David Davies’s tenacity in looking for bugs – or, indeed, features – in what IS delivers has won him the description of ‘our most demanding customer’ from his department. He doesn’t just focus on the front-end, but puts in the spadework at the back-end on the ground that the majority of efficiency gains are made in the systems that underpin customer-facing websites. That doesn’t mean an ivory tower department, though. Small jobs have just as much visibility as large projects following his introduction of squads of IT resources to work locally with key business streams.
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
A direct influence would be the evolution and growth of an in-house IT team that is now over 200 – from around 30 when I joined the firm. Such approaches as the introduction of a project management office, from scratch, and the subsequent focus to improve development capabilities have directly enabled HL to significantly improve the products and services we provide to our customers.
Being at the heart of technology enables me to challenge and influence a slick customer experience, not only at the front-end, but more importantly at the back-end. A lot of focus is given to CX, for example, but in reality the majority of the gains are made in the systems that underpin customer-facing websites. It’s therefore a big part of my strategy to focus on efficiency gains we clearly see within IT to the relevant areas but also to embrace a full open-door policy to anyone to request changes.
At times these can be small jobs rather than large projects, so to enable this work we’ve introduced squads of IT resources to work locally with key business streams. This has injected a new appetite for change that wasn’t there before and we meet monthly to gauge the overall progress of small and large work. This monthly session includes directors, senior stakeholders and members of the IT team, and has recently been labelled ‘the most useful meeting’ that someone had been to!
I am also described as ‘our most demanding customer’, with a tenacious attitude to find bugs or ‘features’. I think it’s imperative as an IT professional to ‘eat your own dog food’, and my steadfast approach with this certainly keeps everyone on their toes! This seemingly minor point will see me in the office around 5ish, leaving around 7 in the evening, every day, which has led the way for others around me. With a release schedule that can see us deploying changes nigh on a daily basis, the team now fall over themselves to ensure no bugs are there for me to find, which also promotes a jovial atmosphere, which I believe is vital in running any successful team.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
Despite a huge recruitment drive to grow the internal team, I have always been cognisant of the risk of not being able to deliver change, either when I need it, or when we as a company needed to act. Therefore in tandem with enabling the team to increase numbers organically, I also embarked on a mission to have a small and trusted list of third parties. A lot of people gave me bizarre looks as I went off to India for a week, then again when I started trawling the UK for people who had evolved Cobol systems, yet all have worked. I’m now able to offer resourcing options, over and above simply recruiting, which has enabled the quicker delivery of work with a key business benefit. This has included new features for our customers.
Sometimes the day to day is overlooked in underpinning key business outcomes, but one of my core strategic principles is simply ‘keeping the lights on’. Of course, it’s labelled as simple, but in reality, in my view, it’s one of the primary indicators of how well the IT team are performing ‘below deck’. I use that reference on purpose, regularly describing IT as like a cruise ship. My aim is to have customers and staff alike enjoying the facilities and efficiently going about their business, with any crisis or constant change happening sometimes seamlessly below their feet.
Within our IT team the serious threats in cyber, or the challenge to retain resiliency or capacity throughout a constant wave of change, are always kept in mind. At times it can result in a minor delay to a project, but the collaborative nature of how everyone is involved means risk is fully appreciated and understood. In reality I’d much rather be criticised for something being a few hours late than it going wrong.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
A few years ago I embarked on a spearheading a multiphased technology project to mitigate risks in using legacy technology-based systems. These systems are integral to running our business and had never been closely scrutinised with the future in mind. I pitched it as a ‘game-changer’ for our future given the investment of time and cash, and the first phase is now coming to an end.
This is now acting a springboard to a number of things, such as enabling innovation into new products and services, which was previously impossible due to technical debt. These innovations, including a market-leading mobile app, and our being the first investment firm to introduce a cash savings product to its portfolio, are paving the way to accelerating our continued growth. This is especially the case as we move to being a more digital-centric organisation; huge waves of clients now want to deal with their investments purely from a handheld device.
