Technology continues to infuse new product offerings. But tech’s influence is also permeating organizational structures and internal processes in some of the largest financial firms. When Barry Libenson joined Experian four years ago as the global CIO, he entered a very different organization than Experian is today.
Individuals and teams have a natural aversion to change. That makes digital transformation hard, especially at global scale. Barry joins us to talk about how he embarked on a digital transformation at Experian and describes how deeply change was felt across the organization. He addresses the nuances digital faces in the financial industry and the tools and techniques he used to infuse his firm with a “vision of tomorrow”. People matter and Barry makes the point that, in a big way, digital transformation isn’t really about technology.
The technology journey
When I joined Experian four years ago, the organization was structured somewhat differently from a technology perspective. There was a more autonomous, decentralized operating model in place that worked very well for the company when it was smaller. As the company has grown, the need for a more centralized and standardized approach became very obvious.
Why technology transformation is hard
It’s an area that touches so many people in different ways. I have a saying: Standards are great…as long as you pick mine. People have a natural aversion to doing things differently from how they’ve always done them. Getting everyone aligned in a large global organization is difficult from a technology and cultural perspective.
Going from a waterfall approach to building applications and writing software to a more agile approach requires a pretty significant shift in the tech organization and the company in general. It’s hard and takes a long period of time.
Change in the financial services space
The industry tends to be very competitive. Small advantages in the tech area can be significant on trading platforms and portfolio management. The industry attracts bright people who work on the leading edge of tech. It can be challenging getting everyone aligned with strong opinions but you also have a lot of very creative and intelligent input. It does tend to be different than other industries I’ve worked in.
The digital transformation playbook
The first thing to do is look at the overall estate — how we do things around the world and look for areas for synergies. We had a proliferation in the software we were using and the languages we programmed in the technology organization. It was a very receptive audience.
Getting alignment involved really giving people an opportunity to share their opinions and participate in the process. It doesn’t mean everyone needed to agree — everyone needed an opportunity to express their opinion and be heard. We spent a lot of time looking at areas of opportunity and where we felt we had receptivity — whether is was standardizing around Hadoop platforms or programming languages or around agile scaling methodologies.
One of the critical aspects in a new role is to understand who the thought leaders are in the organization. I worked to understand who could help in the transformation process to drive it forward. Change requires buy-in and sponsorship across the organization. We brought these people into the fold and got them involved in workshops. Once we got everyone on the same page, we used a blanket approach across the enterprise to drive the changes.
Thought leaders continue to play a similar role now. Many of them have a specific role in transformational activity — they’re either driving it regionally or from within a specific business unit. We’ve gone from an operating model where platforms and technology were often regionally developed in silos. Today, there’s a common codebase that’s often shared among our application stack. That’s because the thought leaders we able to put models in place where we shared things across regions. They have been and are critical to changing how we work, have reusable technology and that we think across the organization and not just regionally.
Tangible effects of digital transformation
Too often people look at these types of transformation as a single organizational activity. It isn’t just about the technology organization. It’s about other parts of the company, including HR and finance. As we change the way we build platforms and interface with customers, the other aspects of how we run our business are changing at the same time.
We’ve been able to introduce a lot of new products in rapid succession over the past 12 months that have been impactful on the market. To me, the best demonstration of our results is the performance of the company. With that lens, I feel pretty good about all we’ve done.
Internal and external transformation
The idea of really changing our approach to how we deliver software to our customers and empowering them — through API or running in the cloud — played a really big role. It required looking outward to potential partnerships.
For example, it didn’t make sense for us to build out our own API hub. It’s an area where we’re better served by a partner. We worked with Apigee to build out our API hub several years ago and we’re now pushing over 1 billion transactions a year through that platform. And it’s growing by orders of magnitude. It was something we absolutely knew we needed to introduce based on customer feedback, but were best served by working in the ecosystem.