Businesses Test Drive The Virtual CTO

Hiring the right CTO is integral to the success of a business that is expanding globally. Whether it’s a full-time, part-time or an acting-CTO, the wrong person in key company positions can cost a business thousands or tens of thousands of investment as well as man hours. This is especially true when it comes to hiring the CTO.

CTOs are notoriously difficult to hire, requiring a mix of talents; technical, business, interpersonal [able to communicate the technical drivers to the board], project management and leadership – and visionary too. Today, CTOs are multi-tasking individuals that aren’t just coders locked in some basement — they play a vital role in a company’s strategic plan and growth.

The hiring process, the time and budget, for such a high-ranking individual that manages staff, oversees budgets and reports to the board, can be a lengthy process and needs to be part of a longer-term corporate strategy.

However, a new and novel way of hiring the right tech-executive is being proposed by PTS Consulting, the global ICT professional services, managed services and resourcing solutions firm. The Virtual CTO service or a ‘CTO on-tap’ promises to deliver a CTO at the fraction of the cost of a permanent hire and provides you with a senior executive with the combined intelligence of hundreds. Firms have now been trialling the idea.

A virtual CTO might typically be asked to provide an independent view of an organsiation’s existing IT infrastructure and the operational processes before aligning it with the current business requirements. At the same time, the Virtual CTO will be expected to identify potential areas for optimisation, risks and investment and provide a proactive approach to implementing new processes and infrastructure, while still being sympathetic to any risks or costs.

With information technology generally falling under the responsibility of the COO, who normally has a limited amount of time, a risk-based approach to IT is taken – meaning everything is reactive and dealt with when things fail. Not the best way to run IT.

A good CTO is one understands the ambitions of that business, factoring in drivers and issues before translating this into a high level structured IT strategy and a budget that is going to be responsive to change.

And so far, according to users of the service it’s been a useful mechanism for providing a close relationship with a qualified CTO, who provides typically one hour per month (more if needed) to examine a business’ IT needs and develop a more proactive relationship.

Admittedly, some CTOs are better suited to an organisation than others but it all depends on what you need. Placing a CTO that is a good cultural fit into an organisation is still arguably one of the most understated and more difficult things to do. You want to ensure a new senior hire fits straight into the office and business culture.

Introducing the complete opposite might be disastrous and almost certainly going to be met with resistance. The idea of a virtual-person becomes more appealing. In theory, you could switch a CTO if your requirements changed or if you didn’t like the one you were working with – it’s just more flexible.

The virtual CTO function works well, especially in a world where there are many IT service providers – all offering very similar services. What happens is that the COO is under constant pressure, so the virtual CTO takes on the responsibility of choosing the right IT solutions for a business – as long as they understand the business and have knowledge of what competitors are up to.

Firms are being driven towards the idea of a virtual CTO as utility-based model with the option to buy additional resources on a project by project basis has become very appealing.

Ultimately, the mark of a great CTO is one that lets you get on with your core business, while it handles the direction of IT – that’s what the virtual CTO is for. Some people don’t need a CTO all time – just some of the time.

Steve joined PTS Consulting from Barclays Capital, where he worked for 12 years. He brings over 20 years of investment banking experience to PTS Consulting, having worked in various roles in IT, Finance, Corporate Real Estate and Strategic Planning. He is based in our Americas headquarters in New York and is a Group shareholder.