CIO Steve Chambers has been spending the last six years developing a European-wide payments platform¬ at Visa Europe with €0.5bn to spend and an 800-plus strong development team.
“Visa Europe is a very collaborative, consensus-driven organisation, but when you get into execute mode, you have to transform into a command and control approach,” he says of the big project that has transformed the Visa Europe business.
Chambers was brought into Visa Europe¬ at the payment system’s inception six years ago. The company was responding to its European member banks’ demands for a durable and compliant authorisation, clearing and settlement system for the 21st Century. The system had to adapt to cardholders’ increase in usage and pave the way for new business lines – factors that presented a constantly moving target to Chambers and his team.
“The most extreme test is at Christmas, when you’re looking at about 1000 transactions a second across Europe,” he says.
Chambers built his development team almost from the ground up, because the company was going through a split from its American operations at the time. He had to build the company’s IT organisation alongside building the system.
Chambers’ view is that too many IT dep¬artments are seen as merely internal service providers of utility facilities and that that is the fault of the IT leader.
“It depends on the personality of the IT team. IT is seen as the victim, often being beaten up by other business units. My perspective is that they’ve got sidelined into the customer-supplier relationship.
“IT teams need to seize the initiative when it comes to the relationship they have with other business units in the company.
They have to be proactive in creating technology-based solutions for business problems, not wait around for demands to be delivered to them.”
Chambers insists IT teams should push back on other units’ requirements if they think they can solve a business problem in a better way. But that requires the IT team to have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the business’s challenges in the market so that they can challenge other business units on their own ground.
The CIO 100 judging panel felt the size and scale of what Chambers and Visa have achieved was considerable warranting a place in the top 20, but wondered whether this major transformation is a one off or whether Visa and Chambers will continue to challenge their sector.
Read the CIO interview: