From One Chief Data Officer to Another - meet Telenor Connexion's Robert Bellwaldius and Vanessa Eriksson from PwC

Vanessa Eriksson, PwC, och Robert Bellwaldius, Telenor Connexion

As I continue to research the trends of the Chief Data Officer in the Nordics, it becomes evident that the office of the Chief Data Officer and the appointment of the Chief Data Officer have not really taken off in the Nordics as predicted by the data pundits.  And while that continues to be an uphill climb for several organisations, there is good news!  

As PwC's Chief Data Officer Advisor, my investigation to understand "whose taking the lead in driving data agendas, what are they called, where are they located, and why aren’t they visible on C-level?", brings me to a revelation that while a Chief Data Officer might not be appointed, we have incredible CEO's and other CxO's rolling up their sleeves, getting organizations very data driven and I am reminded of Peter Gabriel's 'digging in the dirt'…! 

Join me in my interview with Robert Bellwaldius, COO at Telenor Connexion.
 

Vanessa: One of the telecommunication leaders; Telenor needs no introduction but would you tell us more about Telenor Connexion?

Robert: Telenor Connexion is a fully owned company within Telenor Group and part of Digital Business where new emerging businesses within Telenor primarily make an entrance. Founded in 2008, we are approximately 140 employees and working solely with IoT (internet of things) solutions. We have our head office here in Stockholm with branches all over Sweden and sales offices spread all over the globe. 

At Telenor Connexion, our main area of focus is on IoT solutions from a digitalization point of view.  We help our customers to get digitalised with new technologies, connecting devices and through that collecting data. Harnessing the data is important; very important for Telenor as a Group. It's one of our main strategic areas.
 

Vanessa: A little of your background? 

Robert: I have worked  within the telco industry for over 20 years and I've been at Telenor Connexion as COO for the past 4 years and prior to that I've was a CTO and COO of a competing company for 7 years. I've always been working with connecting devices and collecting data!  

I report to the CEO of Telenor Connexion. My key areas of responsibility is the delivery and the operations for the services that we deliver to our customers as well as support our customers.
 

Vanessa: How did it come to be that as COO, you landed the task of the Chief Data Officer?

Robert: We do not have a Chief Data Officer appointed at Telenor Connexion and the data did not automatically fall under my mandate. Looking back, a few years ago, I felt the need to get a holistic view of how the data is stored and used from an operational aspect. That combined with an understanding of how to get more efficient has been the main driver from the beginning. 

We realized quite quickly (which came as no surprise) that it would be much easier for our operations, sales and technical pre-sales staff to have this data in real time.  We have been working with the digitalization programme for a few years now and as I am responsible for the overall solutions of where and how the data is collected and used in in our business. I have been driving that.
 

Vanessa: What are the functions that report to you as COO?

Robert:

  • Head of Service delivery
  • Head of Billing
  • Head of IT operations
  • Head of SOC (Service Operations Center)
  • BSO (Business Security Officer)
  • Quality Management

We have development departments within the CTO department and I act as a stakeholder/sponsor for our digitalization projects securing right business requirements. While innovation is a part of the product department reporting to the CTO I also see that innovation is something that engaged the whole company. And data is used by us departments within Telenor Connexion.
 

Vanessa: While arguing the need for the title of a Chief Data Officer – I was once told, "What’s in a title!" What would you say to that?

Robert: A title is one way of getting a mandate and communicating the responsibility you have to the rest of the organization. But then of course it's construed differently in different companies. 

The Chief Data Officer is a relatively new title, so you would need to define the core of the title first.
 

Vanessa: If Telenor Connexion had a Chief Data Officer, where in the organization would the role be positioned

Robert: If we have to introduce a Chief Data Officer today, the role in all probability would be under me as COO or under the CTO. With it being a new title, we would need to define the role and its deliverables. However, I am certain that in the future, it could be part of C-level. To nurture the role it is better to have it under one of the more established C-level functions.
 

Vanessa:  I hear it's a challenge aligning the Chief Data Officer role with the CTO or CIO. Your views?

Robert: It does not have to be, as long as the role is defined well from the start.  A lot depends on the personal traits. I have good cooperation with the CTO, so I think it would be more up to the individual if we would introduce such role.

One way to smoothly incorporate the role of the Chief Data Officer at any organization would be if you could already identify someone on the management team that is interested in working with data and could go over to the role instead of hiring externally.  Building credibility, it would be tougher on the person.   

If the COO or a CTO/CIO should enter to a Chief Data Officer role, the transition would be easier than recruiting a CDO externally.
 

Vanessa: How do you see the Chief Data Officer aligning with the other functions?   

Robert: I think it’s clear to see that all of us on the C-level are very interested in the area!  

The CFO is interested from a financial aspect, the CTO from a new product development aspect and so on… The Chief Data Officer would have the challenge of being involved in all the areas, having an opinion or driving the data agenda for the other CxO's.  

This role will not work as a silo function, it needs to be cross-functional through all CxO roles.
 

Vanessa: What would you define as key skills needed for the Chief Data Officer?

Robert:

  • An understanding of the business to be able to realize the data available and what you can do with it.
  • A combination of business and technology skills.
  • Social skills are very important as even though you will have a mandate, it requires a skill in getting other people in the organization to understand why this is important!
  • Very good at convincing peers in the organization. Without stepping on toes of people.
     

Vanessa: CEO's are getting very involved with data today.  How about the CEO of Telenor Connexion?

Robert: It's clear to see that we have not just the CEO of Telenor Connexion but the CEO of Telenor Group that is very interested in data. It's an area of focus for all the CEO's of Telenor Group, in my opinion!
 

Vanessa: What advice would you give to organizations that are contemplating the role of the Chief Data Officer?

Robert: The focus on the data is vital and by that I am very "for" the role!  As long as you have a clearly defined role with responsibilities and a strategy on how you will collect and measure all the data, I believe the role of the Chief Data Officer would be good and would add value to other organizations.

I am on opinion that the trend of the Chief Data Officer will grow as we in the Nordic countries find the best way to work with the data.
 

Vanessa: Thank you Robert, we wish you all the best!

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Alexander Fritsch

Digital Strategy, Data & Analytics, PwC Sverige

Tel 0729-97 26 02

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