XChange: VARs Need A Virtual CIO On Staff To Be True Trusted Advisor

If not, you should try to develop or hire one because having a "virtual CIO" can help solution providers earn enough trust to be a true business advisor, Scott Goemmel, a team member and consultant at 4-Profit, told solution providers during an executive workshop at XChange Solution Provider 2013 in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday.

"Let's face it. We're all middlemen who own nothing. We take other people's inventions and make them work," said Goemmel, who sold his managed services company, PMV Technologies, to All Covered in 2011. "We have to start understanding why this infrastructure is in place, what is the business problem we're solving when money buys a new server."

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But, finding or training your staff to understand that concept can be a challenge, Goemmel said. "Most of my people didn't care. The systems engineer just wanted to get the server up and running," he said.

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Solution providers should regularly examine their own business and be able to answer the question "What will your core competencies be in 2020 and what do they need to be?" Most channel companies now provide IT infrastructure -- "We supply it, install it and support it," Goemmel said -- while some dabble a bit in applications. But, most VARS struggle with providing business processes or knowledge and information competencies to customers, Goemmel said.

"You need to build some competencies that probably don't exist today but involve our customers evolving," he said. "That doesn't mean you have to sell [business intelligence], but you should know something about it. As an MSP, we got better when we [understood] what our customer was thinking."

Most solution providers now are chief infrastructure officers when they should be chief information officers, he said.

"If we really want to be CIOs to customers, we have to act like it, which means knowledge of competencies," Goemmel said. "Customers need to see more value. We always talked about being the trusted business advisor. But, some fundamental things have to happen before you get that trust."

For one, solution providers -- and all their employees -- should be willing to accept the transfer of risk from the client to themselves, Goemmel said. "Once you realize the transfer of risk, I guess that means we're accountable now, accountable for security and the performance of the infrastructure," he said.

In addition, VARs need to think more agnostically to become a virtual CIO to clients. You can't sell someone an Avaya phone system because that's what you sell if ShoreTel is the best choice for them, Goemmel said. "We all have our preferences and technologies we lead with, but the client has to view us as agnostic. The customer won't trust you enough until you get that nailed."

Goemmel said he conducted a personality and behavioral test on six individuals that he felt were strong virtual CIOs at different solution provider companies and found several common traits. They all share personal accountability, self management and customer focus and are results oriented. They also behave with urgency, like to interact with others and are competitive.

"This is a person that needs to understand why customers have technology. They don't need to understand how it all works. I believe it's not a technical role, but it's a role they evolve into. They're not going to design a network, and you don't want them to," Goemmel said.

One solution provider in the crowd noted that it's hard to find someone with that talent -- and be able to afford them -- at a very small company. Goemmel answered that an MSP doing at least $100,000 a month in recurring revenue should have the scale to bring a person for a virtual CIO position.

"If we're going to survive in this industry, you need to know how to scale. And as more players get involved, [customers] have to view us as in charge, which means you need to be highly intimate with them, with a chief information officer hat on, not a chief infrastructure officer hat on."