Murray Wills: Why I became a ‘virtual CIO’

Murray Wills, founder of Maxsys, provides ‘virtual CIO’ services to organisations across Wellington and Auckland.

The ‘virtual CIO’, he says, is a service for businesses who want a part-time chief Information officer.

“We see an increasing need for these services in the future as more and more organisations understand the strategic importance of IT, the risks and the costs that need to be managed," he states. "Smaller organisations can have the benefits of a CIO, without the cost of a full-time employee."

Wills says he started his consultancy in 2006 when he and his partners saw the need for strategic IT leadership within organisations that had no one with the skills to provide this in-house.

Typically the organisations they deal with have an IT operational manager in place who does not possess the required knowledge or skills, he says.

A CIO core skill set is quite different from that of an IT operations or services manager, he explains. “Organisations we deal with may also have IT service and support provided by an external company and no one in house with IT skills.”

Maxsys has up to four virtual CIOs and they all have 30-plus years’ experience in IT at a senior level, Wills states.

All are members of relevant professional organisations with a Code of Conduct. It is important for people providing virtual CIO services to be members of relevant professional organisations and are preferably IT certified professionals, says Wills.

More and more, we are finding that organisations appreciate that it is a major risk for them to have no one advising them on IT governance or strategic IT matters. Murray Wills, Maxsys

"It is important that they have a breadth of knowledge in IT and business," he adds. "All are high calibre individuals who smaller organisations would not normally be able to attract and afford."

Mentors and trusted advisers

Some of the organisations they deal with have a CIO in place that needs mentoring and help from a trusted advisor from time to time. “CIOs even of large organisations can feel quite isolated in terms of peer review, advice and mentoring,” he states.

“More and more, we are finding that organisations appreciate that it is a major risk for them to have no one advising them on IT governance or strategic IT matters."

For instance, the board and CEOs of government agencies (where there is no board) are responsible under ISO 38500 (the Corporate Governance of IT Standard) for IT risk and strategy.

Wills says it is important that those providing virtual CIO services are independent in that they do not provide hardware or software.

“We also don’t provide IT service and support,” he adds. “You also cannot expect your IT services company to provide independent advice and many do not want to be put in this position.

“Unfortunately, if you do a Google search you will find some organisations supposedly offering a virtual CIO service that are providing IT service and support. This devalues the term.”

He says companies that a use the services of a virtual CIO range from small to medium sized government agencies, corporates and not-for-profits.

“Many smaller and medium size organisations are at the mercy of their technology provider because they cannot afford to employ someone full-time with a broad background and qualifications in information technology and systems, management and IT strategic planning,” he explains

“The technology provider is able to manage the day-to-day operation of IT in your organisation but you may need some assistance when it comes to moving it forward strategically.

“Strategic planning needs to be done by you with a trusted adviser such as an independent virtual CIO.”

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