A chief technology officer (CTO) is a jack-of-all-trades in the technical aspect of a software development project. Depending on a project’s scale, the head of technology takes responsibility for different tasks, and their complexity varies. What remains the same is the CTO’s impact on a project’s outcome.

Every project, whether in a startup or an international enterprise, needs a CTO, even if this role has to be played by a senior software engineer with excellent organizational skills. However, not every team includes this position by default.

For example, a startup may not be able to afford hiring such a professional. A medium-sized company, meanwhile, tends to rely on the CEO to solve technical issues.

Someday, you may find out that you need an experienced CTO, but hiring a professional can take months. In this case, consider a solution like CTO-as-a-service (CTOaaS). Chances are you’ll introduce your team to a new tech leader within days without spending a lot of effort on hiring one.

Learn why having a CTOaaS is beneficial, in what cases it’s an optimal solution, and how to find a reliable service provider for your project.

What Is a CTO?

A CTO is one of the most versatile professionals in a software development team (among other tech jobs) because a tech leader can operate on different levels of management and execution. As the IBM report “The CTO Revelation” states, tech chiefs describe themselves as “organizational and ecosystem integrators.”

A CTO’s Tasks and Responsibilities

A CTO is a C-suite executive as the position title suggests. In an enterprise-level software company, the technical director primarily focuses on the technological aspects of the strategic business plan and coordinating the team. In contrast, in a startup, the head of technology not only supervises the entire development team but also handles some hands-on tasks, such as coding.

As you can see, the role of a CTO changes considerably, depending on the scale of a company or project. Moreover, in two different teams of the same scale, even if they are from the same industry, two CTOs can perform different tasks. Why? Because each company has its own unique set of challenges, business objectives, and organizational culture that shape the specific responsibilities and focus areas of its CTO. However, some tasks, common for tech leaders, can be distinguished to outline the position in general. These tasks or functions include:

  • Strategic planning: Taking part in business strategy development, creating and aligning technology approaches with a company’s long-term goals.
  • Fostering innovation: Ensuring that innovations are applied to a company’s business processes to achieve set goals.
  • Development process management: Providing conditions for meeting deadlines, achieving deliverables, and implementing effective collaboration among team members.
  • Project infrastructure building: Implementing and upgrading project infrastructure.
  • Risk management: Identifying potential risks and ensuring their mitigation.
  • Communication with stakeholders and investors: Conveying technology-related strategies to stakeholders and pitching ideas to investors.

Let’s sum up the CTO role in software development. In a typical project, the CTO is responsible for overseeing the integration of new technologies, ensuring development processes align with the broader business strategy, and driving technological innovation.

Key CTO Skill Requirements

Compared to a technical engineer’s responsibilities, the position requires a different kind of expertise. Tech skills, such as knowledge of programming languages, frameworks, and tools; proficiency in database management; and experience in project management and software development methodologies, are essential. CTO applicants usually possess these skills by default. According to “The Global CTO Survey 2021 Report”, 70% of tech executives were former software engineers.

Soft skills are also required of a tech leader who will supervise software development in general. The CTO should also be able to handle operational tasks and possess excellent communication, interpersonal, and critical thinking skills; strategic planning capability; and the ability to manage time effectively.

What Is CTO-as-a-Service?

Based on the description of a technical leader above, hardly any technical task does not involve a tech leader either as a manager or performer, depending on a project’s scale. There are several models of collaboration with a technical expert, and CTOaaS is one of them. Let’s clarify what the crux of providing technical management as a comprehensive service is, and what the advantages of this form of collaboration are.

Key Peculiarities of CTO-as-a-Service

To understand the peculiarities, we should learn what forms of collaboration are involved. Tech leadership-as-a-service can come in the following forms:

  • In-house CTO: A tech leader who is a part of a development team or a professional hired on a full-time basis, also known as a “full-time CTO.”
  • Part-time CTO: A professional who is hired on a constant basis but dedicates a fixed amount of time to a company.
  • Contract CTO: A tech expert who works as a freelancer during a set time period.
  • Tech consultant: A person who provides on-demand advisory services or gives advice when a company seeks a tech professional’s assistance in solving a particular problem or a series of problems. This type of tech manager isn’t part of a team but rather an independent professional who is often involved in providing one-time CTO services.

While the solutions above seem to cover all of a company’s tech expertise and consulting needs, all have corresponding downsides. Hiring a full-time tech leader requires a considerable budget. A contract CTO isn’t an impeccable alternative as well, since such a professional could be less involved in business processes than desired.

