As an Independent Virtual CIO, my answer will be biased.  No way around it.  But I’ve worked on both sides of the fence.

A virtual CIO at a managed service provider (MSP) is a glorified account manager.  Their goal is to give you technology strategies, but always toward the selling of the implementation of suite tools that the MSP itself provides. And MSPs are typically tied to specific suites of vendors.  If you don’ton’t believe me. Go look up virtual CIO job descriptions for some MSPs.  I’ve seen it specifically listed.

An independent Virtual CIO will be technology agnostic.  Their goal (mine included) is to develop the right strategy that is tied to the business outcome as closely as possible.  Not shoehorning in a solution that doesn’t fit or one where you won’t use 95% of the bells and whistles that are included just because the MSP is a licensed vendor.  An independent virtual CIO does not have to bend to the will of his MSP bosses to sell more licenses or equipment.


As businesses continue to rely more and more on technology to conduct their operations, the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) has become increasingly critical. However, many small and medium-sized businesses cannot afford to hire a full-time, in-house CIO. That’s where the concept of a Virtual CIO (vCIO) comes in. But when it comes to choosing between an Independent Virtual CIO and an MSP Virtual CIO, what factors should you consider? We’ll explore the pros and cons of each option and help you make an informed decision.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a Virtual CIO?
  3. What is an Independent Virtual CIO?
  4. Pros and Cons of an Independent Virtual CIO
  5. What is an MSP Virtual CIO?
  6. Pros and Cons of an MSP Virtual CIO
  7. How to Choose Between an Independent Virtual CIO and MSP Virtual CIO

    1. The Need

    As technology continues to advance, businesses of all sizes have a greater need for the guidance and expertise of a Chief Information Officer (CIO). However, hiring a full-time CIO can be a costly proposition, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. That’s where a Virtual CIO (vCIO) comes in. A vCIO provides the same guidance and expertise as a traditional CIO, but on a part-time or as-needed basis.

    1. What is a Virtual CIO?

    A Virtual CIO, also known as an vCIO, is an outsourced technology executive who provides strategic IT guidance and leadership to a business. The vCIO acts as a part-time or as-needed CIO, helping businesses to develop and implement technology strategies that align with their overall business goals.

    1. What is an Independent Virtual CIO?

    An Independent Virtual CIO is a vCIO who works as an independent contractor. They are not affiliated with a Managed Service Provider (MSP), but rather work directly with businesses to provide strategic IT guidance and leadership. Independent Virtual CIOs typically have a wide range of technology expertise and can provide guidance on everything from hardware and software selection to cybersecurity and disaster recovery planning.

    1. Pros and Cons of an Independent Virtual CIO


    • Direct Communication: With an Independent Virtual CIO, you have a direct line of communication with your vCIO. This means that you can work together to develop a technology strategy that meets your specific needs.
    • Expertise: Independent Virtual CIOs are typically experts in a wide range of technology areas, allowing them to provide guidance on a wide range of topics.
    • Customization: Since Independent Virtual CIOs are not affiliated with a specific MSP, they can provide customized guidance and recommendations based on your specific business needs.
    • Non-implementors:  Independent Virtual CIOs are not the implementation providers of technology services.  This creates a separation between the strategy and frontline workers for better oversight control and adherence to the strategy.
    • Strategist: Independent Virtual CIOs are not staff to take your order.  They ask the right questions to help develop a plan for implementation.  Either for the client to oversee or the Virtual CIO to oversee execution.


    • Cost: Independent Virtual CIOs are more expensive than MSP Virtual CIOs as they are developing customized solutions for your technology footprint, a new initiative, or project oversight with the goal to provide a dramatic return on investment.
    • Limited Resources: Independent Virtual CIOs may have limited resources compared to MSPs.
    • Toolset Familiarity: Independent Virtual CIOs may not be as familiar with all of the tools that are implemented by your current MSP.
    • Lack of Direct Authority: An independent Virtual CIO will not have direct authority over the MSP staff.
    1. What is an MSP Virtual CIO?

    An MSP Virtual CIO is an outsourced technology executive who works for a Managed Service Provider (MSP). The MSP provides a range of IT services, including vCIO services, to businesses on a subscription basis. MSP Virtual CIOs work with multiple businesses and are typically experts in a particular area of technology, such as cybersecurity or cloud computing.

    1. Pros and Cons of an MSP Virtual CIO


    • Cost-effective: MSP Virtual CIOs are typically less expensive than Independent Virtual CIOs since they can leverage economies of scale to provide services at a lower cost. (example sell your more stuff)
    • Wide Range of Expertise: Since MSP Virtual CIOs work for an MSP, they can provide a wide range of expertise on a variety of technology topics that the MSP employs in its existing technology stack.
    • Scalability: MSPs can provide additional resources and services as your business grows, allowing for scalability.
    • Potential Staff Oversight: MSP vCIO may have the ability to correct customer service type issues with MSP staff faster.


    • Lack of Customization: Since MSP Virtual CIOs work for an MSP, their recommendations may not be as customized to your specific business needs as an Independent Virtual CIO’s recommendations.
    • Limited Communication: MSP Virtual CIOs may have limited direct communication with your business, as they are typically working through the MSP. This can impact their ability to fully understand your business needs.
    • Upsells:  A primary goal of an MSP Virtual CIO is the upsell of existing product suites.
    • Order taker: Strictly become the point of contact to give instructions.

    7. How to Choose Between an Independent Virtual CIO and MSP Virtual CIO

    Your business goals are the only thing that matters when it comes to selecting the right type of vCIO.  If your business is relatively static. The MSP vCIO is probably your most value-driven solution if you typically have the same amount of clients and the same amount of staff.

    If your business is dynamic.  You are constantly taking on new work, and significant ebbs and flows of internal resources, then you will want an independent vCIO to be able to obtain unbiased accountability to ensure things are truly aligning with evolving business goals.

    Regardless you need a senior tech leader at the table to help translate the tech to business.  I will update this post in the near future with a story of what can happen if you don’t have the right tech chops at the table and go it alone.


    About the Newsletter

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    John Barker

    John Barker

    John has over 25 years of technology experience and earned a Bachelor’s in Business Management & MBA.  He also holds CISSP and PMP certifications.


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