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Staying ahead of the curve: Why small businesses need a virtual CIO

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In today’s digital age, managing an organisation’s IT infrastructure is an increasingly complex challenge. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in particular can find the implementation of new standards, technologies and regulations such as the GDPR daunting. This is why a growing number of SMEs now rely on outsourced IT support.

Having recognised that they simply cannot keep pace with the manifold and rapid technology advancements on their own, they turn to external IT experts who provide managed services on an ongoing basis. Sometimes, the Managed Service Provider (MSP) even takes on the role of a virtual CIO for their client.

Digitalisation has fast become the buzzword in all industry sectors. Information and data – and how to turn them into the right decisions – are the holy grail of business success, but many SMEs lack the resources to hire a full-time employee devoted to this. Their hands are often tied due to limited resources and a lack of internal expertise, but they need to keep up with the fast-paced progress nevertheless: exploiting the new capabilities of connected technologies, capitalising on the Internet of Things, choosing and managing the best network and cloud services and defending themselves against ever-changing cyber threats.

With so many diverse tasks to juggle, it’s no wonder then that more and more smaller organisations are turning to Managed Service Providers as their trusted partners. Not only have MSPs become more sophisticated in how they foresee, adapt to and support their clients’ needs. New technology is also helping them deliver services and solutions with enterprise-grade features that are, at the same time, straightforward to use and cost-effective enough for the SME market.

A cost-saving solution

In fact, hiring an MSP to become their virtual CIO could be the solution to many SMEs’ technology woes. As their clients’ virtual CIOs, service providers can play a role very similar to that of a conventional, in-house CIO – but because they are made up of bigger teams of IT experts, they offer more extensive knowledge, skills and brainpower.

What’s more, a virtual CIO will provide this vital service at a fraction of the cost of his full-time in-house equivalent. MSPs with their dedicated customer support teams can offer assistance around the clock. When IT issues do crop up, they have both the expertise and experience to remedy them quickly and efficiently, helping their clients keep their business up and running at all times. This results in fewer disruptions, more productivity, happier customers and last but not least, a boost to the bottom line.

Managing risk

Some SMEs operate under the illusion that they are too small to become the target of a cyber-attack. The truth is that they are easy prey for hackers as they tend to maintain less sophisticated and sometimes even out-dated cyber defences. This is why every business, no matter how small, needs a strategy to prepare for, deal with, and eliminate the risks that could lead to security breaches.

Ransomware is the most common malware threat to SMEs and makes up a significant percentage of attacks. Datto’s most recent European State of the Channel Ransomware Report, for example, found that 61 per cent European MSPs reported ransomware attacks against their SME clients, and 19 per cent of MSPs saw their clients suffer multiple attacks in one single day. And Strategy Analytics reports that on average, two in five SMEs say they’ve fallen victim to an attack – with those who don’t outsource their IT services more at risk.

These numbers illustrate the extent of the threat. What they don’t show is just how crippling an attack can be for an SME. Not only is the average ransom requested increasing – it now stands at around £2,000 – but the associated system downtime from ransomware hits small organisations even harder. According to Datto’s research, downtime related to such attacks costs European businesses around £107,956 on average, an eye-watering 53 times more than the average ransom requested in 2019.

An MSP can help its SME clients significantly reduce this risk with state-of-the-art cyber protection, backup and recovery technology. Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) solutions are the best protection against data loss and ransomware as they allow users to quickly restore any affected data. While implementing a solid BCDR plan can be a headache if you have limited in-house resources, outsourcing this task to the MSP means it happens automatically in the background, so it doesn’t affect or slow down day-to-day operations.

A boost for innovation

Today, even organisations without their own development labs can tap into resources that have a real potential to transform their business, from innovative cloud services and smart connected devices to data analytics and artificial intelligence. However, many aren’t sure how to take full advantage of this. This is because usually, the business owner within an SME is the one who makes the technology decisions. This person is also in charge of a plethora of other roles including administration, finance, HR, customer relations, marketing and sales.

With such an overwhelming number of tasks on their plate, it’s not surprising that many owners are reluctant to embrace major change. Implementing, upgrading and maintaining technology also requires a considerable amount of time alongside financial commitments – a risk many SMEs won’t take.

The good news is that they can still harness innovative technologies if they have a trusted MSP as their partner. A virtual CIO can advise on, deploy and manage a wide range of cloud applications – from communication and cooperation to project management, customer relations, social media marketing and accounting; all the SME needs is an Internet connection. Relying on the MSP to manage these applications will free up valuable time and allow the SME to focus on its core business.

While technology is complex and always changing, SMEs can rely on their virtual CIO to stay on the cutting edge of technology. In a constructive working partnership, the MSP becomes a crucial part of the SME’s organisation as a trusted adviser, a valued consultant, and a keen supporter of its business goals and success.

Ryan Weeks, CISO, Datto