The CTO vs the CDO in a tech startup

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Hierarchy in a Technology Startup

There are quite a couple of executive offices that operate in a startup. However, among all of them, the office of a CDO (Chief Data Officer) is not always considered by most startups. This is because the office is yet to be generally adopted by many organizations, owing to the doubt that the role of a CDO in a tech startup has not been clearly defined. Notwithstanding, current reports from reputable sources showed that up to 60% of companies now have a CDO (Chief Data Officer), and the percentage is still growing.

“In 2012, just 12% of Fortune 1000 companies had a CDO. In 2018, 67.9% of surveyed firms already had a CDO.”

In this article, we are reviewing two positions that have been confusing quite a lot of tech startups. Many have asked if the CDO and CTO offices are one or two different offices in a tech startup. Well, certainly, a tech startup needs a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and at the same time, needs a CDO (Chief Data Officer).

Also, it can be said that CDOs are an ally for overworked CIOs.

CTO in a tech startup

The role of a CTO in a tech startup is clearly defined as the executive member of the company who oversees every aspect of the tech startup that has to deal with managing, handling/utilization of the company’s technical resources. A CTO is simply the startup’s technology architect, and this role is very important in any tech startup.

CTOs are generally accepted as part of the executive members of a business and many organizations clearly understand the importance of this role.

“A CTO is the highest technology executive position in a startup that leads the technology or engineering department.”

CDO in a tech startup

On the other hand, we have the role of the Chief Data Officer. This office is still confusing to many organizations. However, in a tech startup, the CDO is also a member of the executive panel who is responsible for enterprise-wide data management, governance and utilization of information as assets, through data processing, data mining, data analysis, information trading, business intelligence, advanced analytics, and other means.

Reports have shown that many organizations in different industries are beginning to adopt the CDO position, even though many are still confused as per the importance of this position, what it entails, and the actual responsibilities expected from someone leading the role.

“Being a change agent, and also a courageous communicator is truly important; CDOs should win the political battles to ensure that is data available for everyone in an organization. The main reason CDOs are required in most companies is because people are annoyed when they are unable to access the data they need to do their jobs.” Wendell.

“If you’re not the master of your data, you’re bordering on being reckless, particularly in the current climate. It’s essential to know what you did, what you learned, and what you’re doing about it.” “Businesses who do not appoint a data-savvy executive could create significant challenges for themselves.” Ian Cohen, global CIO at transport specialist Addison Lee.

The CTO vs. the CDO in a tech startup

Hopefully, the few points made above have clarified the different roles these officers play in a tech startup. Not to confuse you with the role of a Chief Digital Officer; this is also represented with the abbrev. CDO – the Chief Data Officer is simply in charge of everything that has to deal with data management, analysis, and exploitation in a startup.

As data is generated, analyzed, and exploited by business and startups on daily basis run into millions of terabytes, a CDO is needed for the effective handling and management of such big data. As we all know, if a startup’s data is not properly handled, the outcome can be very harmful to the tech startup.

“A CTO is the highest technology executive position in a startup that leads the technology or engineering department.”

The position of the CTO is clearly defined in a tech startup, and it does not infringe on the roles of the CDO. It is easy to say the CTO and CDO are two different positions on the board of executives.

How the position of the CTO distinguishes from the position of a CDO in a tech startup

CTO Responsibilities CDO Responsibilities
Handles all technical resources in a startup Takes charge of data governance and management
Leads the engineering and technology-related departments Leads the data management team and departments
Reports directly to the CEO Reports to the CEO, CTO, or COO
Build technologies to grow the startup Works with data in a way that’ll grow the business

CDOs are becoming prevalent: here are the reasons

There are lots of chiefs in organizations’ executive levels, where you’ll see the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Technology Officer or Chief Technical Officer (CTO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Analytics Officer (CAO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), and many more. Amongst all the chiefs you may have heard off, the Chief Data Officer is the only one that is not yet officially accepted by many organizations.

However, as the years go by, and companies are beginning to see the real importance of data management, and seeing that most CIOs are being overworked, which most times results to their inefficiency, the need for a Chief Data Officer is not becoming apparent and undeniable.

Especially in a tech startup where tons of data are being generated, analyzed, monitored, and utilized for various business needs, the need for a CDO seems to be very important. Also, not underestimating the responsibilities of a Chief Information Officer, the need for a Chief Data Officer is needed in tech startups.

Final words

Taking us back to the actual comparison – CTO vs. CDO in a tech startup: one position on the board or two?

The simple answer to this comparison is this: they are different positions; thus, they are two unique positions on the board.

More so, the CTO and CDO are expected to work in agreement to increase the pace of a fast-growing tech startup.

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