Does Your MSP Really Provide CIO Services?

  • Photo of Ata Akhlaghi
    Ata Akhlaghi

In the association space, it’s common for organizations to face a complicated set of IT challenges—a tight budget, a small staff, unique business processes that often require multiple systems, and an ever-evolving set of technologies.

As a technology consulting firm specializing in the association and nonprofit space, DelCor has a lot of experience working with mission-driven organizations that strive tirelessly to overcome these challenges. One area in which associations can really set themselves up for success is IT leadership. Having a good IT leader—and having the right backing to support them—is crucial to managing this list of challenges and finding solutions that work for your organization.

Having the right kind of IT leader is even more important since many associations outsource their IT management. But while you may get some valuable infrastructure planning support from your Managed Service Provider (MSP), it’s important to understand the difference between what you’re getting from your MSP and what you need from a strategic IT leader.


With over 35 years of experience working in this space, we’ve found that organizations are most successful when they align their technology with their business goals. To accomplish this, organizations need to consider more than just their networks, hardware, and software. They need to understand how their organizational culture, departmental collaboration, governance, professional development, business processes, and budgeting can be optimized to better allow technology to serve their business.

This is why large companies will often have both a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and a Chief Information Officer (CIO). While a CTO manages an organization’s network and makes sure their technology is running properly, a CIO provides strategic IT guidance to enable their technology to work in service of their business goals.

When an organization outsources their IT to an MSP, they are getting support similar to that of a CTO. The MSP manages the organization’s network, handle technical issues, and provide support and recommendations from a technical perspective, but they don’t provide CIO-level, business-oriented guidance.

Even though organizations need both technical and strategic support, most associations and nonprofits aren’t in a position to hire two full-time executive-level IT leaders. Instead, we often see organizations treat their MSP as their all-in-one IT leader—and we also see MSPs pitch their CTO-level infrastructure planning services as CIO-level strategic IT support.


When you look for outsourced CIO support, you want to find an organization with a holistic methodology. For example, we use The 501(c) IT Maturity Model (ITMM), our tool for measuring the effectiveness of the four primary functions of an organization’s IT: management, data, digital, and infrastructure.

In DelCor engagements, our CIOs review all aspects of our clients’ IT environments to help them align their technology with their business goals. Rather than simply making recommendations to address technical issues, our outsourced CIOs plug into the organization’s leadership team as trusted advisors to help steer the way the organization utilizes technology.

An outsourced CIO should push to improve the organization’s data management and governance, project management, user experience across all digital properties, digital workplace tools and collaboration policies, and relationships with vendor partners. Perhaps the most important function of a CIO is that they help leadership see the value in investing in technology as part of a multi-year technology strategy and investment plan.

If an organization’s MSP is their only IT leader, they’re likely to get guidance that’s specific to their IT infrastructure, but they won’t get much guidance in the other three functions of IT. To ensure they’re receiving IT guidance that covers all four key areas, many organizations will need to supplement the support they receive from their MSP.


This isn’t to say that organizations should replace their MSP with full-time C-suite IT leaders. Nor is it to say that MSPs provide inadequate support. Quite the contrary, MSPs provide an essential service and, in a lot of cases, are more efficient and cost-effective than hiring an in-house IT department to manage an organization’s IT infrastructure.

The takeaway here is that organizations shouldn’t lean on their MSP to provide strategic, business-oriented guidance. Likewise, if your provider is offering “CIO services” as part of the package, you should read the fine print—often the support is more akin to CTO services rather than CIO services.

Instead, you should understand the value that true CIO services can bring to your organization and invest in proper IT leadership across the board. Make sure you have access to all of the resources that you need to enable your staff to drive your organization forward.

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