The IBM Institute for Business Value published a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) study in late 2021 to summarize the role’s evolution “throughout a period of exceptional disruption.” IBM states that “the CTO has become one of the most strategic roles within an organization [and is] aligned to lead a new ‘Virtual Enterprise’ model […] fueled by a fresh post-digital approach to business opportunity.”
As Moises Nascimento, CTO for Banco Itaú, so aptly puts it: “When everything becomes digital, technology becomes the core business and the CTO becomes as key as the CEO.”
CTOs are responsible for managing an organization’s technology, science, and engineering efforts. They wear many hats, though their greatest benefits lie in their leadership and organizational skills. For companies with a dedicated in-house tech team (or a reliance on freelance developers and IT staff), a CTO acts as the liaison between senior management, department heads, and tech talent. The CTO is responsible for aligning the company’s goals with its technology resources.
Businesses that are looking to flesh out their technology strategies and create actionable implementation plans will turn to a CTO to oversee the process. CTOs bring cohesion, communication, and leadership to the technologies that power a company’s products and services.
As with so many senior level roles, the expertise, professional background, and focus areas differ in scope. Take, for example, a 2021 CTO survey which reported that 7 out of 10 CTOs previously held the role of software developer or engineer – but that tech leads, project managers, DevOps administrators, and academics all produced CTOs, too.
Typically, CTO roles are filled either by a co-founder (if the organization is a start-up) or by joining the company as a result of a direct hire. In a global study, only about 31 percent of CTOs reported that they transitioned to their role from within the business.
CTOs are responsible for ensuring that their tech team operates at the highest level. Their leadership (and motivation) is critical for keeping developers and other IT professionals happy, especially when you consider the turnover rate for top tech talent.
If your organization has an IT department or an in-house tech team, but doesn’t have a CTO, a fractional CTO is a great way to lead your team and retain your hard-won talent without having to add a full-time role.
And, if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that relationships can remain strong, even if they’re primarily conducted remotely. Hiring a fractional CTO to assist your team on a part-time, virtual basis doesn’t mean you’re compromising on the human element. Great leaders adapt – and CTOs are great with technology.
A fractional CTO is hired to work a fraction of the hours a traditional CTO would work. As a result, they essentially cherry-pick the most important tasks, projects, and responsibilities. You’ll find that some organizations refer to the role of a fractional CTO by different names:
Note: If you’re looking for an in-depth explainer on what a fractional CTO is, we’ve put together an easily-digestible resource here.
Fractional CTOs have the same level of education, the same depth of experience, and the same skill set as their full-time counterparts. Where they differ, however, is in their exposure to technologies, projects, and teams.
Full-time CTOs have the benefit of spending years at a single company, working with the same developers, overseeing the entire lifecycle of products and projects, and creating deep relationships between their team, their tech, and their business goals.
Fractional CTOs offer something else entirely. Because they work with companies on-demand, by project, or on a limited scale, they’re constantly exposing themselves to new things. Fractional CTOs are highly adaptable, quick to onboard, and understand what (and how) to prioritize.
“To be successful today,” argues Jonathan Naymark, General Manager of Codecademy for Business, “employees will need to learn new skills throughout their entire career trajectories[.]”
The nature of a fractional CTO position is one of high growth and new experiences, and thus facilitates a culture of continuous learning. If your company hires a fractional CTO, you’re not only gaining a seasoned professional, but you’re investing in your internal employees’ professional growth. A fractional CTO’s leadership will inspire your team, provide them with new insight, increase engagement, and ultimately help with retention.
Fractional CTOs can help your organization by taking on any responsibility you would otherwise ask of a full-time CTO. They’ll design and execute your technology strategies, manage your IT team, serve on executive committees, and present reports. They’ll also make critical business decisions – backed by CTO industry trends and time-honored methods.
Fractional CTOs play a critical role in managing risk and protecting your company’s data. If you don’t currently have a dedicated team to provide your organization with security sources, you’re not alone. One report shows that 42 percent of CTOs work for organizations with no cybersecurity at all.
Luckily, this is an easy fix. Cybersecurity can be outsourced, and you can employ a fractional CTO whose primary focus is IT security. Because a fractional CTO works on a fraction of the whole, you have the freedom to choose which areas of your business need the most attention. For many, it’s cybersecurity.
If your business wishes to dedicate resources to AI, you’ll have greater flexibility in hiring a fractional CTO than in finding a full-time officer with AI experience and availability. In 2021, the global AI market exceeded $327.5 billion – despite the fact that the majority of CTOs don’t have a team or department to devote to the growing cause. To compete in this area, then, you can take a shortcut. Rather than build out a separate AI division, for example, find a fractional CTO with AI experience who can lead your team.
Fractional CTOs are great because they have greater exposure to different industries, focus areas, tech teams, and projects – simply by nature of their job.
“The implementation of AI in many companies is still in its early stages,” says Lukasz Grzybowski, Head of Machine Learning and Data Engineering at Stx Next. However, interest in AI and deep learning is exploding, “in particular when it comes to [their] application in natural language processing, natural language, understanding, chatbots, and computer vision.”
The future, therefore, lies with CTOs with the flexibility, experience, and insight needed to remain unflappable in the face of unconventional work. Fractional CTOs, by definition, are unconventional. This role is unorthodox – it takes a traditional, full-time, 9-to-5 position and turns it on its head.
Fractional CTOs get greater exposure to more organizations, more teams, more talent, and more projects than if they remained at a single company for the entirety of their career. Your business benefits from this, and by teaming up with a fractional CTO, you’re positioning your organization to adapt to emerging technologies like AI, for example.
AI, cloud computing, and big data analytics may be the biggest technology challenges that your company will need to overcome in the immediate future, but technology trends emerge at an incredible pace.
If you’re interested in seeing how a fractional CTO can boost your business and provide critical stability and leadership, we’re here to help.