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How Can a Mid-Market Business Recruit a CTO?

Ambitious mid-market or externally funded start-up businesses are increasingly investing in custom software. Very simply they want to seize new opportunities, to disrupt their markets, and to amplify their value.

This is driving the requirement for more commercially focussed, flexible, experienced CTOs (Chief Technology Officers) who can make a real difference. I recently had a discussion with Graeme Freeman (Co-Founder and Director of Freeman Clarke) about who CTOs are and why so many mid-market businesses are requiring them – below is the summary of our conversation:

Graeme Freeman: So, Martin, can we just start by defining what a CTO does in the mid-market?

Martin Davis: Well, the role varies a lot depending on what the company needs. But the key point is that a high-quality CTO is more than just the person who is accountable for the delivery of the tech. Of course that’s vital, but a proper CTO is widely experienced in business and new ventures and properly contributes to the Board.

Graeme Freeman: So is this an internally facing role?

Martin Davis: Well again that depends what the company needs. Sometimes it’s all about setting strategy and leading software development. A lot of time may be spent dealing with external suppliers.

But, importantly, a CTO should be someone who lends credibility to the venture. For example if there are investors or bankers the CTO has an important role in liaising with them. He or she needs to understand how they think and work.

The CTO may negotiate with suppliers, partners or large customers if necessary.

Graeme Freeman: Why is it getting harder to find CTOs?

Martin Davis: Great technicians who are also leaders and are tuned into business and commercial issues are very hard to find. The market for good people is always very tight, but it’s getting more difficult because demand from companies, large and small, is increasing.

Areas like fintech, proptech, healthtech and edutech are expanding and sucking up lots of great people. And all kinds of businesses are investing in custom software to separate themselves from the market.

The UK is a world-leader in developing new tech-based ideas in many industries and great tech leaders are in demand.

Graeme Freeman: So what options do business leaders in the mid-market have?

Martin Davis: There are really only 3 ways forward.

Option one is go to the market and recruit someone. This is expensive – of course agents or head-hunters charge a very large fee, and the truth is it often goes wrong because it’s very difficult to assess competence and technical talent. And partly because you have to ask yourself whether the best people are available on the market in this way.

Alternatively, companies use interims but they are really just hired-guns and their commitment lasts until they get a call offering them a higher day-rate. Their flexibility is very limited, if there is any lull or hiatus then they will expect to move on.

But our offer is unique. We have built a team of outstanding people, and they work for our clients on a flexible part-time (we call it “fractional”) basis. So they can be heavily involved during busy periods and when things are quieter they can reduce their involvement. They all have first class records, they’ve seen it and done it and we have tested and screened their experience.

They have the backing of our full team, we are completely independent of any suppliers and this is all we do.

Over the coming weeks we are creating a series of content pieces about CTOs, their role, how to find and recruit  them and the invaluable benefits they provide to a business. All of which can be found on our CTO Knowledge Centre page here.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Developing Custom Software? Don’t Hire an Interim CTO

As more companies invest in bespoke software, there is an increasing demand for interim Chief Technology Officer (interim CTO). This blog post helps explain the potential opportunity and potential issues.

Why build bespoke software?

Many companies have crashed on the rocks of bespoke software – it is both risky and potentially expensive.

Any project can go awry, for example an office fit-out can go wrong – but at least you can see what’s going on; you can explain what you want and why; and you can assess progress and issues with your own eyes. But none of this is true for bespoke software. It’s complicated and most of it isn’t visible. And developers are notoriously difficult to communicate with!

But, bespoke software can extremely be valuable – not least because it’s difficult to get it right. Bespoke software can allow you to do things better than your competitors, it can allow you to give you customers a higher quality experience, and to create new, high value services. It can allow you to scale your business without proportionate increases in costs. Bespoke software is intellectual property and it amplifies the value of a business.

What is a CTO, Chief Technology Officer?

A CTO or Chief Technology Officer owns all aspects of IT centred on software development. A CTO should bridge the gap between the business and the development activities and ensure the software delivers the business plan.

The CTO’s basic role is to understand the market need and commercial opportunity, and help develop business plans. And then to ensure the ideas are turned into working software effectively, in-house or externally. But most importantly the software must be well designed, well engineered, secure, properly tested and compliant with contractual and regulatory requirements. Finally the CTO ensure that all software is properly hosted and supported.

In order to deliver, an interim CTO must understand the commercial context properly. For example, for ecommerce they should understand external partners like Amazon, ebay and how search marketing is optimised.

As well as working well with the rest of the Board, an interim CTO should be able to deal credibly with external investors, advisors, partners and suppliers.

How to hire an interim CTO

Interim CTOs generally work on fixed term contracts, on a day rate basis. Interim CTOs normally find their work through agencies and are available at short-notice when available. They will expect their appointment to be full-time for the duration of the contract, and will generally work alone.

