Whether a company is directly related to technology or not, every business relies on technology to operate efficiently, build client relationships and grow revenue. As a custom software development company providing those technological foundations to many nontechnical companies, we frequently see a bottleneck with clients whose leadership doesn’t fully understand the software development process.
Of course, that’s to be expected, as our clients are focused on their businesses and are hiring us to handle the tech. However, building a product, regardless of its size, requires the right technology and product decisions from day one, and that requires close involvement from both parties. The product owner — the decision-maker on the client’s side — needs to be tech-savvy enough to work with the dedicated development team to ensure every business use case is addressed and every need is met. Several other technical decisions require client input both during and after the development process as well, and these decisions would usually fall under the purview of the chief technology officer.
So if a company is interested in custom software development, does it necessarily need a CTO?
We say yes. Every company looking to implement software solutions needs one tech-savvy person who can make essential decisions around the technological aspects of the software. It’s important to have someone on the business’s side who understands both the nuanced needs the system should meet and the technological aspects of meeting those needs.
That said, we understand that it’s not feasible for many small and midsize nontech companies to hire full-time CTOs due to both prohibitive costs and the challenges of recruiting talent for a high-tech job in a low-tech industry.
But what’s the alternative?
Find a software vendor who can play the CTO role.
We think that any successful project is an effective symbiosis of a reliable software development vendor who is fully committed to understanding the client’s business and needs and an open-minded customer who is willing to listen to professional advice. In other words, it’s OK to outsource the CTO role to your custom software developer as long as you find a vendor who’s willing to get into a committed, long-term technological relationship with your company.
There are many vendors out there who are simply executors that take the clients’ plans and implement them as written. But if your organization’s leadership isn’t tech-savvy — if you can’t afford a CEO to develop clear, effective system designs — then these vendors aren’t likely to be worth the investment. Instead, it’s important to find a vendor who’s willing to act as CTO, becoming intimately familiar with your organization and working with both sides to develop a solution that truly powers your business.
How can you tell whether a potential vendor is the right fit? The first question to ask is whether they are making an effort to understand your industry and your particular business. Before a vendor starts talking technology, they should be willing and eager to have in-depth conversations about your business needs and goals.
Once you’re satisfied that they’re willing to put in the effort to get to know your business, start probing their expertise, testing not only their experience but their willingness and ability to answer questions. Ask about options they see for your project right off the bat as well as potential hurdles they anticipate based on similar experiences. A good vendor will be able to answer those questions thoroughly, insightfully and in layman’s terms.
It will be important to them that you’re confident in your understanding of their approach and able to make informed decisions, both when hiring them and throughout the engagement. If a vendor isn’t willing to make the relationship collaborative, that’s a big red flag.
While larger companies may have their CTOs make all the technical decisions and hire vendors to simply create the code, smaller businesses that choose a trusted, holistic software development company to act as both CTO and developer can feel free to leave the tech-related decisions to the vendor. The right vendor can synchronize your business strategy with the current technology landscape and the latest, most innovative developments, creating the technological foundation your business needs to scale.