What are the benefits of a virtual executive?

What are the benefits of a virtual executive?

In any business, the ultimate authority – and therefore the ultimate responsibility for a business’ success – lies with the top layer of management. But as the business world becomes increasingly digitalised, the questions and issues that must be faced by leadership are growing more layered and complex and have demanded more detailed expertise and a wider range of skill sets.

The IT and cybersecurity skills gap in the UK and across the world, along with the inherent difficulties in adapting organisational infrastructure, makes keeping up with digital transformation a strenuous challenge for any business. These are just two areas where gaining and retaining experienced and quality executives is increasingly difficult. In the wake of Covid-19, the expected tenure of executives has become much shorter, leaving businesses to deal with a higher rate of turnover in upper management. Virtual executive officers (VXOs) are an emerging solution that could be just what any business needs.

What is a virtual executive?

A virtual executive is a third-party specialist who will provide strategic advice and leadership, and assist with decision-making at an executive level, without needing to be on the business’ full-time payroll. A contemporary C-suite can be expected to comprise the CEO, CFO, CTO, COO, CIO and CISO, and possibly more. Depending on the organisation’s size, employing someone in-house on the permanent payroll for each position is often top-heavy and inefficient as well as costly.

It can be difficult to find a viable solution to this. Consultants or interim executives are two of the most prominent options. While consulting services can suffice, their best use-case is for specific solutions to self-contained problems. It’s rare that a consultant becomes an integral part of a company’s long-term vision. Their roles are temporary and limited in autonomy. They are best used tactically, while the true executive’s role is strategic and ongoing.

An interim executive can offer everything that a full-time, salaried executive would, but they can be an inflexible and prohibitively expensive solution. Hired with urgency for short-term contracts, interim executives can only be cost-effective when the organisation expects to fill the role with a full-time executive officer (or virtual executive officer) before long.

Virtual executives cover more use-cases than either interim executives or consultants; they are outsourced specialists who can provide world-leading skills and knowledge to cover any organisational shortfall.

They are not full-time, but ongoing. This is not usually a problem since the executive’s role is more strategic than tactical, and he or she will likely have a full-time team that can implement the strategic plan. Each VXO will have several different client organisations, which provides the opportunity to gain wider knowledge faster than working for a single employer. This offers businesses a more versatile way of covering the skills gap without unnecessary expenses or inhibiting plans for growth.

Virtual CISOs and even virtual Data Protection Officers (DPOs) are the most common, but far from the only, virtual executive officers.

CXOs and responsibilities

Every organisation needs someone to handle top-level strategic decisions (CEO), operational management (COO), financial decisions (CFO), and to take care of the business’ technology and cybersecurity needs (CTO, CIO and CISO).

Sometimes an executive may be tasked with multiple roles. In most cases, the risks and difficulties created by having one person in charge of several executive roles will always outweigh the benefits. CIO and CISO roles give an especially strong example: the CISO role is growing in importance year on year, even though as of late 2021, 45% of businesses do not employ a full-time CISO. Cybersecurity and IT are frequently – and dangerously – conflated, with many CIOs taking on CISO duties as well. Without a full-time cybersecurity executive, IT leaders may find security taking a back seat to general digital infrastructure needs (there is an inherent conflict of interest between maximising technological efficiency and maximising cybersecurity). This is especially dangerous in 2022, where cybersecurity attacks are the single biggest threat to businesses worldwide.

Benefits of a virtual executive

This skills gap affects organisations at every layer, including the executive suite. The shortfall in experienced technical executives continues to increase and may become even worse as an after-effect of the pandemic through the so-called Great Resignation. The prohibitive cost of hiring established or interim executives and the increasing necessity of having dedicated roles in upper management are combining to form a gordian knot for many mid- and even larger-sized enterprises. Virtual executives, like Alexander’s sword, can be the simple, direct solution to this confusing tangle of threads.

With a scarcity in higher level executives, some firms are having to make do with a part-time top layer of management in multiple executive roles. This ultimately leaves many struggling with their digital transformations and CTOs who also handle CIO and CISO duties, for example, can only spend 33% of their time acting as CTO, 33% as CIO and 33% as CISO – but must still take 100% of the responsibility for each. Not only the stress of three different roles, but the expectation of three different specialisations falls on one person’s shoulders; and the effect may be burn out, early resignation and a repeat of the original problem.

