Should your small business hire a Chief Technology Officer?

Posted in Business and entrepreneurship.

With new technologies come new business needs, and with new business needs come a significant change to in-house skills requirements. While a non-tech focused business may once have thrived under the watchful eye of a small IT team, increasing use of digital tools is heightening the level of support, the level of management, and the level of tech guidance that a small business needs.

In these situations, it makes sense for small businesses to have an expert on-site, both to guide the implementation of use of technology in the right direction, and ensure that any technologies that are being utilised are continuing to bring value to the business. The question is, does a small business need to hire a chief technology officer (CTO) to undertake these tasks, or are there better solutions for SMEs?

What is a CTO?

To answer this question, let’s begin by looking at what a chief technology officer is, and the role that they typically play within a business environment. In larger organisations, a CTO will usually act as a ‘middle man’; they will bridge the gap (which can sometimes be quite a notable gap) between the business side of the operation, and the production side of the operation. A CTO is often said to be ‘bilingual’, speaking the language of the C-suite execs as well as understanding the needs of the business’ employees.

A CTO will listen to executive level plans, and put these plans into action using technologies that not only achieve the end result, but also streamline back end processes and meet the requirements of employees. While this is vital in large corporations, it perhaps doesn’t fit as well with smaller businesses. That’s because small businesses may not exhibit this ‘gap’; there will not usually be so much distance between managers and production teams, with the lines a little more blurred and many wearing multiple hats.

Small Business CTO Alternatives

In businesses of all sizes, there is often a heavy focus on job title. However, it’s essential to remember that at a time such as this, when in-house skills requirements are changing rapidly, there should be less importance placed on the title itself, and more importance placed on the function of the role and on ensuring that the right skills are available and accessible. This may mean that while hiring a dedicated CTO may be ‘overkill’ for some small businesses, it is still necessary to have the right talents onboard.

Instead of hiring a dedicated, full time CTO, consider creating a more hands-on version of the role; someone passionate about technology and guiding the business through digital transformation, but also able to jump into other areas of the business, such as IT or even marketing, sales, or administration.

Valuable skills to look for include:

  • A good overview of tech as a whole, not niche skills relating to single technologies
  • Forward thinking, innovative practices
  • Problem solving abilities
  • Commercial and strategic decision making
  • Flexibility and diversity, able to communicate at both exec and production levels
  • Leadership skills and the ability to train and mentor
  • Confidence to implement change and reshape workplace culture

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each small business to determine whether or not they are at a point where they would benefit from hiring a CTO. However, for those that don’t quite feel ready, ensuring that there is someone on the team with the right skills to guide digital transformation can be useful.