Historically, financial services has lagged other industries in moving to the cloud based on concerns about security and data protection. As cloud gains greater acceptance, financial services organizations are adopting cloud computing in greater numbers. On this episode, we talk with one CIO who has adopted a cloud first approach to computing. Mary Cecola, the Chief Information Officer of Antares Capital, explains her approach to cloud and offers advice for making a smooth transition.
Mary joined Antares in 2016 from Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Des Moines where she served as chief business technology officer. Prior to FHLB, Mary was global CIO, asset management for Deutsche Bank and held IT-related roles at Zurich Scudder Investments, Scudder Kemper Investments and Zurich Kemper Investments. Mary holds bachelor’s degree in political science and a masters degree in computer science from Northern Illinois University.
Thank you to Avanade for presenting this episode.
CIO Report: Cloud First in Financial Services
Michael Krigsman: Welcome to Episode #226 of CxOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman; I'm an industry analyst and host of CxOTalk. Today, we are going to speak with Mary Cecola, who is the Chief Information Officer of Antares Capital. And, I want to thank Avanade for underwriting this episode. Avanade is a professional services firm. It is the largest professional services firm serving the Microsoft platform. And, I have worked with Avanade for a long time, and it’s a great company. Avanade, thank you so much for sponsoring, for underwriting this episode of CxOTalk.
Mary Cecola, how are you? Thanks for being here!
Mary Cecola: I’m good today. Thank you for having me, Michael.
Michael Krigsman: So, Mary, tell us about Antares Capital. I know your company began life as an $18 billion company.
Mary Cecola: Yes, sort of. I mean, Antares Capital is a leading provider of financing solutions for middle-market private equity back transactions. The Antares brand has been around for about twenty years and has approximately $18 billion in loans. Antares maintains one of the U.S. middle market's largest senior loan portfolio. But, you are right about starting as ... We're a 20-year-old startup. For a long time, Antares was GE Antares, and has recently, with GE removing itself from the capital area, has become its own company in the last eighteen months.
Michael Krigsman: So, you spun out of GE, and when the company spun out, you decided to come on board, and then you decided to revamp systems. But, maybe that’s not the right word because, in fact, you’re a new company, so you had no systems.
Mary Cecola: Right. Since Antares spun out of GE Capital as its own organization, you had a twenty-year deal credit area that was an ongoing business. But, you know, in infrastructure, we had no technology. We were under a transition service agreement [(TSA)] with GE that was lasting 18 months. I was hired in about four months into that 18 months, which left us about 14 months to replace the infrastructure across the entire organization: five offices, 350 people. As well as we chose not to use any of the GE systems and migrate completely onto new systems.
Michael Krigsman: Before we go into it, I really want to talk about what you did, and how you did it, but before we do that, you’re the CIO. Tell us briefly, as the Chief Information Officer, what is your role?
Mary Cecola: Yeah, as the CIO here at Antares, I’m in charge of strategy implementation ─ everything around technology. And for the first 14 months of that, it’s been the transition services agreement and really making sure we move off of all the GE services and onto Antares services. So, it's been a roll, not only technically, but also this transition services agreement. And that includes watching the facilities migrate out in the different parts of the business.
Michael Krigsman: We are already getting questions from Twitter, and just hang on there, folks. We’ll get your questions. Let’s just get a little bit more into the conversation. Mary, you’re cloud first. You’ve used the term “cloud first,” and you think of yourself as a cloud first organization. That’s really surprising for financial services. So, how did that come about?
Mary Cecola: We had this great challenge ahead of us, right? We needed to migrate out of GE under this timeframe, and bring up all of our systems and create an entirely new infrastructure. You had a greenfield of technology, which is a gift a lot of new CIOs don't have. A lot of my greenfield of technology, though, I had a greenfield of staff. I had no staff. I was the first IT employee as part of Antares Capital. So, one thing we had to do… I took it as a role commitment to be as technology-forward as possible. I did not want to create a technology landscape that we would then be reinvesting in or getting rid of. I did a lot of research on cloud-based technology, and I really wanted to be as forward there as we could.
I will say I saw that as an infrastructure play, if you will, just kind of replacing my servers. And as we get down the road, I’m going to tell you, going completely into the cloud is a lot more than infrastructure play. And, as we went down the line, and we realized we had to have test systems up before I had a network in place, and before I could possibly have bought enough servers to do this. So, if you know you have to do that and get your SaaS systems up because you have to place every application at the same time you're putting in a network across five offices, the only way to do that is actually to host it in the cloud. And, we leverage the Azure cloud heavily.
Michael Krigsman: You say that cloud is not just infrastructure, and would you please elaborate on that?
Mary Cecola: Yeah. You know, as we started moving more and more things into the cloud, we did choose Azure heavily because we wanted to be extremely mobile. The Antares deal teams and the employees here are mobile. They’re fast. They’re dedicated. They can move through and close a deal in 6-8 weeks. So, we wanted to really give [them] mobile technology. So, we are committed to the Microsoft Suite here, front to back with Skype, and everything else to give them that on the road. We also then decided to do virtual desktops in the cloud, and we have our virtual desktops leveraging Citrix in the Azure cloud.
