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Ann Madea

CIO Catalysts: Introducing Ann Madea, CIO & Technology Advisor

Our guest for this installment is Ann Madea, CIO, and tech advisory board member for several organizations, providing guidance on strategy, technology, and innovation. With over 25+ years of experience, she is an IT and technology leader who has worked in global financial services and banking organizations focusing on disruption, strong global delivery, leading successful digital transformations, strategic reduction of operating expenses, and developing strong digitally savvy leaders.

She was most recently part of an amazing leadership team for a tech startup where her passion for data, 5G, edge computing, and IoT flourished. I was thrilled to talk to someone with such enthusiasm and strong experience in the technology landscape.

During our interview, Ann shared her insights across a range of topics including the unwavering importance of data, multi-cloud strategies, investing in IoT, the adoption of 5G, working in highly regulated industries, upskilling your teams, and so much more.

Every organization and every CIO should care about data and the quality of data because every single industry is facing new competitors and disruption across the board. We need to be thinking differently and data is going to help us get there.

Mark Ardito: Ann, to get started can you briefly introduce yourself, what is your current role and what have your previous roles been?

Ann Madea:
I'm really thrilled to be here. It's been great attending some of the CIO discussions with Kin + Carta. I've really enjoyed them.

I have over 25 years of technology experience and most recently I was the US Chief Information Officer for HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation), starting first with Household International until HSBC acquired us in 2003. HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organizations with global businesses including Wealth and Personal Banking, Commercial Banking, and Global Banking and Markets across 64 countries and territories.

Today I serve on several boards including my alma mater, University of Illinois, Chicago College of Engineering, as well as several other technology boards. In the first quarter of 2021, I was working with a technology startup, so that's where my interest in 5G and edge computing came in. I just loved it. It was such a difference going from a global financial services bank to a startup where I was writing technical patents and helping to develop products.

MA: Amazing. So your background is in a highly regulated industry. I hear all the time, when talking to other CIOs or CTOs, that innovation is so hard in that space, given all the restrictions. As someone who spent many years in that, what do you suggest for leaders who are trying to push innovation in an industry that is highly regulated?

Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time with regulators as does anyone in other industries such as healthcare. When it comes to industries that are heavily regulated, there are concerns from regulators, from the board, from the senior leaders, and frankly from within the technology team itself.

For me, it's really about education, trust, and partnering. Things have definitely changed over the years to where the business really understands technology and a lot of business partners are really tech-savvy, which is great. So what you have to do is gain their trust and provide education.

When you talk about the cloud, regulators are really nervous. They have questions around where the data is stored, the security of that data, and governance and controls of that data. That rightfully makes them apprehensive so there is a need to continuously have those conversations, be transparent and address those concerns. There were monthly meetings with the regulators just on the topic of cloud, sharing the workloads that were being considered, the decisions made, the risks and controls, and the successes.

For me personally, it was all about additional communication and getting leaders comfortable, I know they appreciated the transparency.

The more data we have and leverage, the better competitive position we will be in.

MA: You also mentioned your recent history with 5G and IoT. With the broad adoption of 5G that's starting to happen in the industry and the sheer amount of data that is starting to flow through IoT, where do you see the industry moving around that? And what does it look like for companies that invest in IoT technology and adopt 5G?

It's such a great time to be in technology! There are so many crazy and wonderful things happening. I saw a statistic that there are more cell phones globally than there are toothbrushes. And I just love that statistic because everybody has cell phones, and as a business, we want to take advantage of having that volume of data. Companies are constantly looking for a competitive advantage, they have internal data but now need to tap into the external data coming from all of these devices.

One of the issues is defining the use cases for this technology. But I think we’ve seen more companies that are starting to leverage this technology and identify those key business cases as they look for that competitive advantage.

For example, in retail, store sensors can be used to monitor employees’ and customer goods coming off the shelf. You can leverage this data to enhance your customer experience and your employee experience. Another area of focus is in the healthcare field, leveraging data from watches or Fitbits that are managing our health. We can detect changes in the health of a person and get help sooner.

There are so many applications that you can leverage. I think that having that volume of data and investing in 5G and edge computing is really helping to get that computing power and data closer so that you can make decisions faster which is going to be a game-changer.

In IT, we're working hand in hand with the business now and we're all focused on growing the revenue in the organization. The more data we have and leverage, the better competitive position we will be in.

MA: Agreed, these organizations have to be able to react and have systems in place to be processing data in real-time and auctioning it in real-time. 

You spoke a lot about the importance of data just now and I know that data is also a passion of yours. What started this passion and why should other IT leaders feel passionate about data too?

In one of my prior CIO roles, I was the Global Head of Data and Strategy for HSBC which is where my passion for data began and I've seen a lot of changes.

Data is absolutely critical. I read a statistic the other day that over 75% of the world's data has not been analyzed yet. That's a massive amount of data and a lot of potential out there because data changes everything.

I understand the difference between having the right data and having the right tools based on what they can do for an organization. If you have the right data and you have quality data, you can grow your new customer base, retain your current customers, detect fraud easier, identify new markets and new products, and improve the customer and the employee experience.

There’s a women's bank that just opened up in Chicago, I believe, in the past year. But the advantage that big banks have is that they have a massive amount of data that they can leverage to understand the customer's needs and wants and help to grow their business. All industries are facing disruption so we need to be thinking differently and data is going to help us get there.

