Vira Shanty of Ovo on her passion for data: Women in Tech

Vira Shanty is Ovo’s chief data officer.

Vira Shanty is the woman behind Ovo’s data strategy and its implementation. With 20 years of experience working in the data and IT department of Indonesian telco company Telkomsel, Vira is a mainstay within Indonesia’s IT community.

With a passion for numbers and data, Vira decided to leave Telkomsel two and a half years ago to build Ovo. Under her leadership, Ovo Analytics has won a number of prestigious awards, including “Asia Pacific Digital Trailblazer and Digital Disruption of the Year” at the 2018 edition of the IDC Digital Transformation Awards (DXA). The startup is now one of the biggest mobile payment platforms in Indonesia.

KrASIA recently sat down with Vira to learn more about Ovo’s latest developments and the current challenges in the big data sector.

KrASIA (K): What is the difference between data’s role in telecommunications and fintech?

Vira Shanty (V): In telco, data contribution produces powerful mobility and browsing patterns, which is different from fintech platform like Ovo. Here at Ovo, we build a new ecosystem by connecting the dots with related industries, like retail, transportation, and so forth. Machine learning and big data are needed to learn about consumer behavior and to create recommendation engines. I find this to be very interesting as I have a chance to explore data processing that connects directly to end users, which I didn’t find in telcos.

K: Please tell us a bit about your role as chief data officer at Ovo?

V: I work on technical issues such as building infrastructure and setting up servers, but I also deal with business issues.

The solution data architect section consists of the solution architect, research and development, data governance, and project manager. The data engineering team builds data ingestion tools for batch and real-time processing, data transformation, and setting up the platform. Our data science section is responsible for developing machine learning for the recommendation engine and advanced analytics. Business intelligence provides actionable insight and business feedback based on statistical analysis. The business solution analytics section is responsible for developing big data APIs and any analytic product solutions. Finally, I have a data monetization team that introduces our innovations to potential partners such as brands and agencies, and informs them about the benefits of our solution to their business.

Ninety-five percent of my team members have IT-related backgrounds, but I always encourage them to keep up with business trends. We must be able to leverage data assets as efficiently as possible. For example, we can produce nine analytical products by leveraging three core technologies only. Big data is not all about the technical matter but also about creativity.

K: Ovo is currently expanding its financial services. Is that going to be the company’s business focus?

V: I believe the key to winning the market is to enrich partnerships and use cases, so we’ll focus on expanding our merchant network and developing more collaborations, which includes financial services. Ovo aims to simplify users’ everyday needs, including transportation, shopping, and financial transactions.

K: What do you think are the current challenges in the big data sector?

V: I think a talent shortage is the biggest challenge. A number of fellow practitioners and I are currently approaching several educational institutions to help them formulate the proper learning direction. This way, we hope that universities can produce the right talent in accordance with the industry’s needs.

Data protection is also essential. At Ovo, we use a layered system to protect customers data that is stored in our own data center, which is part of our server farm. However, as hackers are becoming more sophisticated, every organization—including Ovo—must keep up with the latest tech trends to protect our customers’ data.

K: What are your plans for Ovo in the near future?

V: We’ll launch a set of smart vending machines in May. The machines will not only sell things but also display advertisements, conduct surveys, and gather data samples for our collaborations with various brands. We use technology like AI and crowd detection to allow brands to gather user feedback and track data, so they can gain deep insight into our consumers. We designed the machine ourselves, so we integrated it with Ovo’s payment platform so users can top up their accounts by using a debit card at the machine. It’s part of our commitment to support the cashless lifestyle in Indonesia.

Our target in the next quarter is to realize benefits. We’re currently focusing on implementing all ideas and innovations that we’ve built for the past two years across all lines of business. For instance, we’ll use our research and development to help marketers create a strategy to increase the number of active users and to help the payments team to boost their total payment value.

K: What advice would you give to other women who wish to enter the IT sector, especially big data?

V: First, you must be familiar with the current trends in the industry, so you don’t miss out on an opportunity. Also, it is important to engage with industry players and communities to add skills and insight. Moreover, it’s important to have a strong business sense, so you are not only able to create a sophisticated system, but also understand how to gain commercial benefits from it. Finally, I’d suggest sharpening your storytelling skills, which will come in handy when you deliver presentations for non-IT audiences.

This article is part of “Women in Tech”, a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of women who are a driving force behind Southeast Asia’s tech startups.