Whether you decide to promote or hire, introducing a Chief Technology Officer role (or Technology Director, dependent on structure) can be an unnerving, drawn-out process. There are salaries to consider, potential equity negotiations, and most importantly: handing over responsibilities and a high level of autonomy for technology decisions for your business.

With that in mind, is there such a thing as the right time or the best time to hire a CTO, either full-time or as a fractional?

There’s no metaphorical sand timer counting down to the minute that you need a CTO. In fact, many businesses with a technology focus operate successfully without one in place.

However, if you’re a founder of a business and open to bringing in a chief technology officer ‘when the time is right’ due to limited area knowledge or looking to delegate responsibility then there are certainly better times than others to make the appointment, dependent on the likes of your sector, financial viability and your level of dependency on technology.

When you are the inhibitor

The responsibilities of a business owner or chief executive, particularly in small and scaling businesses, cross multiple facets and departments. A pain that many can relate to is the understanding that eventually responsibilities needs to be delegated to keep pace as your business grows.

As more businesses embrace technology at the core of their offering – a retailer pivoting to predominantly eCommerce, or a solicitors practice moving to online process management and documents, for example – the need for accessible technology expertise grows exponentially. This tends to start with a partnership with a third-party agency and having some internal technology ambassadors, with businesses looking to innovate further and beginning to bring technology development in-house.

When innovation begins to move in-house, many of the high-level technology decisions, such as deciding appropriate costs, strategy, and implementations will be reliant on your decision-making. In the short-term, this feels feasible, but each decision now can set a long-term precedent and begin the accumulation of technical debt, forcing technology in a direction that fits requirements now but will not suit potential future needs or scale.

Beyond the knowledge, we’ve also established that as a business owner, your focus is divided between multiple areas beyond technology. Decisions can be split-second, without full context, or rank low on your priority list.

It’s at this point that you naturally become an inhibitor to innovation, where an appointed senior technology figure such as a CTO can take control of decision-making and give direction with the future and scalability in mind.

When forecasting growth

As businesses grow, dependency on technology grows with it. A small team with a small client base is naturally more agile and can adapt to using Service B quickly when moving away from Service A, or if Service A were to become unexpectedly unavailable. With more moving parts in your business comes greater difficulty in implementation and ongoing technology and infrastructure management.

As part of forecasting growth, businesses should assess their existing technology (bespoke tools and off-the-shelf solutions currently in use) and review their long-term viability as they continue to grow, ideally carrying out any migrations and updates before increasing headcount.

Aside from this, growth in client numbers naturally means a greater amount of data processing being undertaken by your business. Ensuring that technology processes and infrastructure are capable of handling forecasted growth and security is a key consideration when planning for growth.

When forecasted growth is significant in terms of staff headcount, client numbers, or income, an in-house Chief Technology Officer is a viable option for auditing, implementing, and overseeing continued technology operations for your business.

When pivoting

Established businesses have built their client bank based on the structure and services as they operate now, but many are looking to technology to innovate on service delivery and move into new areas.

Going back to retailers, various household brands have pivoted towards a focus on eCommerce, subsequently shuttering their brick-and-mortar stores. Finance has evolved into a technology-first sector with the likes of Open Banking, prominent fintech challenger banks, and direct-to-consumer investing apps. It’s safe to say that no sector is immune to technology and many will become tech-focused.

If your business is beginning to explore pivoting in a way that will significantly affect your offering, data, or revenue then it’s likely that technology will play a part. Much like when forecasting growth, the same challenges apply in ensuring that your business is future-proofed against potential roadblocks and security considerations.

Moreover, pivoting opens up opportunities for technology innovation, developing solutions not before seen in the sector that you’re expanding into. This then is understandably a time that you may consider appointing a CTO to lead on the technical strategy and direction of any development that supports or leads your pivot.

In closing, there’s no timeframe on when it’s best to hire a CTO, and no metaphorical sand timer counting down to the moment that you need a senior technology figure. Instead, there are certain trigger points, such as inhibiting innovation, forecasting growth, and pivoting your business that make an appointment of maximum potential benefit.

For businesses beginning to explore the appointment of a CTO, Embeddable is a UK-based technology consultancy and fractional CTO that gives access to board-level expertise in the most cost-effective way for small and scaling businesses.