Sunday, January 6

Focusing on the customer: An interview with the head of Merrill Lynch’s operations and IT

A very interesting interview. Some excerpts

The Quarterly: You’re in a somewhat unique position, with technology and operations both reporting to you. Why is it better to have technology and operations together than apart? What does this structure enable you to do?

Diane Schueneman: I try to remember that we’re not a technology company; we’re a financial-services company that supplies solutions to our customers around their financial needs—simple as that. Customers don’t say, “You do a really great job creating an equity product.” They ask, “How well do you deliver it to me?” and “Does it meet my needs?”

So the whole reason to combine technology and operations rests on the customer’s needs. And to deliver against those needs requires the best operational processes and the best technology. But you can’t start with one and graft on the other. It’s the integration of technology and operations, from beginning to end, that really allows you to serve customers effectively, anywhere in the world. It’s one example of how we’re transforming our organization to think differently from the ways that financial-services companies have thought in the past—which is to say you have to move beyond an individual silo mentality.

The Quarterly: So you’re saying that when you redraw the organizational chart from a customer perspective, it looks very different?

Diane Schueneman: That’s the guiding principle: don’t connect the dots according to your whims but around the interests of the one who pays the bills. After all, customers are not buying technology or process from us; they’re buying a solution.

The Quarterly: Has this reorientation to the customer viewpoint been more challenging than you would have thought as far as changing people’s perspectives?

Diane Schueneman: No question. I think anytime you ask people to change, they wonder if they’ve done something wrong. To move past that, you explain the rationale and the vision of where you want to go—in our case, moving from an internal focus to an external one centered on the customer’s perspective. Once you get people excited about change and give them the freedom to think, you unleash their intellectual capabilities. They do amazing things, and that’s how you get innovation.

The Quarterly: You’ve talked about the pathway you’re providing for the people below you, but how do you see your role evolving?

Diane Schueneman: I think any CIO role has to evolve to become an integral part of the business’s fabric. There’s a lot of talk about whether CIOs have a seat at the table, but in a way that misses the point. You don’t get the seat at the table and then suddenly succeed; you have to drive a capability in a company, and then you get a seat at the table. Ask yourself what are you doing that is transformational? What are you doing that’s a differentiator? Are you thinking differently or are you an order taker?

That aspiration, I find, is lacking in some CIOs. But the opportunity is there for them to think like CEOs and to use the power of the organization to achieve greatness. To do that, they have to work broadly across the company—with the CFO, the head of sales, and other functional leaders. They have to understand these different roles and be very involved in bringing new ideas to them.

I believe that’s what is expected of me and I certainly am not waiting for somebody to tell me what to do. I see my role as leading people through significant change, to focus on the client.


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