Introduction to Part 1

Fortium Partners Founder and CEO, Burke Autrey, joined Ben Wolf, Host of Win-Win: An Entrepreneurial Community and Founder/CEO of Wolf's Edge Integrators, for an in-depth discussion of Fortium's take on fractional technology leadership and how companies can: 

  • breakthrough executive hiring limitations and 
  • engage world-class technology leadership they might not otherwise be able to afford or attract

Ben: Welcome to Win-Win, an entrepreneurial community. As always, I am Ben Wolf, the host of this show, and we are going to learn from our guest today about how tech-reliant and tech product companies can get to the next level with an experienced fractional technology executive even if they cannot afford one full-time. And with that, I want to introduce our guest today, who I'm very proud that we're having here. 

He is the CEO of Fortium Partners (, which is the largest provider of fractional Chief Technology Officers (CTOs), Chief Information Officers (CIOs), and CISOs (Chief Information Security Officers) around the world. He has many years of experience as the Chief Technology Officer at multiple organizations, both on an in-house and outsourced basis. 

Burke: Thank you for having me, Ben. I appreciate it. 

How Fortium Started

Ben: Well, it's my pleasure. I'm very happy to be able to have you on. If you can, give a quick two-minute background intro and how that brings you to where you are today.

Burke: I appreciate that. That's a good story. So, I started out in consulting - Big Four consulting, although it wasn't Big Four at that time; I started out with a Big Four technology consulting firm working with companies. As I got a little bit older, after I got married and had kids, I realized that the consulting lifestyle, being on the road all the time, was not the best or most conducive to raising a family. So, I went into technology leadership as a CIO. But that consulting experience really stuck with me. So, I realized that the two worlds – consulting for small companies and medium-sized companies together can make a real difference. In other words, a CIO approaches a company like a consultant to see what's not working, fix those problems, make the company better, and then ultimately move on to the next company. That is essentially what happens in the technology business. 

Aside from that, I realized this outsourced way, or what we call a Fractional or Interim CIO, was just something that I wanted to start. I was doing what we call the single shingle approach. I was an independent, fractional, and Interim CIO and CTO. While I was figuring out how to scale that model as an entrepreneur, I came across an organization named Tatum, which was a precursor to our business at Fortium. So, Fortium is really version two of that Tatum technology leadership practice. Many of us from that practice came over to Fortium back in 2014. And so the launch of Fortium was really the culmination of all of that experience, both doing it on my own and helping start that practice at Tatum and growing that up to about 150 technology leaders there. And now we're at Fortium with over 100 technology leaders. So that's really the culmination of a lot of years of being in this business.

What are the Key Differences Between a CIO, CTO, and CISO?

Ben: Oh, yeah, it's obviously a huge practice that you built there. For those who are not from a primarily technology background, we use a lot of terms, and I used them in your introduction with CIO, CTO, and CISO. So, what are those three roles? What are the differences between them? I'll have follow-up questions after that. But what are the basic differences between those three terms, and how and when do we use those terms?

Burke: It's a great question because there's a lot of confusion in the industry. We run into a lot of times when people use those terms interchangeably a lot. Hopefully, after this, you'll have a different way of describing these. We feel like the industry often uses the definition of those terms that are delivered by consulting firms, magazines, search firms, and so forth. So, we feel like there really is a need for a voice in the industry - to be the authoritative voice - and with over 100 technology leaders and the huge community around us and other technology leaders that we know, we feel like it's important to define those terms. 

And so, to your point, the CIO, CTO, and CISO are really a triad of technology leadership. When we take technology leadership as a bundle or as an umbrella term, technology leaders make up those three separate sections: the CIO, CTO, and CISO operate, innovate and secure. The CIO is most often working for a company that is primarily a buyer of technologies. So perhaps many of the entrepreneurs who listen to your podcast are entrepreneurs who don't lead software companies or they're not selling technology. If that's the case for most of them, if they have a technology leader at all, it will fit into the CIO category. A CIO is primarily operational or primarily overseeing technology operations or buying technology and solving company or enterprise problems with the technology. Not that they are not strategic. Certainly, the larger the company, the more strategic they become. But primarily, they're not building technology. They're certainly not selling technology. 

That's where the CTO comes in. If you switch over to the kind of company that's primarily selling technology, most of its revenues come from the sale of its technology. The technology leader in that company is generally going to be a CTO, a chief technology officer.  The chief technology officer is well-versed in product management, product development, security, DevOps, and hosting products that are for sale. Typically, the buyer or the counterpart of the CTO is the CIO as their customer. The two really work well together. 

Then both sides can benefit from the CISO who is going to be managing the cybersecurity piece of it: the policies, procedures, controls, and risk management. So, the three faces of an organization are to: 

  • operate with the CIO, 

  • innovate with the CTO, and 

  • secure on the CISO side.

