Date posted: 06/10/2020 5 min read

The rise of virtual CIOs

With more firms seeking tech support to help them upgrade while working from home, virtual CIOs are coming to the rescue.

In Brief

  • The coronavirus pandemic has forced many practices to shift to remote working, requiring an upgrade to their technology.
  • Many accountants can’t afford to employ a dedicated CIO but also may not have time to properly research the best tech for their needs.
  • A growing number of firms are choosing to outsource decisions about their information technology needs to a virtual CIO.

By Tom Ravlic

Accounting professionals have had to adapt rapidly to a new working environment in which offices have morphed from physical to online spaces.

While there’s ample information out there about remote working practices and the best video conferencing software available, in many cases chartered accountants are stretched for time and looking for someone to do the research for them.

They also need someone to offer the tech support and change management support to transition outdated business processes.

“There isn’t one size fits all when it comes to this; every practice has a different set of needs,” says general manager, innovation at CA ANZ, Sunny Sirabas, who adds there’s a jungle of tools out there.

“Accountants often don’t have time to do all the research involved in finding the right tech for their business.”

“Accountants often don’t have time to do all the research involved in finding the right tech for their business.”
Sunny Sirabas, CA ANZ

That’s where virtual chief information officers (CIOs) come in – to help bridge the gap.

A growing demand for virtual CIOs

Usually the most senior technology executive within an organisation, CIOs consult on accounting technology for accounting practices of all sizes.

It’s a role not all organisations can afford to have but Alan FitzGerald, a principal at Practice Connections, has built a successful career out of being a virtual one, working with a range of clients

FitzGerald has noticed an uptick in smaller firms wanting to upgrade their processes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Working remotely has forced some accountants to consider re-engineering their processes because they have realised their current methods are slowing them down, he says.


Improving practice efficiency

Accountants are seeking advice on how best to improve practice efficiency, including getting the right software to ensure staff can communicate effectively with clients and have access to client files when they need them.

“It’s not the case that you have just one accountant working on one job at any one time; you have teams that work on jobs together,” FitzGerald explains, adding some practices are not set up to enable all team members to access files remotely.

FitzGerald warns that accounting practices need to be agile in servicing clients and adds that systems issues arising from working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic can’t be used as an excuse for delays in completing urgent work.

“A client can pick up sticks and go to another accounting firm just like that,” FitzGerald says.

Rob Pillans FCA, the founder and principal consultant of Planet Consulting, has spent 30 years working with accounting firms. He observes that there are practitioners who are aware information technology is meant to make life easier but are overwhelmed with the wide variety of choices available.

He says that partners and principals in accounting firms are finding it is a cheaper, easier and more comprehensive solution to outsource the thinking about their information technology needs to a virtual CIO who has monitored information technology developments.

Pillans adds that firms might already have software on their systems that can help them improve the efficiency of their processes, such as Microsoft’s Office 365, but they are unaware of the full capabilities of the software.

“The CIO, virtual or otherwise, is there creating awareness of what’s possible – sometimes what’s not – and it helps the leaders of the business understand how technology can support them in achieving their goals for the business.”

“The CIO, virtual or otherwise, is there creating awareness of what’s possible – sometimes what’s not.”
Rob Pillans FCA, Planet Consulting

Want to find a virtual CIO?

CA ANZ Catalyst is keen to work with virtual CIOs to add value to members in tech adoption, gaining clarity in the right conversations to have and which tools to access.

If you’d like more assistance in finding a CIO or advice about what tech software might help your business, email [email protected]