In-house Resource vs Virtual DPO

By EmilyGDPR | GDPR in Practice | 16 Aug 2023



When considering the resourcing of a Data Protection Officer (DPO), organizations have two main options: the in-house route or the outsourcing route. Each option has its pros and cons, and the choice depends on various factors specific to the organization. Let's explore the advantages and considerations of each option in alignment with the GDPR principles:

  1. In-house Route:
    • Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency: Having an in-house DPO allows for greater transparency and control over the processing of personal data within the organization. It ensures that the organization is accountable for complying with the GDPR principles of lawfulness and fairness.
    • Purpose limitation and data minimization: An in-house DPO can actively oversee data processing activities and ensure that the organization adheres to the principles of purpose limitation and data minimization, minimizing the risk of excessive or unnecessary data collection and processing.
    • Accountability and responsibility: By appointing an in-house DPO, organizations demonstrate their commitment to accountability and taking responsibility for data protection. The DPO can act as a point of contact for data subjects, supervisory authorities, and employees, fostering a culture of privacy and compliance within the organization.
    • Accuracy and storage limitation: An in-house DPO can help establish and maintain data accuracy and storage limitation practices, ensuring that personal data is kept up to date, accurate, and not stored for longer than necessary.
  2. Outsourcing Route:
    • Expertise and specialization: Outsourcing the DPO function allows organizations to benefit from the expertise and specialized knowledge of external professionals or service providers. These experts are well-versed in the GDPR principles and can provide comprehensive support and guidance tailored to the organization's needs.
    • Flexibility and scalability: Outsourcing offers flexibility in terms of resource allocation. Organizations can adjust the level of support required based on their evolving needs and the changing regulatory landscape, ensuring compliance with the GDPR principles without the need for significant internal restructuring.
    • Cost-efficiency: Depending on the organization's size and resources, outsourcing the DPO function may prove to be a cost-effective solution. It eliminates the need for hiring and training an in-house DPO, reducing recruitment and personnel expenses.
    • Independence and impartiality: External DPOs can bring an independent and impartial perspective to data protection matters, avoiding potential conflicts of interest that may arise within an organization. They can provide unbiased assessments and recommendations, contributing to a more objective approach to GDPR compliance.

It is important for organizations to assess their specific requirements, available resources, and compliance goals in light of the GDPR principles when deciding between the in-house or outsourcing route for their DPO resourcing.



In many cases, organizations opt for a hybrid approach, combining in-house resources with external support. This approach allows for leveraging internal knowledge while supplementing it with external expertise and guidance.

Ultimately, the choice between an in-house or outsourced DPO depends on factors such as the organization's size, complexity, budget, data processing activities, and the need for specialized expertise. Assessing these factors and considering the pros and cons of each option will help determine the most suitable resourcing approach for your organization's DPO role.

In-house Resource

Convenience of exclusive and ‘on-tap’ resource

Indeed, having an internal Data Protection Officer (DPO) can offer several advantages. The deep knowledge and understanding of your organization's personal data processing activities, systems, and processes can be valuable in ensuring effective data protection practices. Here are some specific benefits of having an internal DPO:

  1. Dedication and availability: An internal DPO is exclusively dedicated to your organization's data protection needs. They are readily available for consultations, inquiries, and assistance, allowing for prompt responses to data protection issues or incidents.
  2. Contextual understanding: An internal DPO possesses a good understanding of your industry or sector. This knowledge enables them to navigate specific data protection challenges and apply relevant regulatory requirements to your organization's context.
  3. Cultural alignment: An internal DPO is familiar with your organization's culture, values, and internal dynamics. This understanding helps them integrate data protection practices into your existing business processes and promote a privacy-aware culture among staff.
  4. Enhanced collaboration: With an internal DPO, you can establish closer relationships and collaboration across different departments and teams. They can work closely with key stakeholders, such as IT, HR, legal, and marketing, to embed privacy principles into their respective areas and ensure compliance.
  5. Training and awareness: An internal DPO can play a crucial role in raising awareness and providing training on data protection within your organization. They can develop tailored training programs and initiatives to educate employees on data privacy practices, mitigating the risk of non-compliance and fostering a privacy-conscious culture.

However, it's important to consider the potential challenges as well. Some of these challenges may include the need for continuous professional development to keep up with evolving regulations, ensuring independence and avoiding conflicts of interest, and allocating adequate resources and support for the DPO to effectively fulfill their role.

Ultimately, the decision to have an internal DPO depends on your organization's size, budget, data processing complexity, and specific needs. Balancing the advantages and challenges, as well as considering regulatory requirements, will help determine the most suitable approach to resourcing your DPO role.

Challenging role to fill

You're correct that finding a suitable candidate to fill the role of a Data Protection Officer (DPO) can be challenging. The requirements and criteria set by the UK GDPR make it necessary for DPOs to possess specific expertise, independence, and seniority within the organization. Let's further explore the criteria that need to be met:

  1. Experience and expertise: The DPO must have a strong understanding of data protection laws and practices, and their level of expertise should be proportionate to the complexity and risk involved in the organization's data processing activities. This requirement ensures that the DPO is capable of providing knowledgeable guidance and advice on data protection matters.
  2. Independence: The DPO must maintain independence in performing their duties. They should not have any conflicts of interest that could compromise their ability to act in the best interests of data protection. This requirement ensures that the DPO can provide objective and impartial advice, free from undue influence.
  3. Access to senior management or board level: The DPO should have direct access to senior management or board level within the organization. This ensures that data protection matters receive the necessary attention and support from top-level decision-makers.
  4. Over-reliance on an individual: While having an internal DPO provides the advantage of quick access to a specialist, it's essential to consider the potential risks of relying too heavily on a single individual. Adequate measures should be in place to ensure continuity and contingency plans when the DPO is unavailable, such as during annual leave or sick leave.