A virtual executive offers a flexible and cost-efficient way for enterprises to access top-level expertise without losing organisational control or disrupting operations. Virtual executives become part of the board and integrate easily with the post-Covid boom in flexible or remote-work environments. They are an equally effective solution for short-term, project-oriented needs and long-term expert advice and assistance. Perhaps most importantly, they can reliably cover the skills gap in any company of any size.

Finding the right source for a VXO

Virtual executives are an integral part of OGL Group’s new Advisory Services, which offer the skills, knowledge and experience of the OGL team to help with business’ long-term strategy, decision-making and IT management. Advisory services can be among the best resources for leaders, founders and executives, especially those whose core skillset lies outside of IT. But finding and engaging the right advisory service can be a difficult task in itself.

Digital transformation is now an undeniable requirement for success. With 84% of medium-to-large enterprise organisations stating their digital transformation plans have accelerated due to Covid-19, a plethora of online services have appeared, all claiming to offer the perfect solution to your company. Finding a trustworthy service is key but knowing who to trust is a difficult question.

It’s crucial to establish personal contact with a potential VXO service provider. Look for one that will listen to your business’ needs and discuss solutions from a technical standpoint, not just a marketing one. If any service provider makes it difficult to speak to an expert rather than a salesperson, take that as a red flag. Any meeting with a potential partner should inspire confidence and give clear answers and potential solution pathways. Albumedix provides a good example, as the in-person meetings with OGL led to a successful migration of their IT infrastructure after Albumedix separated from its parent company. If you can trust the service provider, there is a good chance you can trust the VXO.

What makes a good virtual executive?

Any executive needs extensive knowledge and experience in their field. For virtual executives, this experience should emphasise diversity; they need to be able to bring the best of their expertise to a wide variety of situations and adapt to an enterprise’s unique needs. The best virtual executives bring all the skills you should expect from a full-time CXO along with the ability to understand a situation quickly and assess the best way to help.

If the best in-house executives are assertive decision-makers, the best virtual executives are master communicators. More than anything, a VXO differs from a contract or interim solution by working within, rather than for, the business.

A virtual executive may be working with multiple partner organisations, which means that time-management skills are critical. Virtual executives must show that they are dependable and responsive. If any issue goes unattended for long, it will destroy confidence in the executive and the service, so being a capable multitasker is an indispensable quality.

OGL’s Advisory Service

Ultimately, the responsibility for strategy and decision-making falls to the top layer of management. These duties are becoming more complicated and strenuous as the technological and cybersecurity landscapes continue to evolve and change with unprecedented speed. Even tech-savvy leaders can’t reasonably take on technical, IT and security duties without assistance, but it’s equally unreasonable for many organisations to employ complete, full-time C-suites.

Consultancy could provide the way forward for a business, but many current services have severe limitations in the help they can offer. Strategic advice and consultancy are invaluable, but if an organisation needs someone more tightly involved, responsive and continuous, these services can no longer offer the solution.

Virtual executives are a core part of what makes OGL’s versatile and broad-ranging advisory services unique. Once a partner business succeeds thanks to the industry-leading strategy assistance, and project consultancy and IT support, OGL’s Advisory Services can respond and evolve to meet the new and emerging needs. As the business landscape changes, an organisation may experience new struggles with the IT skills gap or responding to new technology developments; that’s where OGL can offer world-class expert CISO, CIO or CTO virtual executives as part of its advisory service.

Nick Johnson, Head of Advisory Services at OGL Group commented: “At OGL we work closely with our clients to create bespoke solutions that take the unique situation, short-term needs and long-term vision of the customer into account. Incorporating this approach into our new Advisory Service allows us to offer a truly comprehensive and adaptable solution for digital transformation, skills shortfall, cybersecurity or IT issues to any business at any stage of growth. Standard consultancy can provide a good solution, but our VXOs can ensure the solution is enacted, adapted as changing conditions demand, fully integrated with other business needs, and continuously successful over time.”

Learn about OGL's advisory services