You always want to establish KPIs and metrics to run your business as that's how you're going to measure success or identify gaps. It's through establishing those KPIs that will help you determine the success of the programs that you're running, whether it’s cybersecurity, transformations, or fraud.

You need data to make informed decisions across the organization. Every organization and every CIO should care about data and the quality of data because every single industry is facing new competitors and disruption across the board.

MA: I totally agree with you. I think that it's something that most organizations have been in, a collect and store type of data strategy. But we can't just keep storing data forever. We need to be driving outcomes from some of these insights. So how do organizations get past collect and store? 

I think it's really a matter of, do you have the right tools in place? Is your data sitting in the cloud? Have you made the decision on the cloud? If you have, what are the tools that you're going to be leveraging?

You have a lot of really smart people who understand technology, sitting in the business. And the business is pushing IT to say, “we want these tools so let's move forward with this cloud migration.” Once the risk, finance, and HR teams (for example), get in there and really start analyzing the data they will have better insights to run the business and make those informed decisions.

When you walk into a room and you've got a report and you've got data, it's not subjective, those are the real numbers that help to drive business outcomes.

MA: Since you mentioned cloud, I just want to go there too. A multi-cloud strategy can be scary but also extremely effective. I think most of us in the industry have all come to terms that multi-cloud is here and it's something that we should embrace and go with. I'd love your thoughts on multi-cloud and when's the best time to deploy that? 

A lot of companies are moving to a multi-cloud strategy, we actually had a multi-cloud strategy at the bank. And the real reason I think is choice. You have a lot of vendors that have specialties in different areas. You want to take a look at the specialties and the niches within each of those cloud providers and ask yourself, what are they really good at and who is better at something else?

Then start looking at the workloads and the use cases. When you're working with your business partners and they're coming back saying, “I have this issue, let’s work together. ” You can start to identify which of those vendors can support those use cases.

Also, if you start with the multi-cloud strategy, you should have a cost-competitive advantage. You also have less reliability on one vendor and so when you start to talk about disaster recovery or business continuity plans, you're not tied to one vendor.

I think it's the right decision for a lot of organizations but the challenge with a multi-cloud can be in the skill sets to support that strategy. It is likely that your teams may not have all of those skill sets. So if you're getting your staff trained on three or four providers, it may take a while. Find those use cases that work well, that you're going to be able to see success, and that the business will truly benefit from. You just have to take it slow.

You're not going to have success in digital transformation unless you have an organizational transformation, either before or during this program. Fear of failure should not be there.

MA:  Let's talk about digital transformation and organizational structure. It's often said that organizational structure won't move the needle unless you address things like incentives, key measurements, and changing the organization’s decision-making process. What do you believe is at the heart of digital transformation?

You're not going to have success in digital transformation unless you have an organizational transformation, either before or during this program. The bottom line is that you're focusing on the future needs of the organization. So your future state and how you're going to be successful through a digital transformation is that you have a team-based collaborative model and the fear of failure should not be there.

The team should be enabled to fail fast, win fast, so really focus on realigning those behaviors and building trust within the organization. It’s also important to recognize the need for an updated performance management and reward system as part of the process. The goals need to be clear and communicated to the teams, they need to understand what success looks like and that failure is not the end of the world. If organizations don’t do this, let's face it, the majority of digital transformation programs won’t be successful. Teams need to understand what their role is within the organization and how they are contributing to the success of the transformation and ultimately the business.

There’s a statistic that 80% of digital transformations fail for multiple reasons, including not addressing the organizational changes needed for success. You need to have the right tools and the teams need to have the right training on those tools. This includes the right level of communication and collaboration across the organization.

Questions like, do I have the right skillsets for the future organization, must be answered to identify those gaps and a training program can be put together to address them. Your team should also have a good understanding of technologies such as AI, ML and blockchain and how those technologies can be leveraged in their industry for that competitive advantage.

I would bring my teams to the Google offices in New York because we wanted them to see what another type of organization looks like, including how the teams were working together to solve problems.

For real success, the teams need to adapt, leveraging agile processes and enabling risk-taking without fear of retribution.

MA: I totally agree with you a hundred percent and I have been saying this thing for a long time, it's people, process, and technology.  And I say it in that order purposefully, if we can get the people in the process to work in a new way, tech is just tech. Everybody can go buy the same software.  But what makes companies unique and able to leapfrog other competitors is the people, the skill sets, and the processes that they're using.

That's it and organizations need to encourage continuous learning. You want your team members to understand it’s critical that they are always learning and thus continuing to enable the business to move forward. I loved when people came into my office and said, “I've been thinking about this new technology”. That's what you want to hear, but leaders also need to create, encourage and support that culture.

If you are not aligned with business partners and strategy and you don't know that business and the industry inside and out, you're going to have a real tough time being a successful CIO in this day and age.

MA: So part of our CIO community effort here at Kin + Carta is to create conversations that focus on what is truly important to someone in your position. So what information do you seek out that's not readily available or discussed? What are those things that you're constantly looking for in information?

Real success stories about digital transformation journeys, how and why they were successful, and the impact they made to an organization, including real numbers. I love discussions with companies, individuals and CIOs, about what they did to transform their organization and what others can learn from their success (or failures).

It was also interesting to see how companies managed work from home during the pandemic. And now they’re having to decide, am I hybrid? Are we going to go into the office? Are we going to stay working from home? What does that look like?

The role of the CIO is definitely changing. If you are not aligned with business partners and strategy and you don't know that business and the industry inside and out, you're going to have a real tough time being a successful CIO in this day and age.

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