Vanessa Eriksson, Senior Vice President, Chief Data Officer, Nets Group, Stockholm, Sweden
ILLUSTRATION BY YOLANDA GALVAN
TITLE: Senior vice president, chief data officer
ORGANIZATION: Nets Group
LOCATION: Stockholm, Sweden
The convenience of digital payments means nothing if organizations aren't prepared to focus on the risks associated with transferring confidential and valuable data. As a company that provides payment services to 240 banks, 240,000 enterprises and 400,000 merchants in 20 European countries, Nets Group is well aware. It handles more than 8 billion transactions each year.
In 2018, after a period of rapid growth, Nets determined it needed to centralize its data functions within a chief data office to provide stronger governance, security and risk management. To lead the way, Nets selected Vanessa Eriksson, who brought 15 years' experience to the new role of chief data officer (CDO).
How do you see the role of CDO generally—and specifically for you?
I believe the role in general is underestimated. But when you're a new CDO, all eyes are on you. Everyone looks at you as a knight in shining armor who will fix all their data problems.
As CDO at Nets Group, I oversee the defensive and offensive aspects of both internal data and customer data. The defensive part involves compliance with regulations such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation. I have a security and compliance officer who works with the appointed GDPR leads and compliance officers ensuring that compliance gets embedded in our daily operations and doesn't become a one-off exercise. The offensive part involves working to create revenue-generating data products and provide insights to our customers.
What was one of the early challenges you identified in this new role?
An unclear data governance structure. The organization had already implemented data governance, but it needed a higher level of business acceptance and ownership. We're at the heart of the payments ecosystem, and that means we have a lot of data that is unique and a lot of people working with that data to deliver customer value.
One of the big challenges I noticed right away was that the data was spread out and in disparate systems. The organization lacked a consolidated view on master data, which is foundational. Having the right processes and controls in place brings trust to the data.
How do you fix that?
Create a sustainable solution. That means anchoring the data governance team's business acceptance and ownership, appointing the group CFO as head of data governance, and creating a data governance policy that formalizes the key roles and responsibilities.
We're taking a project approach to determine how data is used and managed at Nets Group. We broke the overall new data governance program into three projects, one for each of our service areas. For instance, we started working with the loyalty programs offered within merchant services to identify the business stakeholders, the relevant IT systems and the data stewards who set data definitions and rules.
What project management approaches are you using?
The project management approach we take is tailored to the area and scope. For instance, within the data governance and master data management area, we use a waterfall approach. Those projects need a very clear plan and stages around feasibility, design, building, testing and so on. But our analytics and innovation projects take on a hybrid approach. Some use the waterfall approach to help manage their interdependencies, while others use an agile approach because of the iterations of different phases and the flexibility that allows for changes to be made in the project requirements.
What's the biggest difficulty you face in managing this change initiative?
Getting buy-in for it. Data governance needs company-wide acceptance, and that's not easy to come by. It's not enough to have top management give a nod of approval; this requires evangelizing at every level in the organization.
How are you securing that buy-in?
With the data governance program, I'm starting small to demonstrate its value, to show the organization how data governance helps it and to establish the roles of data stewards. After we demonstrate its value to merchant services, we'll then expand it to the other areas. PM
What one skill should every project manager have?
People skills. You have to be able to motivate your team.
What was one of your first jobs?
I was a model in Mumbai, India. I was in several runway shows and on magazine covers.
What's a valuable career lesson you learned as a model?
Staying true to myself. As glamorous as modeling was, I knew it wasn't what I wanted for myself.