CDO interview: Why Brisbane’s digital chief is focused on advocacy

Why How Brisbane's chief digital officer is helping to shape the sunshine state's digital entrepreneurship and SMB community

Some chief digital officers have responsibility for the digital transformation of a brand or company. For Cat Matson, her responsibilities scale out to the transformation of an entire city.

As the CDO for the City of Brisbane, Matson is tasked with three missions: To improve the digital capabilities of Brisbane’s small business community; to make Brisbane more attractive for digital startups; and to develop and drive citizen uptake of digital services in both the private and public sector.

Matson joined Brisbane Marketing, the city’s economic development board, in September last year, bringing a solid background in entrepreneurship, small business and digital.

“I’ve spent the majority of my professional life in small business, either working in small businesses or advising small businesses, and I got hooked on everything digital as early as 2001,” she tells CMO.

“The role required a high level of digital understanding, a high level of understanding around the challenges facing small business, and a high level of understanding about the startup scene in Brisbane. And that sounded like the perfect gig for me.”

Matson says her role is not so different from that of the CDO in commercial organisations.But whereas their goal might be transformation in pursuit of commercial objectives, hers drives towards the economic development of the city as a whole.

“A CDO role is more strategist than anything else, and that has been my background from day one,” Matson says.

The role is aligned to the 2014 Digital Brisbane strategy, which aims to make Brisbane one of the most progressive cities in the world.

“The strategy’s focus on economic development is appropriate considering the size of the global digital economy and the Lord Mayor’s vision for economic growth,” Matson says.

Matson’s time involves upskilling her colleagues to understand the goals that she (and Brisbane Marketing) are driving towards.

“The communications part of the role has been significant, whether it is having people understand what innovation really means, or what a startup is and how they are different to other small businesses, or what all of the different innovation vocabulary means and how it is impacting everyday business,” she explains.

“So my role is more advocacy than other CDOs roles would be in organisations.”

One of the programs Matson has started is a partnership with the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Canada, giving Brisbane entrepreneurs access to its Entrepreneurship 101 live online entrepreneurship course.

“That is a 30-week course that we are offering for free to Brisbane’s would-be entrepreneurs so they understand what is really involved,” she says. “And that is the first program of its kind in Brisbane to be so comprehensive. We have 70 to 80 registered on that.”

Another initiative is Digital Brisbane’s Power-Up workshops for small business, which uses case studies and other resources to grow the digital capability of the city’s small business community.

Whether Matson succeeds in her role will be determined ultimately by the impact she can have in terms of growing the startup community, improving digital skills within small business, and moving more citizens to engage online.

“At the end of the day, digital is about enhancing human lives and human connectivity, so it is coming back always to what is it our citizens and our small business owners and our entrepreneurs want, and how do we help enhance the liveability of the city through a comprehensive digital strategy,” Matson says.

“There are still only a handful of cities that have a specific city CDO, and in my case I get to bring together all of that things that I love into one role. And I get to help shape the city that my kids grow up in, and that’s pretty humbling.”

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