We chose to use OneDrive instead of a local drive and share drive. Instead of share drives, we use SharePoint so they really have all the tools at their fingertips wherever they are. As we kept moving, it almost became a challenge. We moved our first things into the cloud. We still talked about having a datacenter and having some things, but it almost became a challenge: “How much more could we put there?” And, I will say now that we are fully in the cloud, 100%. We have our desktops, we have all of our servers, domain controllers are out in the Azure cloud. And one thing you find is it changes your business model with your business.
I don’t … At my last job, I remember happening, one year, I could not do major projects because we had replaced all our SAN. And, I sat in front of a board member. I had to say, “I’m going to spend the year doing SAN into the datacenter.” And, the question I got was, “It seems silly you have SAN in your datacenter. Can you explain, and why it takes so long to replace?” You don’t have to have those board discussions anymore. So much of this is gone. We can focus on the applications. We can focus on the change-the-business stuff and not worry about the run-the-business things. So it really changes my relationship with the business and your, if you will, your corporate items that you have to worry about by being so into the cloud. I don’t have a datacenter to worry about.
Even when I talk disaster recovery with people. They realize the way we’ve done this with mobility, we can work anywhere. I think a larger thing we learned about was architecting in the cloud. A lot of people piecemeal the move into the cloud. They move test. Then they move disaster recovery. When you architect it front to back to be fully cloud-based, you don’t do it that way. You build the redundancy into your region. You build redundancy into another region, and it all just sort of works together.
Michael Krigsman: We have a really interesting question from Wayne Anderson on Twitter. And, he says, "With a spinoff in a cloud-capable world, what did you not do that weighs other companies down?" To me, that addresses two points. One is the greenfield aspect, and the second is what you were just talking about. You know, you don't have to talk with the board about disaster recovery because it's sort of just baked in.
Mary Cecola: Yeah. I think we’re not as weighed down by infrastructure. The speed we can bring a region up with we can change very quickly. Now we're rolling out all our applications at the same time we're doing the network, and suddenly they need another region for something. That could be built in a day. So, that's one thing that didn't weigh us down. I would also say, as we built this, the second person I hired was my information security officer. We layered security all the way through our implementation as we knew we had to do, being in the cloud. We are tech-forward with all the cloud we built, but are also security-forward with all the new tools that you can do there. That is another thing I think weighs other people down.
On top of it, Antares … Right now, his position is in such a good place. We have extremely modern technology front-to-back. So, when we look to add something, or when a new idea comes up, we’re not beholden to legacy technology. I mean, we could have kept some of these old systems and just migrated them over, but we’re not beholden to that anymore. So, somebody wants to put in something like Cortana so they can ask our data repository something. We’re built to do that.
Michael Krigsman: What is that like? You came from very large organizations with very well-established systems, I assume, both in the private sector and in the public sector; and this is entirely different. So, what's that like to be CIO in this kind of very, very different environment?
Mary Cecola: Yeah, it’s really exciting. I mean, 1) Antares is an exciting place to work for. One of the guys I hired recently said, “I love this place because you can really get things done!” So, 1) We have an environment where we're moving quickly. We have a team that's really committed to being technology innovators. But, also, one reason I'm so committed to being technology-forward and making sure we didn't repeat the sins of the past is when you're in a really large organization, just keeping your desktops up to date, staying in the most current version of Office can be so difficult! And, the way that we’ve done this with 365, we’re on the latest version all the time. We receive the updates. We don’t have those kinds of problems.
So, I think having been in large organizations that struggled with that legacy-technology difficulty interfacing systems, we really work to eliminate all those problems, that we built this. And it’s exciting! I will tell you that. It doesn’t mean we didn’t find new challenges along the way, so…
Michael Krigsman: So, of course, I have to ask: What are some of the challenges that you discovered as you were making this, I was going to say, “cloud-centric, cloud-first migration.” But it wasn’t a migration. It was a construction.
Mary Cecola: It was. And, our timeline was so small coming out of GE, you know? I'm meeting these… Basically, it [the timeline] was fourteen months when I was hired. By the time staff was in, you had twelve months to really build every layer of your technology and go live. And we did meet our date on that. I think that it was a really interesting challenge, and I think being… You could say it’s “cloud first” but we did build the entire thing in the cloud.
Some of the challenges we had with that, though, is tools you were familiar with, or maybe companies you were familiar with dealing with, they weren't ready. A lot of people tell you they're prepared to be in the cloud, but you have to dig into that and get under the covers. Some of the tools that we wanted to use, and that were Microsoft tools, weren’t ready yet. So we had very honest conversations with Microsoft. We knew where they were on certain things, but we had to use other tools in the interim. And now, we're migrating over.