The other alternatives aren’t ideal either. It’s hard to expect a part-time CTO to provide as much dedication to a project’s performance as a team member who is immersed in a routine and completely eager to contribute to a company’s mission. The same can be said about a tech consultant who treats tasks as solving peculiar issues and hardly feels deeply responsible for achieving long-term business goals.

Key Advantages CTO-as-a-Service Provides

When you hire a CTO to become a bearer of technical functions as a complete set of services, you get an expert who is involved in business processes completely and responsible for the outcome. Even more beneficial is the amount of time and expertise the CTO dedicates to your project, which aligns perfectly with your project’s needs. Moreover, you don’t need to invest much effort and money in hiring a tech expert on a full-time basis.

Let’s summarize the benefits of hiring a CTO as a provider of a comprehensive suite of services.

  • Adaptability: CTOaaS can adapt to the specific needs of a project or company, offering tailored expertise. An expert is fully involved in the particular company’s development process.
  • Flexibility: You can use the tech leader’s expertise when you need it, whether you’re at the discovery or scaling-up stage of a project.
  • Cost-effectiveness: You avoid the high costs associated with hiring a full-time executive. (The average rate for a CTO in the U.S. can reach US$197,531 per year.)
  • Broad expertise: An expert offers a wide range of technical knowledge and experience, often more diverse than a single in-house CTO.

CTOaaS has emerged as a versatile and economical solution, especially for companies that need high-level technical leadership without committing to and spending a lot on a full-time hire. It provides expertise, flexibility, and strategic focus, making it an attractive option for businesses that wish to navigate the complex technological landscape efficiently.

Why You May Need CTO-as-a-Service

As mentioned earlier, the head of technology is involved in all processes related to technology strategy development, implementation, and management within an organization. The question is when you need to address the required expertise as a service. After all, you can hire a specialist on a different basis, for example, by taking a specialist on staff, outsourcing tasks to a freelancer, or resorting to offshore CTO service provision. So, why subscribe to CTOaaS?

CTO-as-a-Service Use Cases

There are plenty of use cases when employing an executive technology leader as a service makes more sense compared to other alternatives. Let’s relate them to development project stages and look at the CTO’s role in the context of each stage.

  • Discovery phase: The main question the discovery stage answers has to do with a product’s feasibility and viability. A tech chief contributes to identifying the app’s vision.
  • Building a minimum viable product (MVP): A CTO guides technical strategies, ensures an MVP’s feasibility, and leads the development team.
  • Project updates: A technology director is responsible for keeping a project up-to-date with innovations and maintaining a high level of performance amid an ever-evolving technology environment.

There are other milestones in a project’s life cycle when you may need technical leadership in the form of CTOaaS, such as:

  • Startup pitch: A CTO helps prepare a pitch and convey a startup idea to investors.
  • Technical audit: A tech leader runs project assessment and finds opportunities for improvement.
  • Talent acquisition: A technology leader takes part in hiring a team for software development and usually assists in reaching out to the best candidates.

To wrap up, you may need a CTO’s assistance in cases when in-house expertise isn’t enough and it doesn’t make sense to hire a full-time CTO. Hiring a tech leader in the form of a comprehensive service is more effective and cost-efficient.

Models of CTO-as-a-Service Collaboration

While CTOaaS ensures flexibility in terms of cost, there are several models of hiring and payment options to choose from. Here are the models of collaboration you need to know about.

  • Part-time CTO services: It’s up to you to decide how much time you want a tech consultant to dedicate to your tasks. You can start with, let’s say, 20 hours a week. That is optimal for the early stages of project development. As your project scales up, this amount of time will increase.
  • Project CTO: In this model, a tech leader manages a particular project from the discovery phase to project deployment and maintenance.
  • Fractional or interim CTO services: It’s your choice if you need advice on a particular issue. For example, you want to build an e-commerce platform or migrate an application to Microsoft Azure, yet your internal CTOaaS provider doesn’t have enough experience to handle the task safely.

Your choice of CTOaaS model should meet the specific needs and challenges of your project for optimal results.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the appropriate CTO service is crucial if you want to efficiently navigate the complexities of your software development project. CTOaaS, in particular, stands out for its adaptability, offering tailored expertise, flexibility, and cost-efficiency, making it a highly practical option for businesses seeking high-level technical leadership.

Ultimately, the decision to opt for a particular CTO service should be carefully aligned with your project’s specific requirements and organizational goals, ensuring that your technical strategy not only addresses immediate needs but also propels your business toward long-term innovation and success.