What’s a Fractional CTO and Why Does Your Business Need One?

by | May 4, 2021 | Software | 0 comments

Originally Published: Sept. 12, 2020

Updated: May, 4 2021

Starting and maintaining a business isn’t for the faint of heart. It is one hell of a daunting, time-intensive, and challenging journey filled with heartache, joy, and every human emotion in between.

When you’re starting as a new business, it’s easy to look at an Apple, a Google, or a Microsoft and think, ‘How on Earth did they reach that level of success?’

It’s tough to imagine that these massive corporations, some more powerful than countries, were once headquartered in garages and on the verge of bankruptcy. However, despite the obstacles and setbacks, they flourished thanks to some luck, an abundance of hard work and innovation, and finding the right people to fill the right roles at the right time.

As a team of passionate and hardworking go-getters, we understand the importance of these things first hand. We’ve stumbled into a handful of lucky scenarios ourselves and have spent years burning the midnight oil.

Aside from that, we have had the right people in leadership positions. Had it not been for the right people in the right roles, including our dynamic chief technology officer (CTO), Michael Crawford, we might have crashed and burned before ever taking off.

What are the benefits of having a CTO?

If you’re a business owner with the goal of eventually attaining world domination (or at least growing to serve a larger audience and increasing revenue), adding a CTO is a critical component to consider.

A pre-COVID era report from Gartner revealed that prioritizing tech was at the forefront of business owners minds, stating:

  • 31% of businesses surveyed explained that technology was their top priority.
  • 56% of CEOs surveyed shared that digital interventions had led to an increase in bottom lines.

In a world that has since been rocked and reshaped by COVID, the role of technology, as well as the CTO position and those who fill it has never been more paramount to the success of a company.

As reported by TechRepublic:

  • IT decision-makers have 30% more control of business decisions than they did pre-COVID.

A recent survey also shared that of those asked:

  • 41% said IT is going to have inclusion in more business-level meetings and decision making

Technology and some tech-savvy leaders were crucial in a pre-COVID world, but it’s now mission-critical to the success of your business.

What is a fractional CTO?

Midsize businesses need excellent leadership now more than ever, but they might not always have enough work or capital to bring in a CTO on a full-time basis.

Instead of skipping over this game-changing resource, think about the potential benefits a fractional CTO could add to your business.

A fraction is a portion of a larger sum. So, a fractional CTO works for a business for a fraction of the time, on a fraction of the projects, and for a fraction of the cost, compared to a traditional full-time CTO.

Basically, a fractional CTO delivers on-call CTO advisory services & CTO consulting.

When do you know it’s time for a fractional CTO?

Not all midsize businesses have the resources to take on a full-time CTO, however, they still need someone leading the technology charge.

If you’re struggling with any of the following, it might be time to consider taking on a fractional CTO:

  • You know your business needs to invest in technology, but there are no tech experts on your leadership team.
  • You have a handful of software developers that might be lacking the right experience or industry knowledge to make the strategic tech decisions for your company.
  • You’ve consistently struggled to meet company milestones or raise funds to grow your business.
  • You need someone to fill the CTO role, but you can’t afford to compensate a full-time CTO, or you don’t have enough work to employ a full-time CTO.
  • You’re working on a specific project that requires insight from a seasoned tech executive.
  • You’re in-between CTOs and need someone to quickly and temporarily, yet effectively, step in.

What exactly does a fractional CTO do?

You know that a fractional CTO doesn’t work a full-time schedule, get a full-time salary, take charge of all facets of leadership, etc.

So what does a fractional CTO do every day?

  • Crafting your business’s technology strategy, putting it into motion, making adjustments, and executing it.
  • Making sure your business is using the correct technology to reach its goals.
  • Looking at the “bigger picture” and making sure the product roadmap is being properly built.
  • Overcoming common challenges a software development team is consistently having issues with.

Tony Karrer, who has worked as a fractional CTO since 1997, most notably for eHarmony, gives us an example of what he’s done:

“Maybe they’re missing deadlines or shipping products with unacceptable levels of bugs. A fractional CTO can come in to help figure out what’s needed and how to adjust in order to turnWhat’s a Fractional CTO and Why Does Your Business Need One? around troubled situations.”

Hiring a fractional CTO may be an excellent fit for some companies while others might need a full-time CTO.

If you’re weighing your options but aren’t sure which choice is better for you right now, take a look at some pros and cons.

Pros of hiring a fractional CTO

According to Jonathan Stone, CTO of Kelser Corp, a fractional CTO is well equipped to take on a variety of challenges since they aren’t solely dedicated to one organization.

“The IT landscape changes so rapidly that a fractional CTO may have faced a given challenge a few months earlier with another client, whereas a full-time tech executive is limited to the one point of view of their company.”

Stone also shares that without a long-standing history in the company, fractional CTOs are less likely to get involved with office politics.

“Since their role in the client organization isn’t their sole source of employment, they can be in a better position to recommend courses of action in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way.”

A fractional CTO can also help interrupt company groupthink, which often hinders creative solutions to common issues.

Ashutosh Mishra, a full stack developer with Obsidian Security, expands on this.

“A fractional CTO can provide an outside perspective to your current technological strategy.

Consider hiring two different CTOs within two years based on one-year contracts. Your team gets exposure and experience working with two different professionals.”

Cons of hiring a fractional CTO 

Rod De Vos, CEO of Resolute Technology Solutions, shares some important things to consider when determining which type of leadership your company needs. It’s important to factor in the size of your organization, the current skill set of your in-house team, and the complexity of your technological needs.

Brad Westveld, co-founder of executive search firm ON Partners, suggests that full-time CTOs are more beneficial in situations needed to achieve long-term goals.

“Where Fractional CTOs are not useful is in strategic roadmap discussions with windows of two to five years — which is a typical timeframe in which most CTOs operate.”

De Vos counters that point, adding that it could be a mistake to underestimate the impact a fractional CTO can have on your company.

“On a part-time basis, a CTO can still lead a company’s implementations from a strategic standpoint & ensure technology roadmaps are kept up to date and are executing correctly.”

Fractional CTO or no?

There is no black or white answer as to whether a business should hire a full-time CTO or a fractional CTO. Take some time to understand what your business needs, your financial situation, and how long-term or short-term you’d like your CTO to be.

If you’re uncertain of whether a fractional CTO is the right choice for your business, we’d love to talk about our own fractional CTO services courtesy of our in-house tech wizard, Michael Crawford.

Connect with Atlanta’s top software development company today! 


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