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The world of technology leadership is evolving, and new roles are emerging to meet the complex demands of modern businesses. Two roles that sometimes cause confusion are a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) versus a Field CTO. While both play crucial roles in driving technological innovation, their areas of focus and responsibilities can differ significantly.

This Q&A session with Field CTO Brian Weiss covers the distinctions between these two positions. We explore the vital functions of each, how they interact with internal and external stakeholders, and the benefits of having a Field CTO in your C-suite.

Brian Weiss is Field CTO and SVP at Hyperscience, engaging with customers, partners, and potential prospects in the field. A long-time technologist, Weiss has held several executive leadership positions throughout his career, developing deep expertise in structured and unstructured data, creating roadmaps for AI and machine learning product innovations.

Before Hyperscience, Weiss served as SVP of Technology and Services at InMoment. Notably, Weiss also served as the VP, Worldwide Head of Chief Field Technologists for Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Big Data Business Unit, and later as the CTO at HP Software.

1. What are the key distinctions between the Field CTO role and the CTO role itself?

In recent years, the trend of hiring a Field CTO has steadily grown and become more widespread across the enterprise ecosystem. Thought of as the “Battlefield General” to the CTO, the Field CTO provides support and direction to help CTOs achieve their overarching vision for their company. From building a strong customer ecosystem to aiding with product development, the two roles can appear to be similar on paper.

While there is overlap in the duties shared, there are distinctive tasks and job functions for each role. CTOs typically lead the product, engineering, and design processes, diving deep into an organization’s technical operations and strategy; meanwhile, the Field CTO tends to be externally focused. As a result, Field CTOs tend to take on nurturing customer relationships, enabling consistent product feedback that helps SaaS CTOs guide product and engineering teams for continuous improvement.

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2. How can organizations avoid confusion between the Field CTO and CTO roles so duties don’t overlap?

One way for organizations to think about the distinction in roles is to separate the two roles into different homes. The CTO role is rooted in technical development and research, while the Field CTO can live within the CTO office or on the sales side of the organization, supporting customers and partners. Either way, the Field CTO bridges the gap between developers, engineers, and sales teams, enabling better cross-collaboration between typically siloed departments.

The best way to ensure these responsibilities remain with the right person is to have a transparent chain of command for the technical and sales teams. Even though Field CTOs can fall under the CTO office, thinking of them as a sales liaison may lead to greater clarity between the specific role functions.

By aligning the Field CTO with the sales and marketing functions and CTOs with the technical aspects of the vision, organizations can ensure that departments can work closely together and align on business strategy.

3. What are the benefits of integrating a Field CTO into the C-suite?

The rapid proliferation of AI in the enterprise has won the focus of many CTOs. While this is fantastic for innovation, it can often leave CTOs strapped with little time to engage and work with customers who are using the product. By integrating a Field CTO into the c-suite, CTOs can focus on the technical aspects of the role, allowing their “second-in-command” to be the boots on the ground with the sales teams.

One of the many advantages to having a Field CTO is the ability of these individuals to speak the language of both technical experts and sales professionals. These teams can often be a odds, as developers and engineers are often focused solely on innovation, while sales teams are at the mercy of prospects and customers, shifting their focus on the efficiency of the solutions they sell.

Having a Field CTO serve as the intermediary between these functions enables better communication and collaboration, ultimately helping the CTO office drive technical development that benefits sellers and customers.

4. What role does the Field CTO play in the technical development of generative AI solutions?

The Field CTO has a unique role in product development thanks to the advantage of having deep technical knowledge and direct first-party feedback from customers and sales reps. This is particularly useful in developing AI-powered solutions, which can walk a fine line between providing forward-thinking technology while remaining accurate and providing users with the solutions they were promised.

Field CTOs have direct access to customer response, providing these individuals with a different perspective than what the developers and engineers may be privy to. These insights can help the Field CTO redirect the technical teams to better align with market needs and desired improvements to their solutions, ensuring customers are satisfied with the end result.

Thanks to their deep technical understanding, the Field CTO can ensure that customer feedback is communicated to developers at a more nuanced level, saving time and effort across the board to deliver customers with the best experience possible.

5. How can Field CTOs help develop technical skills for teams to ensure they meet industry standards?

Field CTOs have the opportunity to empower sales teams by equipping them with technical knowledge and skills to better communicate with buyers. Many sales teams may stop at a high-level understanding of the technology and rely on pre-recorded demos to help close the deals, limiting them from fully communicating the product's value. However, this method may not be successful if sellers cannot speak the same technical language as their prospects, especially in the B2B space.

Instituting upskilling opportunities for sales reps to learn these skills is a critical component of success for a Field CTO, as the role requires a strong relationship with the sales function. By either teaching sales reps the skills themselves or bringing in other teammates, Field CTOs can ensure teams can clearly and effectively communicate an organization’s solution and the value it holds to potential buyers. This ensures that sales reps are entering prospective conversations with the skills needed to effectively demonstrate and communicate the value proposition of their solution.

6. How does the Field CTO engage with internal and external stakeholders?

The Field CTO role focuses on providing value to external stakeholders, so knowing how to maintain these relationships is crucial for individuals looking to succeed in this position. Field CTOs serve as the point of contact for customers, partners, and potential prospects, helping to funnel their real-time feedback to the product team. Ensuring consistent touchpoints with external players allows the Field CTO to create an ongoing product feedback loop, which provides the support needed for a successful sales process.

While the traditional CTO role answers to internal stakeholders more than the Field CTO role, individuals will still need to engage with the C-suite and board. However, these engagements may happen less often than external touchpoints.

Regardless of frequency, Field CTOs must have a strong pulse on market trends, the latest technological advancements, and customer feedback to provide internal stakeholders with a deeper look into the industry to help with long-term planning.

7. How will this role evolve in the next five years?

As organizations adopt more generative AI capabilities, C-suites will put increasing pressure on CTOs to ensure technological success. With this rise in responsibility and workload, the Field CTO role will become increasingly more prevalent as CTOs feel the need for this “battlefield general.” More CTOs will find themselves searching for a partner to help them strategize and ensure customer success, leading to more Field CTOs popping up over time.

As technology advances at an unprecedented pace, the roles of CTO and Field CTO will likely become even more specialized. With the increasing pressure on CTOs to deliver cutting-edge solutions, the Field CTO will play a vital role in bridging the gap between technical development and real-world customer needs. We can expect to see a growing demand for skilled Field CTOs who can translate technical jargon into actionable insights and foster strong relationships with both internal and external stakeholders.

By leveraging their unique strengths, organizations can build a robust team of tech leaders who drive innovation and ensure long-term success.

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By Katie Sanders

As a data-driven content strategist, editor, writer, and community steward, Katie helps technical leaders win at work. Her 14 years of experience in the tech space makes her well-rounded to provide technical audiences with expert insights and practical advice through Q&As, Thought Leadership, Ebooks, etc.