The initial phase of work has also helped stabilise a number of things within the architecture, meaning we can now stand proud of the proposition offered to clients without the worry of the lights going off.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
One of the first things I did was to install TVs showing the IT monitoring systems. This was, in some people’s eyes completely foolish: why would we want the business to see what was going on? Others simply didn’t understand it. Today our IT department is surrounded by a plethora of 50in TVs showing the health of our client platform, where we use intelligent monitoring to physically log into our platform continually – 24 hours a day. Whenever the screens blip, I refer to it as flying blind, and I can honestly say it’s instilled a true culture of accountability and transparency.
We now show everything, from how many clients are on the website using apps or actively trading through to what I call early warning signs, by using the likes of AppDynamics. It’s a tool we invested very heavily in across dev, QA and live to understand the true picture not only of how things perform normally, but also under stress, which has driven a collaborative effort to improve capacity.
This approach underpins one of my core pillars of running IT – keeping the lights on. Now no-one wants to be involved in their area having huge red lights glowing across the office.
Furthermore, I introduced the first project management function into Hargreaves Lansdown a few years ago. Year-on-year organic growth and the successful integration of PMs and BAs to form a change team of over 40 have transformed how we now manage projects and evolve our client proposition. It has also helped make the developers, etc, much more efficient by mitigating what I call the ‘can you just jobs’ and also allowing us to crack on with things without constant interruptions. Not to mention we also now have regular MI and a formalised/consistent structure to follow.
These are just a few things, but the one thing that has really helped engaged the IT behaviours within our organisation is when my position was elevated to a director, around six years ago. It was the first time this company had IT on the board and it has really helped us shape the direction of the business, given I’m involved in conversations from the start – in fact, I start them most of the time! IT is now able to provide regular challenge on why X does Y, and we can introduce efficiencies and cost savings.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
I was the first official IT director at Hargreaves Lansdown; the people before me held multiple roles, namely that of finance director. I am also the only CIO ever to have been appointed by the board. This in itself has evidenced the importance of IT to the company and it has allowed me to support, challenge and implement significant changes during my tenure.
I regularly get asked to attend investor meetings, including companies holding HL shares within their funds and pension schemes, along with sessions with corporate clients who appoint HL to look after their entire company portfolio. In these sessions the audience listen with intent to both how I run the day to day and also my strategic plans. In a recent update with my CEO he stated how he had managed to answer a barrage of technical questions on the basis of the conversations I have had at board-level. We have recently introduced directors to new technology such as tablets at board meetings rather than having to print off half a forest of paper. This started with one member of the board, then more and more of them became engaged.
There is always a lot of controversy around the role of CDO and CIO. At HL I have proactively engaged with our CDO and collaboratively worked on a number of successful, innovative projects which are now setting the scene for some exciting improvements for our clients.
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
One of our primary business goals is to support our clients whatever the trading conditions. At times the investment market can peak extremely high and present us with extreme load, both online and over the telephone, at the announcement of a news article, or the result of a vote like Brexit. I remain steadfast on areas such as capacity management and disaster recovery (DR), which are two approaches that have been extremely successful.
We run regular load and DR tests separately, and I adopt a very direct and pragmatic approach. I insist the majority of load testing is performed against the live environment on a regular basis to ensure we know what our limits are. The same applies to DR; in the early days I used to physically yank the cables out for the likes of the router/switch connections to force the techies to know what happens – they used to hate me for it! Through my continually explaining that a JCB digger driver doesn’t knock on your door to say they’re going to dig your cables up, and having a list of issues that soon reduced to zero, sense was seen! Now the team manager for comms takes my place, and I can say I sleep easy at night at the risk of an entire site or switch failing.
We collaborate with external capacity management expert company NCC to hit the live environment with a huge amount of load; it kicks out errors, which are then addressed and released. The results have been exceptional! Indeed, we’ve on occasion pushed the third-party testing platform to its limits! The relationship with companies like NCC works in a truly competitive manner, with us both working as a joint team to increase the limits of what we’re capable of.