Given these challenges and criteria, organizations may consider alternative options, such as outsourcing the DPO role to an external specialist or opting for a hybrid model combining internal and external resources. Each ap

proach has its own pros and cons, and the choice depends on factors like the organization's size, complexity, resources, and specific data protection needs.

It's important for organizations to carefully evaluate their requirements, consider the available options, and select a solution that best aligns with their needs and capabilities while ensuring compliance with the UK GDPR.

Virtual DPO Resource  

Expertise and range of experiences/skills

Subject to selecting the appropriate individual or organization, a virtual Data Protection Officer (DPO) can offer notable advantages, primarily due to their expertise and extensive range of experiences. Naturally, one would expect a virtual DPO to fulfill the fundamental requirement of possessing expert knowledge in data protection law, as mandated by the UK GDPR. However, the most significant benefits of engaging an external DPO lie in the diverse experiences they bring to the table.

These experiences encompass recurring activities like conducting Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) and handling Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs), as well as expertise in addressing less frequent occurrences such as data breaches and interactions with the supervisory authority (ICO). Their broader exposure to developing and implementing processes appropriately can prove invaluable, resulting in time and cost savings. This becomes particularly critical when facing tight deadlines imposed by the UK GDPR and the ICO.

The value of gaining insights from similar projects and the exchange of processes and ideas cannot be overstated, according to URM's opinion.

Easier to deliver independence

The UK GDPR's requirement for "independence" can be seen as favoring a virtual DPO service, as it eliminates any potential conflicts of interest that may arise from performing other tasks or engaging in business activities within the organization. It is important to remember that the role of a DPO is primarily advisory and facilitative, and having an external resource supporting your internal team can often be the most effective approach to fulfill this role.

Resilience/ team cover

The extent of resilience benefits in virtual DPO services relies on the specific type of service, whether it is provided by a company or an individual. Opting for a company-based service can offer advantages such as access to not only your designated DPO but also a wider support team that can be available whenever needed. This support team can bring a broader range of exposure to various data protection management systems, additional subject matter expertise like risk management and information security, and timely assistance as required. Moreover, having a support team in place can also provide coverage in case the designated DPO is on leave or unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances.

Variation in skills and experience

When it comes to the recruitment and selection process for a virtual DPO, it is crucial to exercise caution to ensure that the chosen individual possesses both subject matter technical knowledge and the necessary soft skills. While many data protection practitioners may have extensive knowledge of the UK GDPR, it is unfortunate that some may lack effective communication skills, knowledge tr

ansfer abilities, and especially the capacity to establish trust and confidence with the board.


To be candid, the cost aspect of a virtual DPO service can be seen as both a positive and a negative factor. The pricing arrangements for such services can vary significantly, making it an expensive alternative for some organizations, while proving to be highly cost-effective for others. One advantage of a virtual DPO is the ability to upscale or downscale the resource according to your specific needs. This flexibility allows you to utilize the resource only when necessary.

Given the DPO's role as an independent authority for data protection, having an external party fulfilling this role offers additional benefits in terms of oversight, guidance, and ensuring compliance. This external oversight helps to ensure that your organization is following the right practices to maintain compliance. Typically, a virtual DPO is most cost-effective when your processing requirements necessitate independent oversight, advice, guidance, and expertise, but a full-time, in-house role is not justified.


Or is a hybrid the best solution?

When we initially discussed the options of internal versus external for a DPO, it may have seemed like a simple binary choice. However, based on URM's experience, this approach oversimplifies the matter, and a hybrid solution often proves to be the most effective. URM has found a model that works exceptionally well, involving an external virtual DPO who meets all the requirements of the UK GDPR, such as possessing expert legal knowledge, ensuring independence, monitoring compliance, acting as a primary point of contact, and providing effective oversight. This external DPO works closely with and mentors one or more internal data protection (DP) champions.

By implementing this model, the virtual DPO can help enhance the knowledge and skills of the internal DP champions. This includes tasks such as conducting Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs), delivering training and awareness sessions, handling Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs), and more. Through this collaborative process, skills and expertise can be disseminated throughout the organization, creating a cascading effect.


While there may not be a regulatory requirement for many organizations to have a full-time Data Protection Officer (DPO), it can be strongly argued that the benefits of having one outweigh not having this role in place. Additionally, for many organizations, employing a virtual DPO on a part-time or virtual basis can be the most efficient and effective use of resources. As we discussed earlier, the requirements outlined by the UK GDPR for a DPO align well with an external role, where an independent and knowledgeable resource can provide guidance to the board and ensure effective oversight.

Combining this external DPO role with a mentoring aspect, where the DPO supports and enhances the skills of local data champions, allows for extensive knowledge transfer and can prove to be a powerful and cost-effective solution. By leveraging the wide range of experiences brought by the virtual DPO, organizations can maximize their data protection capabilities while optimizing resource allocation.


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I'm a longstanding GDPR/data protection/privacy specialist with huge experience of both in-house and private practice, gained working across a range of sectors including hi-tech science, media, publishing, higher education and IT.

GDPR in Practice
GDPR in Practice

I'm a longstanding GDPR/data protection/privacy specialist with huge experience of both in-house and private practice, gained working across a range of sectors including hi-tech science, media, publishing, higher education and IT. Here I'm sharing my thoughts on GDPR.

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