Data Changemakers 7: Vanessa Eriksson, CDO Advisor Sweden, PwC
The Data Changemakers series is a set of interviews and interactions with people who have spent their careers working in or around data and data management initiatives. They have a vision for the data journey and we want to understand what they have learnt and how that drives what they do today. What are their war stories and what advice can they give others embarking on the journey?
Vanessa Eriksson currently leads the Chief Data Officer Advisory at PwC in Sweden. She is a true first generation Chief Data Officer from Telia Company – Eurasia and later at Division X – Telia’s Global Business IoT Solutions.
Vanessa is a data practitioner with 15 years of experience in Data Strategies, Master Data, Data Governance, Business Compliance, Data Security including Data Innovation, she holds a proven track record in influencing key decision makers. A member of Gartner’s Chief Data Officer Advisory Board 2016-2017 and a professional and experienced public speaker, Vanessa is dedicated in encouraging ‘Girls in Tech’ and ‘Women in Parity’.
Please describe a little about your own background and you ended up working with data?
It’s funny, I read the other interviews you’ve conducted and felt the need to be different but I can’t because working with data was also an accident for me! Beginning with a glamorous career sashaying the catwalks of Bombay, where I grew up, it was a chance introduction to the Global Master Data Management team at Ericsson that got me started.
I was surprised to discover that working with data got me really excited and motivated!
That’s the start to my long story.
Would you say that you are a business person or a technical person or something else?
I am a combination of both. I find it easy to understand technical systems, which I believe is very useful however the last few years have seen me being more focused on business goals and strategy.
What is your current role and its main responsibilities as they relate to data?
I lead PwC’s Chief Data Office Advisory team. My role is to build up the Chief Data Office area for PwC in Sweden, help clients understand why they need a Chief Data Office, what the Chief Data Officer can do and help them to create business strategies for the role to deliver
Why is the CDO role so important?
It has taken more than a few years of evangelizing, to drive home our message of “Data is important!”, “Data is an asset!” etc. And it’s only recently that we finally hear our mantras being echoed.
The business (i.e. top management) have begun to recognize and acknowledge the fact that their data assets represent high sources of insight into a wide area of functions like product management (innovation), compliance and operational performance among others.
That is why the CDO role has come about, to provide strategic guidance, create value from data and protect it.
In the past there has always been a struggle between CIOs and the Business. The CDO is a bridge between the two and can help to manage the constant struggle that can occur especially when IT has its own agenda.
What has been the most challenging data-related project you have worked on and why? What was your role in it?
It was a data governance project that I worked on way back in 2012 while I was at Telia.
I had not yet heard of the term “data governance” and was asked to get buy-in from the CFO, to run a data governance project. It was a challenge in itself since, 1. I had to first educate myself about it and 2. The CFO had a reputation for being demanding and strict!
I spent that summer studying all the information available before my meeting with the CFO. I was told that I would only get one opportunity to get it right and that I needed to be able to answer all his questions straightaway – which needless to say made me awfully nervous. But, as luck would have it, I succeeded in answering all the questions he threw my way and in selling the entire data governance concept to him!
Was the project a success and why?
It was a super success because we got very knowledgeable in the topic, we anchored with management and then we implemented.
The plan was that I would set data governance to a massive BI-X implementation but the CFO said “STOP – go to the business and find a case there”. This was a smart move because I was then able to identify a business case where we had major issues and demonstrate how having data owners in place would have fixed it.
This was far better than a theoretical BI project because it showed how data governance worked in practice.
What did you learn from the experience?
Most data stewards in the project were financial controllers and I remember a workshop held to anchor definitions, where we faced a lot of opposition. One of them roared at me and said “Don’t tell us what to do we’ve been here for years and we know what we are doing!”. I stayed calm and invited him to share his experience, and we got through it.
Perseverance was important then and it continues to be because in your journey you will fall down sometimes. You’ve just got to get up, dust yourself off and go back at it again.
What do you think are the key trends in data management today and how do you think it will change the way we all do business?
I am a bit biased now when I say that the Chief Data Officer trend is massive! They’re no longer the ‘new kids on the block’, they’re here to stay and I am confident that we will see a rise with more appointments. As compared to the UK & the US, the trend in the Nordics has not caught on as rapidly. However, in order to leverage the value of ‘all that data’, companies will, sooner or later, look at hiring Chief Data Officers.
There are three main areas that CDOs will have their sights set on:
– Data Analytics & Insights
– Data management & Data Governance
– Compliance – GDPR, Security & Privacy
Companies need people with a mandate and a high-level view to lead in these areas.
I’ve seen a trend of CDO’s being appointed purely for compliance reasons, driven by the GDPR. Brexit adds yet a new dimension to the equation – doing business with the EU will still require you to be compliant.
GDPR is key for most organisations right now and CDOs need to know their strategy and implementation plans particularly around legacy systems. Have they got it all covered? Companies have definitely underestimated the effort required to comply.
In many ways, GDPR has enabled the CDO role and made it easier to appoint them however there is so much more to do – for example Analytics and AI. We are starting to see appointments of the Chief Analytics Officers as well – these should or could report to the Chief Data Office. In the absence of a stable job or role description for the Chief Data Officer, this is a flexible or grey zone right now.
Within the innovation space, we hear a lot of companies saying that they want to be a ‘leader’ but they don’t know how to get there. Organisations are conducting a lot of PoC’s and PoV’s to understand how and if the technology will work. So I believe we will see a lot more innovative solutions being industrialised in the next 3-5 years.
What advice would you give to someone embarking on a large data-related project today?
I would not encourage anyone to embark on a large data-related project today! Today’s fast paced business environment needs a more agile approach. We’ve all been stuck at some point and have projects we do not remember with fondness.
We used to try massive programmes but organisations get tired. You need to create smaller, more iterative projects and show value often or you will lose the confidence of the business.
You are passionate about getting more women into technology. What qualities do you think women bring to the technology world and why do you think they should get excited by data?
I am a mother of three girls and I do everything to encourage them into technology. Why? Because we need more of a balance. Women can bring another set of skills and qualities to the table.
If you look at the Women in Tech Summit – it was a complete sell-out in Stockholm. Women get excited about technology and data and we need to encourage more of them to get into it early. “I don’t like Maths” seems to be something many teenage girls say but it’s not about Maths. It’s about passion for a particular area and driving forward to your goals.
I think women are curious and ask a lot of questions but being masters in multi-tasking they have the ability to be flexible and open to several options. Then again, I am often the only woman at the table; which can be challenging and I love a good challenge!
Who were your role models growing up and in your early career?
I’ve never had one single role model but growing up my mum and dad have always been in the picture. In my career however, I have been and remain very motivated by Debra Logan of Gartner. And in life, I am simply very inspired by women that have worked hard to get where they are and make a difference.
Is there anything you expected me to ask you today that I have not?
No I think we’ve covered it well.
What are the 3 words you would use to describe yourself?
Energetic, Enthusiastic, Eager
Those are my three ‘Es’. I always sit at the edge of my seat and say “Yes we can do that”
My manager once asked me if I ever said no and I said “No”…..”We just take everything and figure out how we will do that”. Maybe it’s not the best advice for someone else but it has always worked for me!