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Why Every SME Business needs A CTO, Just without the exec pay

Despite what some in the technology industry may tell you, not every SME needs an internal exec in charge of technology - even in this post Covid-19 world of organisations embracing digital transformations and moving to the virtual world.

Perhaps your business does not have the ability or requirement to exceed in technology within your category, or perhaps you’re a non-tech founder seeking funding and not in a position to hire a CTO yet. Maybe you already have your team but they could do with an in-partial mentor and guide, or a sounding board to bounce ideas off.

However, many large non-tech manufacturers have been hiring CTO level talent for some time now: such as the former Apple and HP exec Eric Chaniot's 2015 appointment at the Tyre industry behemouth Mitchelin, or Juan Jose Delgado ex head of Amazon Europe hired by the brewery giant Estrella Galicia in 2017.

What is appropriate for an SME? Can you have the best of both worlds, the talent without they exec compensation package, at your level of growth? We say you can!

Digital first world

As a result of Covid shutdown whole routes to market have been turned completely upside down. Businesses like Lindt Chocolatiers were forced to open an online shop in 5 days to maintain trading.

Having someone on hand that deeply understands technical requirements as well as extensive business acumen is invaluable in your ability to be nimble and reactive. Having access to key expertise in a digital world is more important now than ever and is essential for continued growth and trading as we move further into the online world. Business and Tech go hand in hand in these kind of reactive pivots; one without the other would be like going to war with plenty of armour but with no weapons in the armoury.

“Easy I’ll just hire someone”, Tech Industry Recruitment

The problem with simply hiring is that Tech talent is still in short supply. Hiring senior positions or CTO talent is something you don’t want to do in a rush, it may even have equity implications. How do you know the CTO you just hired is not a Senior Developer without the business acumen, or the opposite, a former IT Project Manager that does not know the technology well enough to know what new business opportunities are possible or the foresight to see what is coming up?

Some SME organisations and start-ups have already started embracing tech bootcamps to fill tech recruitment challenges at a junior level; choosing to employ less experienced staff and mentor on the job. The problem with that strategy, although perfectly valid, it leaves a massive gap in technical strategy and thought leadership if it is not backed by a comprehensive mentorship program at the CTO level and down. Without technical strategy the work to be done will mount in inefficiencies with the potential to overwhelm the team, leading to technical crisis with serious financial implications.

The Difference Between a CTO, CIO and IT Director

For those outside of tech it can be confusing to understand the difference between the CTO (Cheif Technology Officer), CIO (Cheif Information Officer) and the IT Director, but they could not be any more different. Don't believe us? We'll leave this Times article over here for further reading.

Many growing medium sized companies do not recognize the difference between the roles, which results in a merging of roles akin to a jack of all trades and a master of none. So here is how we define it.

IT Director:

The IT Director, the head of IT's primary role is to oversee the daily tasks and operations of the wider IT team. In other words, the IT Director is responsible for keeping systems up and running and includes oversight of support services, staff management, IT asset lifecycle management and likely some project management. The IT Director would usually report to the CIO.


Meanwhile the CIO, who typically reports to the CEO, is responsible for the strategic technology planning for the internal facing organization. The CIO develops and improves strategic planning, process, and procedure related to the organization’s technology. The CIO would likely participate in new technology initiatives resulting from business activities such as mergers and acqusitions and evaluates their impact on the business.


The CTO, or sometimes the Cheif Digital Officer (CDO), is traditionally an exec level position reporting to the CEO. The CTO role arose from technology companies requiring an external face to the company’s technology products that they market and sell. They are usually a highly skilled technologist with both the business and technology acumen. They will have the insight and foresight to direct the development of business defining new product development and the transformation of existing services to meet the demands of a digital first world.

This definition has broadened recently as we have alluded to earlier in the case of Michelin and Estrella Galicia to include all transformation activity where technology can be utalised for business advantage.

The CTO is as different from the CIO as the Marshal of the Royal Air Force is to the Admiral of the fleet in the Royal Navy.

How we can help Businesses that need a CTO's insight without the full time exec

To help, we are introducing a new service: “CTO-as-a-Service” (CTOaaS). This service allows us to act as a sounding board providing impartial advice, challenge your thinking and help develop your strategy. We can introduce the correct people to help, as well as research and guidance. We can introduce and implement key technology, and where necessary get down and dirty in the tech detail.

A good CTO has a foot in both Business and Technology. While helping your Exec team navigate business growth planning, team structure and risk management strategies for data loss prevention, we also have the skills and experience to deep dive with your technical team. We can talk them through the practicalities of DevOps culture, the merits and downfalls of micro-service architecture, or implementation strategies of Cloud first development and testing and more.

I need a little more help than that

If a greater level of help is required, we offer a weekly mentorship service offering a higher level of implant in your organisation customised to your needs. This could be from 1 day per week to full 5 day implant.

Why Code Tonic

We are proud to say we own other product businesses ourselves and have a firm grasp on business outcomes in any recommendations we make. You can be sure that if we make a recommendation we have probably already experimented with it in our own business. Our consultants are hands on and understand the detail, while experienced enough to have strategic business oversight – skills that are rare in tech.

We have worked with 3 person companies in the events industry, to SME’s in FinTech, all the way up to developing cutting edge mobile commerce applications for multinational manufacturers in their far east markets.