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Should startups hire a CIO?

While not all startups might feel like they need a CIO at the moment, every single one of them needs to prepare their long-term strategy

cio startup office meeting
Image: Unsplash

The current technology-focused market has pushed most startups to rethink their IT goals and strategies. As small businesses grow, CEOs begin to realize they can only wear so many hats—and when it comes to a field as complex and up-to-the-minute as IT, perhaps it is in everyone’s best interest to find a skilled and experienced executive tech lead that is able to drive the company forward.

However, many startups are finding a way around this by reaching out to IT outsourcing services, which essentially provide them with customized solutions regarding their specific technology requirements. But the question still remains: Should startups hire a CIO? Why? And when?

What’s the role of a CIO in a startup? 

A CIO or Chief Information Officer serves as an IT strategy and management leader within the executive committee of a business. Their goal is to use technology to transform internal and client-related processes, while also making the business “smarter” and more efficient.

CIO’s often have a STEM-related degree and work alongside other C-level leaders to coordinate technology investments. Unlike CTOs, which serve a more technical-focused role, CIOs bring value to the company through their technological experience in business management and operations.

In the past, the common startup CIO was deeply focused on housekeeping tech stuff. Today, the role is more directed towards building quality experiences, both for the business employees and its clients. This is done through performance management and collaboration techniques that facilitate decision-making and producing results. 

Every Startup is a Tech Startup

open office plan
Image: Dice Insights

There are no signs that our fast-paced digital environment is slowing down any time soon. In fact, reality points to the opposite. Chances are that no startup can succeed without a strong push from technology—just imagine a day at work without email, internet searches, or using industry-specific software programs. Would anything ever get done?

Startups no longer need to sell software or fancy robots to be a technology company. We use tech constantly, and not rooting and growing from its benefits is bound to leave any company buried by the competition. Today’s customers expect all products and services to have a tech focus. 

So, as a tech company, a startup needs everything from a stunning website and engaging online marketing campaigns to real-time dashboards and task schedulers that maximize in-house productivity. Whether we choose to believe it or not, agility and flexibility are what define competitiveness in the current market. 

Determining the “when” factor

Some startups hire a CIO from the very beginning, some look for one by the time they realize the business weaknesses on the IT side of things, and sometimes the actual founder becomes a full-time CIO. While nothing is written in stone, here are a few signs that will let you know if it’s time to start looking for someone to fill the role.

  • Systems inefficiency: If technology is not making your life easier, you’re using it wrong.  All systems used within a startup should integrate well together, and allow small teams to collaborate seamlessly. Otherwise, when growth starts knocking on the door and new employees come in, workflows might just become too inefficient and collapse.
  • Lack of Tech Vision: Innovation, improvements, and upgrades are more trending than ever. If a startup’s executives are not up to date with all that’s constantly happening in the tech world, the whole company might be caught off-guard at any moment. A forward mindset and a tech vision for the future are paramount for long-term success. 
  • Expansion challenges: Growth comes along with a whole lot of organizational challenges, especially for startups, which are normally on square one of data and technology management. A CIO might just be the way to achieve a quality process consistency, ensuring everything runs up-to-date, efficiently, and effectively. 

The Outsourcing Alternative

Office Tech

Every day, more and more startups are partnering up with IT outsourcing companies to achieve their technology goals. Why? Well, mainly because of cost-efficiency. The outsourcing of IT is considered one of the best methods to reduce operational expenses and at the same time achieve exceptional results. 

Through it, any startup is able to bypass lengthy hiring processes and get immediate access to a fully-equipped team of IT professionals led by a highly-experienced tech lead—which is just what a CIO would do. The goal of software outsourcing companies is to provide their clients with customized solutions that let them achieve their goals faster and more effectively.

For startups, accessing this world-class tech expertise is a major game-changer. In most cases, it lets them hit the market faster and with a better product that keeps the company on top of the competition. 

Does that mean outsourcing can fully replace the need for a CIO? Well, most likely not. While IT outsourcing companies can come up as the perfect solution for most types of projects, a CIO would still serve as the heart and soul of technology for your startup, and any company would benefit from its work. 

Final Thoughts

While not all startups might feel like they need a CIO at the moment, every single one of them needs to prepare their long-term strategy regarding technology. Even startups in industries like healthcare and education, where perhaps technology goals haven’t been the main concern, are looking to expand their technological reach—and hiring a CIO is the best solution for that. 

An IT leader can map out a strategic roadmap for the company, and ensure that your growing firm ends up with useful technological tools that provide powerful security and productivity improvements. Ultimately, this is what will determine how far a startup will ever get.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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