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Andrew Parker, Chief Technology Officer at Net Essence explains the role of a “Virtual” Chief Information Officer and why innovative tech solutions should be part of your critical business analysis.

Let’s start by stating that a CIO is not just a new term for your Head of IT. That person or perhaps an IT Manager or a Managed Service Provider looks at what the business needs, suggests a solution and takes steps to implement it. Essentially, the technicians, customer account manager and perhaps a resource within the business will keep things running. That is a simplification of these roles, and I in no way no mean to understate the importance of this function. Things must keep running reliably in order to free up Executive time to focus on business growth and strategy, and that is where the CIO role fits.

Tech-focused businesses that are at the forefront of technology may decide to look after their own strategy, but businesses that are (for example) in retail or manufacturing will do better to either hire or outsource this function. In my experience, these types of business can see significant benefits from the advice and input of a CIO.

A CIO or Chief Information Officer (also interchangeably a Chief Technology Officer or CTO) sits at board-level and as such is not discussing the nuts and bolts of technology. Rather than talking about processors and RAM like the IT Manager might, or technical details of how an application works as a developer would, a CIO looks in-depth at what the business is doing and how technology can improve that.

Take for example a clothing manufacturer. A CIO would typically spend time to fully understand the processes that the products go through or the Critical Path that raw materials follow to become a finished product. At various points along that process there will be opportunities for technology to improve things. Counter-intuitively, there may be steps along the way where technology is holding the business back due to poor implementation, a lack of training or obsolescence.  

In a classic clothing manufacture process, a factory would need to make multiple production samples. The factory will often then airfreight each sample to the designers and quality control team because timescales are so tight between the sample being approved, production ordered and the critical date that the finished product arrives in-store. One garment might be airfreighted back and forth ten times with comments from either side of the production team regarding pattern, colour, size, etc. You can imagine that this is an awkward, costly and time-consuming way to work.

A CIO might look at a solution like video conferencing. Not just your average boardroom video conferencing, but a solution with a camera that can zoom in right down to the very fibres of a yarn. You could place the garment on a flat surface with the correct lighting behind it and literally show on the remote screen what it is you want them to focus on. That video call can be supported in the factory with the right equipment and work even in remote areas where internet connectivity is not that great.

This is just a theoretical example of how technology can improve a manufacturing process, cut delivery times, reduce carbon emissions, slash costs and assist in bringing products to market much faster than your competitors.  There are likely to be hundreds of business activities that could be similarly improved given the appropriate scrutiny.

A CIO (if you can afford one) broadly has responsibility for the way a business grasps and uses information to make money. Many SME-type businesses don’t have the budget or the need for a full-time CIO.

Net Essence offers a “Virtual” CIO role because we grew tired of IT support – to be frank, we were bored. We were reacting to problems, knowing deep down that the problem should never have occurred. An IT support resource is hardly ever included in board meetings or serious discussions about business strategy.  The perception (quite wrong) is that IT support is an operating expense so there is seldom any opportunity to extract strategic value from the service.

Our VCIO service goes beyond offering our clients IT support. They have access to an expert team who are experienced in a wide array of business-enhancing applications, partners and technology. A VCIO provides the value of a Chief Information Officer at a price that is affordable to those businesses who don’t have the need or budget to employ one themselves.