Elena Elkina: Helping Enterprises Simplify and Operationalize Privacy and Data Protection

Elena Elkina

Every day, companies confront new data challenges around artificial intelligence, dark patterns, and manipulative design, and navigating these issues requires good business instincts and good advice. Headline-grabbing data breaches, new surveillance technologies, and interest among lawmakers and regulators have heightened concerns about privacy. Or rather, the lack of it. New privacy laws and growing customer expectations put pressure on businesses to protect data. Popular awareness of privacy has reached a fever pitch. Easily understandable regulatory guidance is often lacking, and Elena empathizes that she is worried her clients simply are being overwhelmed by an enormous deluge of information and lack of clarity how to proceed and prioritize.

That is good news for Aleada’s clients, where Elena prides herself on her ability to help companies grapple with the influx of new technologies and the privacy and security risks they present. “We’re about to live in a world of talking refrigerators and flying cars,” she jokes, and this rapid innovation is forcing big changes in what privacy and data protection mean.

Privacy and data protection is a matter that cuts across all industries, much like access to capital, recruiting, marketing, and product development. What distinguishes privacy is that it goes hand-in-hand with cybersecurity and data governance, and these requirements affect the performance of all others business elements. The data that companies collect and use to innovate now come with a set of strings attached. Breaking down the complex regulatory privacy and data protection requirements helps build actionable privacy that can mitigate the risk of fines, customer scepticism, and negative headlines.

Aleada is a minority-female-owned privacy and data protection firm. It is not a typical consultancy and the company’s clients are unique. If you are looking for a template, Aleada is not the firm for you. Its clients face a maze of complex privacy laws and consumer expectations where data missteps can trigger fines or worse, leaving companies confused and overwhelmed.

Aleada steps into that compliance pain and gives its clients peace of mind. Elena sees consultants as bridge builders, helping businesses reach their goals and mitigate their headaches. “We help companies prioritize,” she explains, “and shift their pain and confusion onto us.” Helping clients to fill in a puzzle: “Making informed assumptions, documenting our reasoning, and building a program to address where companies see growing risks are all very satisfying for me,” Elena says.

Elena praises the skills of her partners and the team they have built together. Whether it’s the nuts and bolts of privacy compliance, operational support, or security controls, Aleada has tackled so many projects that she is confident in her team’s ability to help, no matter the challenge presented. “We offer speed to our clients and a track record of helping create actionable plans,” she says. “If it’s a five-year plan or just six months, we want to give our clients clarity and focus.”

It transfers its team’s collective experience in technology, analytics, information security, IT, data governance, privacy law, and consulting to the client’s unique business needs. Ultimately, Aleada makes its clients’ privacy and data governance operational.

Meet the Innovator

Elena Elkina is one of the 3 partners/co-founders of Aleada and comes from a legal background. Elena used to practice law, but she left legal practice more than 15 years ago. During her 20-year legal career, she has worked with financial and healthcare institutions, the Internet of Things, logistics management, and software companies, major law firms, and the government sector on both international and domestic levels.

Elena’s own career path in privacy and data protection was long and winding, though her ultimate interest in privacy and data protection now seems obvious in some respects. She grew up in Arzamas-16, a Soviet secret city instrumental in nuclear research. From a young age, she understood the ability of powerful institutions and governments to intrude into our lives, and learning about privacy and security gave her the perspective and tools to address that imbalance.

After graduating from a law school in 2000 and practicing law for some time, Elena found the legal profession more reactive than her desire to build and innovate. She found her niche – privacy and data protection – where she is uniquely positioned to use her skills and desire to engineer solutions from a proactive approach.

Over the past decade, Elena has been focusing on creating global privacy and data protection programs, including developing and implementing regulatory frameworks, risk/gap assessments, maturity models, long-term roadmaps, and data protection policies; designing and employing de-identification and Privacy by Design data handling processes; and building privacy and security training and awareness programs. She has been working closely with development and business teams to build cloud, web, and mobile consumer and business products across the globe. Elena also served as a subject matter expert for companies that were subject to privacy-related regulatory enforcement actions, including consent decrees and cease and desist orders.

Elena received her law degree from the University of Russian Academy of Education in Moscow, Russia. She also received her LL.M. degree from Berkeley Law School, where she studied privacy, technology transactions, and international law. Elena is also a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US, CIPP/E, CIPP/IT, CIPM). In 2018, she received a Global Mentor Financial Times award “HERoes Champions of Women in Business 2018”.

Before 3 of them founded Aleada, 3 partners, along with 4 other women, co-founded Women in Security and Privacy (WISP), a non-profit organization that aims to advance women and minorities in the privacy and security fields. Sharing knowledge and perspective, and lifting up women and people of color, has been one of Elena’s biggest priorities, and this was a guiding motivation for establishing WISP. After building a non-profit organization together and working together on complex privacy and data protection issues in the industries, they saw an opportunity to do privacy differently. Forming Aleada promised not only an exciting new challenge but also an opportunity to put her stamp on how the privacy and security profession might develop. This is why they built Aleada Consulting where they collected exceptional talents to build privacy and data protection solutions that meet their clients’ unique challenges.

