By MJ Shoer, Director, Client Engagement, & vCIO, Onepath
In the world of MSP services, firms provide a range of proactive services to clients to help them make the most of their IT investments. Over the years, as the market has matured, the notion of the vCIO has become a key component of those services.
VCIOs act as the chief information officer for the client in a virtual capacity. This is because the vCIO is not an employee of the client company but of the MSP. By working with multiple clients, either in the same vertical or across several industries, this executive-level resource brings a wealth of experience to the client relationship. Often, the vCIO is responsible for the overall client relationship, coordinating technical services, project management, customer services, and more. The vCIO is often the most senior resource from the MSP assigned to the client.
THE ANATOMY OF THE vCIO / CLIENT ENGAGEMENT RELATIONSHIP
In recent years, a new resource has emerged with equal — if not more — importance to the client relationship sometimes referred to as client engagement or sometimes as client success. This department has one responsibility — the overall health and retention of the client relationship. In this capacity, client engagement can take on many of responsibilities that the vCIO would handle. Both are highly consultative while each may have different areas of responsibility within the overall client/MSP relationship. If not properly structured, there could be conflict between these two roles, but there does not need to be.
The vCIO will work with other C-level executives at the client to fully understand where IT sits within overall corporate priorities. The vCIO will also work with other executives to identify the areas where technology is a clear enabler and where it may be a bottleneck. The vCIO will also identify areas of opportunity to improve how technology serves the business as well as be the key MSP resource to keep the client apprised of technologies to be evaluated and the potential benefits of implementing new technologies to help the business reach their stated goals.
"If not properly structured, there could be conflict between vCIO and client engagement practices, but there does not need to be."
The client engagement role will typically have responsibility for managing the relationship with the appointed primary contact at the client. This may not always be the same person that the vCIO interacts most with, especially in larger clients, so having these two key roles in close communication and coordination is critical. Client engagement will typically have ultimate ownership for the relationship, so while the vCIO may seem to be the more senior resource, that person may actually be taking direction from client engagement. At the very least, everything must be in close coordination.
In a growing or midsize enterprise, the vCIO will typically work most closely with a peer, who could themselves be the CIO for the client company or at least an executive-level position like the CFO or a vice president. They will typically not be involved in the day-to-day of the working relationship. Things like help-desk tickets will typically not make their way to the vCIO with the exception of period trending on a quarterly basis. Instead, the vCIO will focus on the overall infrastructure and projects with significant impact to the infrastructure or workflows of the client.
Client engagement typically owns the more day-today relationship items, like managing the replacement of equipment as it reaches its life expectancy, managing software subscriptions, warranty renewals, and the like. They will also typically become involved in escalations from the help desk to ensure the issue is carried through to resolution as quickly as possible and that the client is fully informed every step of the way.
When client engagement becomes aware of issues that point to more strategic need, this is when they will directly engage with the vCIO. The vCIO will, in turn, be sure that the issue at hand has the necessary visibility with the right management personnel at the client. This close coordination helps the client avoid unnecessary expenditures that either may not be necessary or could be better controlled with the right visibility. The last thing any MSP wants to see is a client spend money on short-term fixes when a longer term strategic conversation may help the client make the best choices for how their technology dollars are being spent.
This is especially true when it comes to projects that cross functional areas. It’s always a shame to see one department pursue an IT project that could benefit other departments without their involvement. All too often, if left to their own initiatives, organizations will allow departments to pursue their own objectives. When it comes to IT, this can lead to all manner of applications and systems being implemented with a singular focus. Deep engagement on the part of the vCIO and client engagement with the entire organization can help protect against this and ensure that initiatives are evaluated for possible benefits in areas of the organization that may not have otherwise been considered.
DIRECTIVES FOR EFFECTIVE CLIENT COMMUNICATION
These two critical functions help ensure that the right people at the client are engaged with the right resources at the MSP. Every relationship is a two-way relationship, and this structure helps ensure that the right people are engaged and the right communication is taking place at the right interval. The cadence of client communication and meetings with key stakeholders is very important. It’s very important to map to what works for your client. If talking to the client daily doesn’t make sense, don’t do it. All you will do is annoy your client and risk not getting attention when it’s needed most. Talk to your client about this at the beginning of your relationship. Let them know what you have seen work well with other clients in their industry or of their size. Set the cadence based on mutual agreement and adjust as necessary as you gain experience with one another.
Implemented properly, the concept of client engagement/ client success and the role of the vCIO will ensure a healthy, long-term, and mutually beneficial relationship. In the end, that should be everyone’s objective.
MJ SHOER is director, client engagement, and vCIO at Onepath in New England. He also serves as immediate past chairman of the board for CompTIA.