The role of a CDO in a fast-growing tech startup

This entry is part [part not set] of 5 in the series Hierarchy in a Technology Startup

There are quite various positions that are important to be occupied by experienced individuals for a fast-growing tech startup to keep up with a good pace ahead of its competitors. These positions are critical and should be ignored or left vacant. The position of a CDO is very important in a tech startup company, and this article explains (in detail) why startups need CDOs.

CDO is the acronym for Chief data officer. Also, this same acronym (CDO) is used to represent the Chief Digital Officer in a company; the two roles are totally different in all ramifications. Anyone that assumes the position of a Chief data officer in a tech startup automatically falls among the executives of that startup company and has the power to make certain rules and regulations as per how the company’s data is handled or processed.

Most tech startups are data-driven, with many of them running on big data. However, not all tech startups believe they need a CDO, especially at their initial (small) state. Nevertheless, the importance of having an experienced CDO cannot be overemphasized. Yes, the company may already have a CTO – Chief Technical Officer, but there’s still a need for a CDO.

Who actually is a Chief Data Officer?

Simply, a Chief Data Officer is the person that oversees how a startup’s business data is being utilized to meet the needs of the company. This means that the CDO of a company is in charge of the following: data mining, data processing & analysis, information trading and other activities that have to deal with data handling within the said startup or firm.

Whom the CDO reports to, may differ based on the type of business. Mostly, a CDO is to report to the Chief Executive Officer or the Chief Operating Officer (COO). However, we have seen cases where the CDO has to report to the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Whomever the CDO reports to, is dependent on how the startup operates in its leadership levels.

CDOs’ roles are quite riskier and more technical than other offices. This is because a CDO deals with a lot of data, which if mishandled can lead to privacy infringement, data leak or data breach, and other penalties. A CDO comes up with analytical strategies that are meant to serve for business purposes.

Why a CDO role in a fast-growing tech startup

The position of Chief Data Officers is becoming prevalent, and many companies cum startups are already integrating the position into their executive hierarchy.

Apparently, every tech startup has a database and also makes use of various data on a daily basis. Thus, tech startups need to employ CDOs to help in data governance and management. Different research has been carried out by experts to ascertain that most successful organizations, startups, and companies all have a CDO in the executive hierarchy of the business.

As one of the executive members in an organization or tech startup, a CDO takes the responsibility to handle the company’s enterprise-wide data and information strategy. 2018 surveys from reputable sources have proved that over 60% of CEOs have reported that their companies now have a CDO. The percentage rose from 12% in 2012 to 60% in 2018. This alone can convince you that your tech startup also needs a CDO.

The role of a CDO in a fast-growing tech startup

Most notably, a Chief Data Officer will help the fast-growing tech startup to manage how data is derived, managed, and stored for business purposes. The CDO is also expected to be able to analyze the startup’s company data and derive handy insights from the saved data to come up with business strategies that will grow the company further.

The role of a CDO can be share into these major parts:

1. Oversees the strategic use of data in the startup

This is primarily the role of a CDO in any firm, not just a tech startup, or any other type of startup. A CDO is expected to distinctively handle how data is used in a particular company. Every other expected duties or role of a CDO falls under this major role.

2. Evangelism

Also, a CDO is an evangelist that interacts with customers and clients to reassure them of their data privacy and security. This is similar to the role of a CIO in a firm, but a CDO stands to be the better persona for this purpose.

Responsibilities of CDO in a fast-growing tech startup

As roles are different from responsibilities, here are the things considered to be the responsibilities of CDOs in the various companies they represent.

  • CDOs are to be data-driven and well experienced in big data management, data governance, and deployment.
  • A CDO must be sensitive enough to discover when new strategies are required for the effective handling of data within an organization.
  • The CDO is in charge of all other departments of the startup where data is being processed or handled. The CDO should motivate and assist everyone in the team towards achieving the startup’s goal.
  • CDOs must have a thorough understanding of business and data strategies, and how to design/implement them when the need arises.
  • A CDO can implement data privacy policies that are in compliance with various data protection regulations in different countries and regions.
  • Must have a keen knowledge of important apps and tools that help for data management.

Some notable Chief Data Officers

1. Philip Bourne – National Institutes of Health CDO

Philip Bourne - National Institutes of Health CDO

Philip Bourne is one the famous award-winning CDOs you’ll hear off in these recent times. He has worked with several organizations and served as the Chief of Data Science and Director of the Data Science Institute. Bourne is an expert in big data management.

2.  Usama Fayyad – Former CDO at Yahoo and Barclays Bank

Usama Fayyad – Former CDO at Yahoo and Barclays Bank

Usama is an American Data Scientist who co-founded KDD conferences and ACM SIGKDD association, which are both international organizations for Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining. He was the first CDO at Yahoo and Barclays Bank.

3. Zachary Townsend – Inaugural CDO of California

Zachary Townsend – Inaugural CDO of California

California has hired its first-ever chief data officer for state government, appointing 30-year-old Silicon Valley tech executive Zachary Townsend to the newly created position, the governor’s office announced Thursday afternoon.


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