Guidance from People and Experiences

Elena never thought about herself as a woman leader. She tends to think about herself as a leader and not a minority or female leader. Maybe because Elena is used to being the only woman in the room, but she can certainly appreciate the journey to where she is today. “One of them is that you are as good as your team. It does not matter what you offer – a product, tool, or service, your team makes the difference,” says Elena. She learned to appreciate the uniqueness of individuals and this has been an important part of Aleada’s DNA. All three partners at Aleada believe some of the best talent can be found outside of the confines of a traditional legal practice. While the privacy profession is often understood as something of an offshoot of a corporate legal team, Elena views privacy as something far more than a mere legal role. “Privacy is about understanding technology, coding, user experience, and how the internet works,” she says. Her own mentality as a lawyer had to evolve and shift to become a better privacy and data protection practitioner at Aleada.

And lastly, Elena has been lucky with wonderful people who are around in her life. Everyone teaches her a lesson, it does not matter how old or experienced they are. Elena thinks everyone has a purpose and she is aware of this when people enter her life. Elena is like a sponge – always ready to absorb, learn, and share.

The Bigger the Challenge, the More Honor in Overcoming it

According to Elena, it is hard to talk about challenges at the beginning of her career because she had absolutely no fears. She had a wish and Elena always believed there was a way, and she was right. She never let “how’s” come in the way. Elena believes execution is powerful; start breaking down a complex problem into simple, actionable steps towards a goal and it always works. With age, Elena thinks there are more fears because the more you know the more you are aware and that awareness can help and block you from your next win. “Maybe this is the challenge – we tend to think about “how” and do not have enough leverage for our “what” and “why” and it stops us. Oh, I remember one challenge, I used to look at things that did not happen the way I wanted them as failures. Now, I do not. I never lose; I either win or learn. This has been one of my primary lessons in my career,” says Elena.

Leadership Attributes One Must Possess

Elena suggests

“You are as good of a leader as your followers. Do not forget that your followers make you a leader. Amplify others, help others grow, send the elevator back to lift others.”

Focus is the Key Ingredient for Strategic Innovation

“You cannot manage something you do not measure,” says Elena. At Aleada, the team measures everything they do to stay focused on how they can make their clients’ lives better. “The more challenging something is, the more fun it can be,” Elena declares. She describes Aleada’s ideal client as a company that is eager to grow and innovate the right way, while demonstrating its values to investors and other stakeholders. “We want to help businesses do the right thing and hopefully get paid in the process!” she says. They listen to their clients to deliver products that are important to them and not to the company. The team keeps an eye on the industry news to stay ahead of the trends. Lastly, they experiment and dedicate resources to new things so they can quickly identify things that do not work and focus on things needed to do and execute.

Disruptive Technologies can Make or Break Business Leaders

“We live in the world of flying cars and talking refrigerators that are run by disruptive technologies,” says Elena. These disruptive technologies offer innovative solutions and new business opportunities, but also fresh challenges. One of them is that the regulatory privacy frameworks cannot catch up with the way technology is changing our lives, making it challenging for companies to adapt and protect data that drives such innovation. Data governance and data stewardship have impacted the way consumers accept disruptive technologies into their lives, making privacy a new digital currency of innovation that can make or break a business leader. Those companies who can bear the brunt of disruptive technology challenges will stay as industry leaders driving innovation and the market. Lastly, it does matter how you approach disruptive technologies; clarifying your what and why will be your primary light house in your journey towards becoming a business leader.

Intersection of Technology, Data Governance and Data Protection

According to Elena, faced with the need to set up something complex quickly or face liability risk, it is common for companies to turn to the law firms, management consultants, and audit firms with whom they already have relationships to pick up the slack. A reasonable reaction, but one that too often results in a patterned/checklist-driven approach is dealing with risk management that ignores the unique variables facing individual companies. As a result, there is a growing premium placed not just on privacy-specific expertise, but also on data protection, information security, and data governance. These have become necessary assets for any company, no matter the industry sector, its maturity or target market, and specifically for disruptive technologies, that we will see more and more in the future. As a privacy and data protection firm, Aleada must focus on the intersection of technology, data governance, data protection, and law to stay ahead of the industry and support business growth.

Providing Valuable Advice to Rising Female Leaders

Elena advises emerging women leaders to not sit in the corner, and grab a seat at the table or better yet, create one’s own table and invite others to participate. She asks them to find people who support their growth and always search for new perspectives. Lastly, Elena concludes by saying “Life happens for you; believe in it, and follow your instincts with passion and integrity.”

Quote: “AI will reach wider operational use. Companies that are not afraid to experiment and fail with AI will be part of the successful future.”

Management: Elena Elkina, Partner/Co-Founder, Aleada.

URL: https://www.aleada.co/

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