MSP vs vCIO: What’s the Difference and Why does it Matter?

BY IT GLUE | March 17, 2021

The evolution of managed services never stopped. This wasn’t an industry that went from break-fix and VAR to MSP and then stagnated. Not with sustained double-digit growth and a rapidly transforming technological environment. If anything, the past year has increased the pace of innovation within the managed services space. Not only did the massive shift to work from home change things up on a dime, but small and medium-sized businesses are much more in tune with how reliant they are on technology. That should represent an opportunity for MSPs.

MSP versus vCIO

The easiest way to think about the difference between an MSP and a vCIO is that an MSP plays a tactical role for its clients, while the vCIO plays a strategic role as well.

The MSP evolved to be proactive with support and consulting, but there’s another level of client relationship, and that’s the vCIO level. The vCIO level is not just about being proactive, it’s about assisting with the direction of the client company. The MSP builds a service offering around technology to solve known problems — cybersecurity problems, network monitoring problems, backup problems, compliance problems, etc.

The vCIO plays a proactive role in building systems to scale — adding new technology to the client’s stack based on their needs. The vCIO might look at unique technology solutions beyond that basic stack. Or the vCIO might look at innovations that its clients now need. Systems that might have once been disconnected, like inventory systems and online vending, are not disconnected anymore. The role the vCIO plays here is in helping the clients achieve and maintain a technological competitive advantage.

A vCIO offers more input into the client’s business. Decisions such as pivoting to new opportunities because of changes in technology are facilitated by a vCIO, but not a more traditional MSP. The MSP might be working with a client’s pre-determined spend, whereas the vCIO plays a more prominent role in guiding the IT budget for clients. The vCIO is also in a position to think much longer term, not just anticipating the next time a server has to be deprecated but to play a role in shaping the medium and long-range visions for the company.

Why Does it Matter?

Understanding what you do will help you relate to your clients better. Each client probably thinks differently about what you bring to the table. Some just want an MSP, while others might be looking for more of a vCIO experience. If you can elaborate on the difference between the two, you’ll be better able to figure out what your clients really need — even if those needs are different from what the client says they want.

The other reason it matters is that the vCIO has different information requirements than an MSP. This goes back to the differences between strategic decision-making and tactical decision-making. Any business looking to add a vCIO service or pivot into that as a differentiated business model, needs to understand what new information they’ll need, how they’ll gather it, and how they’ll use it when working with the client to map out a strategic approach to IT.

This means that the type of data you gather, how you collect and store that data, applying that data to strategic decision-making, and how that data is presented to your clients all might be a bit different.

We can definitely help with the documentation part of this. IT Glue is the industry standard for a reason — mature product, robust security and a proven track record of assisting MSPs in evolving their businesses.

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