With technology developing at an unprecedented rate, it has taken on a new role and CIOs have a seat at the table to help define the business strategy as well as the technical strategy. Both components are so closely intertwined and Barry Libenson, Global CIO, Experian, is here to tell us more about the role of a CIO and the challenges faced.
Libenson’s role as Global CIO for data giant, Experian, over the past four years has involved managing the company’s global infrastructure footprint so that all systems serve the company’s employees. Libenson and his team are also responsible for information security, as well as the architectural standards by which the company builds its products inside the organisation. Libenson works to ensure Experian has a consistent approach to how it builds technology so that its customers have a consistent experience when they interface with the company’s various product offering.
He offers an insight into the daily challenges and highlights he encounters within his role:
Challenges faced as a CIO
When I first joined Experian, the company had a somewhat decentralised approach to technology so what I often say is that we’d never met a database we didn’t like, we’d never met a programming language we didn’t like, we’d never met a piece of hardware we didn’t like. You name it, we had it. That worked very well for the company because there was a lot of accountability down to the business unit level. But the larger you get, the more difficult it is to maintain that type of approach because you lose a lot of synergies by not having common platforms and a common approach. So, one of the biggest challenges was moving everybody onto a common set of technology platforms around the globe so we would have better capabilities to reuse technology and better capabilities to leverage the human capital across the company. The biggest challenge was deciding on a common approach for how we’re going to do things technically across the enterprise.
Discussing management style
I have a philosophy of trying to hire the smartest people I possibly can. I find that the better the people you hire, the more they do. If I had a choice between hiring one world-class best-of-breed top of the line developer, versus three middle of the road developers, that one high performer will exceed expectations every time. I have a very open-door policy – I believe great ideas come from all parts of an organisation, not just the leadership team. I always try to create a forum for the exchange of ideas. I wouldn’t ask anybody to do something on my team that I wouldn’t personally do myself and that’s served me well. Hiring really qualified people generally always gets good results.
On the biggest cyberthreats currently facing organisations in Europe
For us, there’s a number of forces in the UK and in Europe in particular that have quite a significant impact on us. Obviously, Brexit has had an effect simply because the rules surrounding data housing will potentially change. Although our industry is not likely to be impacted as much as others, the location of physical assets and the regulatory requirements around that may change so we are very focused on planning for different scenarios. Another significant factor is GDPR. We’ve always been a highly-regulated industry, so we are used to working in this kind of environment. The final significant factor that I think has enormous potential globally but which the UK is leading the charge on, is open banking. Open banking is a fascinating concept for us – this is a real game-changer for companies and consumers. This ability to share information across banking institutions more easily is hugely impactful for our industry and for us as a company.
On whether European businesses are doing well to combat potential cyber-risks
Security is a huge deal and has an impact on everything. Financial institutions in Europe that I’ve spoken with, particularly in the UK, are all very focused on ensuring they can meet the regulatory requirements. I think there’s some concern out there – I was in Australia several months ago giving a presentation on open banking in the UK compared with open banking in Australia and the common theme I heard in both countries is that we can’t sacrifice security under any circumstances. Security has to be top of mind at the same time that we need to meet regulatory requirements around open banking. I think that the emphasis is there and as we continue to roll this out in the UK and in places like Australia, we’ll get a better understanding of where some of the security risks are that may not have been considered. However, I believe that right now, every organisation I’ve spoken with on this topic understands the critical nature of getting it right and moving at a pace that allows the security components to be handled at the same time as the regulatory requirements. At Experian, security is our top priority and part of our culture. The systems, people and processes that we have in place to protect data are under constant review to ensure they remain best-in-class.
The evolving technology landscape and its ongoing development
I think there’s a lot of interesting forces at play currently – we’re seeing a huge push and aggressive migration towards the cloud. We’re now seeing large financial institutions, manufacturing corporations and retailers for example, operate in the cloud. The development of hybrid technology, something that can operate in your own data centre but also in the cloud, is now becoming the new pervasive compute model. I think we’re going to continue to see this push although I don’t think we’ll ever see the eradication of all data centres. I think companies like Experian will always have a hybrid approach because we have certain customers that absolutely insist on us running their technology in our own data centres, but there are others that are more flexible.
On current IT challenges throughout Europe
Security is an issue on a global basis. Every week you read about the latest breach and there’s a certain level of fatigue that’s set in around the subject as breaches are so commonly occurring. I think the bad guys as well as the good guys are getting better, but nation states and organised crime groups are now participating in cyber activity and the general underground hacking community are also trying to make a name for themselves.
Using technology to enhance the customer experience
There’s an expectation today that’s very different to previous years. It used to be that at least 10 years ago, you’d release a piece of software and there wouldn’t be an upgrade for several months. There would only be one major upgrade every year or so and customers accepted that as the norm. The introduction of mobile technology has increased user experience expectations dramatically. The user marketplace has created higher expectations for the consumer. The expectation of having weekly or monthly enhancements to an application has had a positive impact on what software companies are now expected to deliver. We must deliver improved user interface technology, we must also make sure it will run on any platform and that the user interface experience is simple and easy to understand. The bar has been raised quite significantly from a user experience perspective.
Advice for aspiring CIOs
I think the most important thing to remember when doing this job is that if you’re not allowing the business to grow, you’re either in the wrong place or you’re doing something wrong. It’s no longer about technology for the sake of technology, it’s about enabling the business. The expectation is how do you add value in the boardroom, or how do you add value on the leadership team to help drive the company’s growth. This should be the way most CIOs think about their job because at the end of the day, it really is about making the company successful.