While I attend regular technology sessions, as do the likes of our lead architect, we tend not to engage with startups in a ‘normal’ way. We much prefer to take an internal approach of understanding what looks good and to work out how we can do it ourselves. This approach really enables our IT team to make a real difference while acting as a startup within a FTSE 100 company – which I find a recipe for technology success. New products and services going live also drives accountability, which I love to see! I can’t stop waves of people wanting to be in at all hours to see their code being released and used in earnest.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
We have embarked on hiring apprentices and industrial placements following the latest government schemes. These have worked well, given the integration into a team of mostly experienced technologists. Indeed, given the nature of our architecture, we continue to recruit people of all ages. The teams get together in the office in the likes of focus groups to talk about improvements that can be made, while the annual ‘booze cruises’ outside work always get a great attendance.
We integrate third parties into the team by using a primarily on-site model. For example, we have introduced testers and developers from Rave Technologies, which is based in Mumbai, to further increase our capabilities. A similar model has been used with Cognifide in Poland together with various UK-based technology firms. This approach has helped improve a number of skills, including technology, and also introduced different ways of working; both of which we’ve embraced.
IT squads work within the business areas, both physically and logically. This enables the teams to understand better the areas they are supporting and the products they are evolving, along with how it benefits clients. It also helps our business areas understand the levels of effort IT are regularly going to, so both parts work to complement each other very well.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
The client is at the heart of everything we do at HL, whether that’s marketing and the copy they create, digital and the images they use, or our helpdesks and the way they speak to individuals. IT is no different and we are engaged in exactly the same way. Not only are we focused on maintaining a reliable, secure and innovative service for our clients, but we have 1,000 internal users who are also our clients. This is why IT is always involved with strategic decisions and often spearheads new initiatives which allow the business to introduce efficiencies, improving our overall service.
Relaying this information is extremely important and given the role of CIO at HL holds a position on the board of the company, it is imperative that both the IT team and wider company are engaged with our future plans. This message is delivered by six-monthly presentations to 200 members of the IT team, and then a wider audience of approximately 1,000 members of staff. HL is very much an IT business. It is therefore essential that what we do aligns with the needs of both our clients and our business.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
The IT strategic project we are working on is making the most of the technologies around Oracle databases and accelerating modern technology into a legacy world in a way that not many people are doing globally. Over the last year we have continued to purchase additional components; after liaising with the wider business areas, we are planning to make our client offering more robust as a result.
We invested significantly in our new mobile app, which was released in January 2017. It is now receiving fantastic feedback. A number of technology proofs of concept have also been conducted over the last six months, some of which are breaking new ground. We have found only one other firm that has embarked on such a journey globally.
Further discussions with FireEye have led to a number of high-level workshops involving representatives from its global business visiting Hargreaves Lansdown. While this isn’t a deal as such, it has enabled us to remain extremely focused on a critically important area.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
My main area is to accelerate business efficiency and growth by introducing an exciting new model, which at present I cannot elaborate on, but will shortly be published. I have spent the majority of the last 12 months embarking on a new journey which I firmly believe will be a game-changer, and the board agrees.
In addition, I am now focused on the second and third phases of our IT strategic project. The second focuses on further business efficiency while the third will significantly change the technology platform of our business in the future.
I don’t dismiss the benefit of focusing on my three pillars in a strategic way. I have the three specific areas of keeping the lights on, keeping client data secure, and delivering innovation on time continually echoing around the office. I have found that combining what you could call BAU and strategy works really well.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
The impacts for Brexit for me were much more about understanding how the decision could impact business. Given Hargreaves Lansdown is the UK’s market-leading stockbroker, it was imperative, whichever way the vote went, that we were able to cope with the demand. On the day of the Brexit decision, our stockbroking trading volume was actually up 51%. With over 90% of stockbroking deals done online, thankfully the day went smoothly. Plans for the day were made way in advance with additional load tests, double-checking business continuity plans, and having people in from 4am watching the results come through.
Following the result we are now moving forward with exciting plans, regardless of the vote.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
30% keeping the lights on, 40% developments and 10% R&D – 20% other.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- Analyst houses
- CIO peers
- Industry bodies
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Yes, CISO, a direct report to me – I brought him in last year.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop).
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
AI and wearables – making investing easier for everyone.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?