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Schroders’ CTO on why the IT department needs to ‘get out of the way’

Schroders’ CTO on why the IT department needs to ‘get out of the way’

technology-led growth technology-led growth

Embracing an agile way of working is key to technology-led growth, says Schroders' Chief Technology Officer Stewart Carmichael.

Stewart Carmichael joined Schroders as CTO in March 2015 and is overseeing a digital transformation at the firm. His ultimate vision is that his team of capable IT professionals provides a service, rather than a bottleneck to the firm’s or its clients’ ambitions.

“Success will be measured in terms of the technology department getting out of the way,” he says. “Every person in the firm, and our clients, will be able to access the systems and data they need without having to talk to someone in the technology department.”

Carmichael has already made significant progress towards ensuring digital activities sit at the heart of business operations. He outlines to Hot Topics his key achievements, his ongoing engagements with the rest of the firm and his plans for technology-led growth.

Embracing an agile way of working

Carmichael was asked two key questions when he joined Schroders: how can the business increase the pace of IT-enabled change, and how can the organization ensure it receives value from the money spent on technology? “The last two and a half years have been a journey to make sure we achieve those two main goals,” he says, referring to his time in charge.

A move towards agile development has been a key element of that transition. Carmichael says this new way of working has helped his team to deliver to the two main objectives, raising the rate of transformation and ensuring maximum return on investment from IT spend.

Change, however, is far from straightforward. Carmichael refers to the significant shift required for an IT team that moves from a traditional waterfall-based approach, where every element of work completed by the IT department has a start and an end, to an agile methodology. Language is a key concern in this cultural shift.

“You start talking about scrum masters, sprints and programming increments,” says Carmichael. “That type of terminology wasn’t part of the common lexicon of the business two years ago. Going through that cultural transformation, and empowering individuals and teams to make decisions, was probably the biggest challenge during our journey.”

Getting people to buy into his vision for change was key. Carmichael spent a lot of time talking with other companies that he believed were best-in-class from an innovation and delivery perspective. Interestingly, Carmichael looked beyond the finance sector and drew on wider business experience for advice on maximizing technology-led growth.

“We talked to a lot of companies around the globe, including organizations like John Lewis and PayPal,” he says. “We talked about how they delivered change and how they incorporated innovation into that process. Through that period of research, we came to some conclusions about how we need to transform as a business.”

Contributing to wider business growth

Carmichael sold his concept for change to the business and began the period of transformation with the support of chief executive Peter Harrison. Such change programmes usually take two years to fulfill but Carmichael took an alternative approach, choosing to pursue an aggressive 12-month transformation agenda.

This rapid approach to change helped sponsor an organization-wide shift in collaboration. “Not only did this process alter the culture in the technology department, it also changed the level of transparency and the way of working with the rest of business,” he says.

The long-term result of this transition is that barriers between the IT department and other functions have been broken down. “IT is a core part of our business,” says Carmichael. “Technology and data are core components of everything we do in the organization and the foundation for growth.”

Harrison’s support for technology-led growth means Carmichael no longer needs to sell his concepts for change. Instead, Carmichael engages in a joint dialogue with his peers about how the rest of the business will use technology to create a competitive advantage.

“I talk with the rest of the management committee on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “I see myself as a facilitator. Part of our goal going forwards as an IT team is about how we embed a DNA of technology confidence across the whole firm.”

The scope of these conversations goes beyond IT. Carmichael recognizes the growing importance of technology means increasing numbers of IT leaders benefit from seats on the board. “I’m expected to contribute to all aspects of conversation about the business, whether that’s acquisitions, growth or product strategies,” he says.

Building capability and serving customers

The delivery of great IT also relies on excellent internal capability. Carmichael says Schroders benefits from a strong brand. The firm attracts and retains the talent and that capability has so far been a catalyst for technology-led growth. However, there is no room for complacency, particularly given the wider IT skills gap and the struggle for proficiency.

“We need to make sure people are aware of our ambition,” he says. “We’re embracing innovation. We’re working in robotics, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. If you’re a technologist, you’re excited by the opportunity to work with new technologies.”

When it comes to attracting new graduates, Carmichael recognizes a large proportion of millennials want to work in collaborative teams. He believes the use of agile working at the firm gives IT professionals the opportunity to engage with stakeholders inside and outside the business.

Carmichael is proud that Schroders operates as a client-centric organization. He recognizes the way in which these clients interact with the firm continues to evolve. Digital services play a key role, but rather than simply providing a good web platform, Carmichael and his team must think about the full customer journey.

“It’s about providing access to our data, so we’re on a programme of developing application programming interfaces, so clients can draw the information and knowledge they need when they want it,” he says. “The journey we’re on is about fundamentally changing the customer experience through technology.”

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