That's primarily how we describe that. Quite often, you have one individual at a small company doing all three of those things. If you are buying technology, or if you happen to make some technology, or you do a little bit of investment in technology, sometimes that skill set falls within the CTO. Yet as you grow, the beautiful thing about fractional leadership is that you're able to have a fraction of a CIO - two days a week with a CIO, half a day a month of a CISO, and maybe even less of a CTO. Sometimes, those individuals are better. The individuals who focus on one of those areas and interact with them are extremely talented. And that's not to say that there aren't a lot of CIOs and CTOs that are able to do both. But the ones that really focus on their craft are really good at one of those three roles.

Ben: That's really interesting. It just makes me think of one of the situations when an organization is a developer of the technology, but they don't sell it to anyone. They just use it to deliver their service. They provide a service to someone. They deliver that service through proprietary technology, which they develop themselves internally. So, is that more of a CTO thing?

Burke: I would just call that a technology-enabled company. In other words, their revenue still comes from the provision of a service that just happens to be technology-led. It all depends; they could probably benefit from the CTO skill set, and oftentimes a CIO will do that. But the CTO skill set is about architecture, product development, and building that for a company.

Ben: Yes, that is what they do.

Burke: And oftentimes, that kind of company doesn't have quite the rigor that a software company would because they're not holding people's data. People are not relying on them for a critical function that's been embedded in their extensive workflow. The CTO is usually a little bit more well-versed in those subjects.

How the Fractional Executive Model works for Technology Leaders

Ben: Right. It's certainly enlightening, especially as you give more context to this. The next thing I'm wondering is whether it's full-time or whether it's fractional, what size organizations require fractional on the one hand or full-time on the other. What size is reasonable that could justify that?

Burke: So, it's a great question, and it's a difficult one to answer. If you use the traditional metrics that we use, the number of employees or net revenue, those are very dependent on the industry and the stage of the company. To make it simple, the solopreneur (the solo entrepreneur) is probably a little too early for that. Sometimes they can benefit from Fortium when they're building a software company, and they don't have any employees. Yet they just need to make the right decisions about the direction they take. Maybe their development is outsourced. So, you could say that the CTO part could be leading the outsourcing of development. We've got examples of that happening right now where the CEO is primarily not a technology person that has a great idea. They're building a software company; they've outsourced the development, and having a CTO, even an hour a week, can help them.

Ben: Do you have options like that? An hour a week?

Burke: The good news is: I'll compare that with the traditional model. The traditional model is one with a full-time hire, right? And so clearly, if you're a small company, oftentimes you're not going to be able to afford or attract the kind of technology leader unless it's a partner in the company. So, the model that we have is an alternative model to the search and hire model or full-time employment. What that means is instead of compromising on the level of experience that you need, you compromise on the amount of time. The amount of time that a truly experienced technology leader needs to make an impact on the organization is, in fact, a fraction of the time that maybe someone with less experience might have on a full-time basis. So, it makes a lot of sense, but in order to solve this problem for companies of all sizes, we scale down our offerings. 

We have virtual offerings at the low end of the scale. We typically call those one, two, or four hours per week - so you literally can get started at an hour per week, which is half a day a month. And then we go up into the fractional offering. If you get past four hours per week, you get into a day, a day and a half, or a week. And we have offerings for each one of those: one-to-two, two to three, or three-to-four days per week. Then we get into some full-time offerings as well. And you can see that a larger company is obviously going to scale towards the higher end of that. And smaller companies can still benefit from a smaller footprint and a little bit less engagement, yet still have a huge impact on their business.

Ben: When you talk about Fortium, I just want to understand when business owners may want to use something like this. So, what is Technology Leadership as a Service? TLaaS, right? What is that? Is it distinct from fractional technology leaders?

Burke: Yeah, it really suits us because we do more than fractional leadership. Sometimes we do interim, which is full-time. Sometimes we do very fractional, which is one or two hours per week that we call virtual. We needed to have a single concept that covered all of that. The key thing is that compared to a W2 full-time leader, a 40-hours-per-week type of role, it's a bit like the cloud environment: you're able to access the leadership that you need as a service as opposed to as an employee. This gives you a lot of options. As one of your guests talked about recently, you take away a lot of the downsides of employment - a long-term commitment, possibly making the wrong hire. You don't have those when you buy it as a service because it's just like buying cloud-as-a-service. You try it out. If it works, you keep it. You upscale over time or scale up and scale down over time. Our model is like a cloud offering for leadership.

Ben: What percentage of the clients, though, have just one person that you're providing to them- whether it's for a few days or for hours per week?

Burke: The majority are going to have one because there's always a specific person. There's a lead person, whether it's a CIO or CTO. Yet we like to say that it starts with one person, but it doesn't stop there, right? You have the entire firm behind you. And we're able to offer that in something less than 40 hours per week, which generally causes people to go down on the experience because most people work full-time jobs. We don't compromise on the experience, we just compromise on the commitment of time, and that allows it to be affordable, but yes, you're right. Usually, 90-100% of the time on our engagements, there’s one person that is the point person for them. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week.

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