Freeman Clarke provide fractional (part-time) CTOs rather than interims as we believe the interim model lacks flexibility for the client and exposes the short-term interests of the interim. Our team make a long-term commitment to understanding a client’s business aims and have a long-term interest in the viability of their work. We can ramp up or ramp down so remain engaged with our clients on a flexible basis for the long-term.

CTOs can only join our team after an extensive and rigorous screening process, so we guarantee that our people really are the best in the business.

Visit our Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

If you’d like to discuss in more detail how a fractional CTO can benefit your business, please get in touch via our contact us page or call 0203 020 1864.

Hiring an Interim IT Director, Interim CIO or Interim CTO

Hiring an interim IT Director, Interim CIO or Interim CTO is made more difficult when IT is not an area of expertise for the existing Board. It’s difficult to know what to look for, and it’s difficult to know when you’ve found it! There is a huge difference between some who is credible in an interview, and someone who is actually capable of doing the job!

Describing the Role

From a naming point of view, the differences between IT Director, CIO (Chief Information Officer) and CTO (Chief Technology Officer) are confusing and there is no universal agreement. In all cases the role covers information systems and the underlying technology. It may encompass strategy, business process and management information, digital and online, and office and facilities management as well.

Generally a CIO might be focused on business processes, management information and business strategy. They will ensure effective operations and delivery of technology including infrastructure and management of third party service providers but they are less likely to be detailed technical experts.

A CTO will probably have a software development background, perhaps for digital projects including ecommerce and customer interactive systems from social media through to customer portals. They are often aligned with marketing strategy and understand how to fund product development, and may be able to represent your company in relationships with external investors.

The term IT Director is probably the broadest term. It generally encompasses strategic leadership of all aspects of IT and its usage in business. IT Directors should have experience of business systems, software development, projects of all kinds, and IT infrastructure and facilities. For simplicity we use the term IT Director to encompass all 3 roles.

Upsides to hiring an interim

Downsides to hiring an interim

Key questions to consider when defining the role:

  1. Who will the individual report to? To work across the whole company, to change processes and how people work, the person needs to be part of the senior team and may need to report to the CEO.
  2. Will the individual be responsible for your company’s Digital Vision? If you have plans for ecommerce or social media marketing then will the person be responsible for this.
  3. Do you need a supplier manager or team builder? If your IT is largely or wholly outsourced then this requires a leader with strong contract management skills who is very used to commercial negotiation and procurement. If your IT is largely insourced then your IT leader needs the personal style and leadership qualities to inspire and build a team.
  4. Is the plan for major projects? The mindset and attitude of a leader who drives change is quite different to the person who oversees a steady-state.
  5. Is there is already strong technical management in place, or IT infrastructure provision is outsourced to suppliers who have proven themselves technically capable? Or do you need a technical leader to provide technical vision and oversight?
  6. Does your business include complicated processes and no existing senior leaders with time to address issues?
  7. Is there a clear need for good data management or good management information, or are these issues already covered off by existing roles?

Personal Fit

Cultural fit – If the person doesn’t fit in to your culture, then they’re never going to work. People don’t change their culture so you need to find an IT Director that fits your culture otherwise, in the long run, it won’t work. Do you feel they are at home I your business? If not then they’re not right for you.

Understandable – as the CEO, you need to be able to understand them and they need to be able to translate your business requirements in to technology solutions. They must be able to explain complex technology concepts in ways that you can understand and to demonstrate why, in business terms, what they’re suggesting should get the go-ahead. If they just talk gobblygook all day long, you’re going to fall out quickly.

Delivery Focused – IT projects have a reputation for always being late and never delivering what was expected. That’s because it’s hard and it needs focus and attention. So, it’s important that your IT Director has a proven track record of delivering successful projects that have made a difference to their business. An interim IT Director will most likely be delivery focussed because that’s generally what they are measured on because they’re a short-term capability that delivers something. If you don’t have a load of things that need delivering, then perhaps an Interim IT Director isn’t the best solution.

Socially Adept – It’s surprising how many highly experienced professionals still can’t communicate with other board members or those further down the company’s hierarchy. But we all know most IT change programmes fail because of a lack of people engagement. So if they’re not socially adept, then they won’t be able to make the difference you need them to make.

Feel free to download and use this job description with our compliments.

At Freeman Clarke our people are more than just interims. We have pioneered the idea of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT directors, CIOs and CTOs. A fractional IT director feels and acts like any other member of your senior team, rather than having the short-term, narrow attitude of an interim.

We are the largest and most experienced team of fractional IT directors and we only hire the best in the business – fewer than 1% of the people who apply to join us are able to successfully complete every stage of our recruitment process.

Our people can work with you on a flexible basis, ramping up and ramping down as you need them or as projects go through different phases. We aim to be with you for the long-term, and our people will care as much about your business as you do.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

Subscribe to our Business Insights

Plain English board-level briefings focused on technology strategies to deliver competitive advantage and business success.

* Please enter an email address

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.