job consists mostly of waiting for their services to be needed, which means they should be eager to please when called. Chances are, they will put all their efforts into dealing with that data breach, mainly because they want you to employ them again.

The Cons

Naturally, there are a few downsides that can come from the use of a virtual CIO. Most of them are pretty minor, but they should be discussed nevertheless. It isn’t always practical to outsource your CIO, especially if your current one is doing a good job. So, let’s discuss a few of the reasons for which a company might choose to avoid these services.

Less Familiarity With Your Company

Even if your vCIO has lots of experience in his position, they will not be intimately familiar with your company and its procedures. An in-house CIO, on the other hand, works with the IT staff and infrastructure every day, learning every detail and keeping a close watch on all variables. A vCIO can do that job with just as much efficiency, but they probably can’t do it right away. They will need time to learn the ropes at your company, just like any other new employee.

In some cases, your vCIO may even require employee training before they can start work. This is a slight downside because it adds another expense to the vCIO ticket. They will also need time to build good working relationships with the rest of your staff, and that can take a lot longer. As a company outsider, the vCIO has less motivation to learn the tiny details of your company’s inner IT workings.

Not Needed For All Companies

The nature of your business will have a lot to do with your decision to hire a vCIO. Basically, some companies have huge tech needs, for which a vCIO might not be adequate. You wouldn’t want to outsource your most important company positions, as a general rule. For companies that are heavy on tech, a dedicated CIO might be a better choice.

You see, there is a certain point at which the hourly (or per-job) cost of the vCIO can actually become more expensive than the employment of a full-time CIO. Companies that rely heavily on the internet and its associated technologies will need the services of a CIO on a daily basis. When that is the case, it is actually more cost-effective to hire a full-time CIO. Even with their higher salary, their per-day cost is likely to be lower. Thus, we would say that a virtual CIO is better for companies with light to moderate tech needs.

Less Available

Obviously, a virtual CIO is going to be less available than a normal one. This is mostly due to the fact that they aren’t on-premises unless they are needed. An in-house CIO is always available to answer questions or give advice. The vCIO, on the other hand, is probably working for other companies as well. That means they have to split their time and attention between several clients.

Even though most vCIO’s do a great job, there is no way that they can match the availability of an in-house CIO. It’s a lot easier to walk down the hall than it is to get ahold of an outside expert, and we can’t make it any simpler than that.


Overall, a vCIO is one of the best ways for a company to save money on tech expenses. While it may not be the best option for everyone, a lot of smaller companies have found these services particularly helpful. We are somewhat neutral in this debate, meaning that we only want to help you make the right decision for your company. If we have done so, we ask that you fill out the contact form. That will allow us to send you more informative articles like this one.