So, I think some of the challenges we’ve had, and you’ll find when you’re in the cloud, is that vendors you might have used before that you were comfortable with, you have to look at them again. Some people you know might not be as open-minded to it. And, you know what? We find a lot of fun and interesting problems, but having a team that likes to take those on and says, "No, let's not step back. Let's keep moving forward." That is one of the key things you're going to need to overcome challenges.
Michael Krigsman: We have some more questions from Twitter, but I want to follow up on something you were just talking about, which is you don't have to spend time and resources on things like updating desktops; updating the software. Does that free you to apply the resources to innovation or customer-facing activities? What do you get when you're freed up in that way?
Mary Cecola: Yeah, and that's all part of this having all of your infrastructures in the cloud or leveraging these things like 365. You're exactly right. These run the business activities that drag down your budget and your opportunities as a CIO. They're truly taking care of. And we see ourselves as an IT department that is business-forward. We want to be there; we want to be at the table asking strategic questions. We want to help solve business problems as they come along. We don't want to have it be, "Oh, you're looking at your product. We're too busy upgrading desktops to be a part of that." We want to be strategic partners with the business. And we've built an infrastructure. We've built a technology base that's going to let us do that.
Michael Krigsman: And how does this change your ... Let me ask the question this way: Has this changed the relationship between IT and the business? Is it different from other organizations with which you have experience because of this?
Mary Cecola: Absolutely. No, I think 1) The business is very excited about how tech-forward we are. They look at a lot of different deals, and some of them have technology software companies and hardware companies. They invite us into those discussions to ask us to look at that technology with them. I've never been a part of business before where IT was brought to the table on business decisions like that. We're looking at new products. We know they've gone through that. I think we've created … It's both because of technology that I've also hired and created a team that is business-forward as well. We have great technology, but we're not just focused on that. We want to be part of the Antares business and my team is very good about integrating themselves with Antares. And we are part of Antares.
Michael Krigsman: So, you think about IT. The term you just used is “business-forward.” That’s how you think about the relationship of IT to the business.
Mary Cecola: Absolutely! I think if you’re not, you’re going to be left behind. And, I never want to be in a place where they’re coming with new technology that we don’t know about. We want to be looking at technology, thinking about how to apply it, how to make Antares Capital a better place through technology, through automation, [and] digitize items that they're still trying to do manually. Our opportunity to go and help them; that's where I see us as “business-forward.”
Michael Krigsman: We have a couple more questions from Twitter; some really interesting questions, actually. One is from Arsalan Khan, and Arsalan is a regular listener so thank you, Arsalan. Arsalan asks how much business process re-engineering you had to do to move to the cloud, and what were the cultural impacts? And, I know you were a new company, so you’re setting processes up greenfield, but still, the folks inside Antares Capital are from established financial institutions. And, so how did you have to re-think about it?
Mary Cecola: Yeah, and we might have been a greenfield of technology. Remember our systems were being run on GE platforms until we migrated over. So, we did have a legacy platform we were moving from. We ran about 35 different applications at GE. We were able to consolidate that around five major applications. The technology was not as well-integrated. There was a lot of gaps in manual input on the other side; we've integrated that. So, we've got very clean data the way it flows through. We did major business process engineering through this. As well as building up an IT team, we had to build up the finance team. The operations team was brand new. So, you had new teams coming in, a lot of them with GE experience because we relied heavily on hiring from there.
But, you know, our opportunity to restructure this ─ look at the way the system should interact, and build … We’ll talk about the cloud, but really what we did with the application infrastructure was just as amazing, [and] really being data-centric with it. Where is the data owned? Where is it moving to? And we were reducing manual entry as much as we could. And so, we did a significant amount of business re-engineering.
Michael Krigsman: How did the folks in management, the senior management of Antares Capital, react when you said, "Okay. This is all going to be cloud," right? I mean, isn't this all kind of practically unheard of in financial services?
Mary Cecola: It is. And, you know, the first question everyone always has for you is, “It it safe? Is it safe to move to the cloud?" And, you know, my answer to that, first off, having an information security officer in-house initially helping build those safeguards and the different layers of security. I think at this point, we're far safer. I don't think I could ever secure a datacenter the way that Microsoft has the ability to do with all the things they have there ─ the ability to sort of break things up into different regions within the cloud. Again, it gives me a flexibility that would have taken me a lot to build.
You know, my answer to that is it depends on how you do cloud, and which cloud you pick. You have to choose a safe provider. You've mentioned Avanade. We've also selected a vendor who's very knowledgeable about it [who] could bring to the forefront the Microsoft resources we need to figure out all of these solutions, and get that relationship very tight. I think going through those security standards, how we would do it, and why it can actually be safer.
On-prem used to be safe because you could guard your datacenter like a castle if you think about it. You've got a drawbridge and one entry and exit. And we know over the last 10-15 years that has disappeared. You have mobile devices now coming forward and other things that are coming in through those walls. Your opportunity to build security to protect your key assets which are your data, and protect those over everything else. It gave us a greenfield of cybersecurity which I think a lot of cybersecurity solutions are bolted on because there’s so much change in there. We were able to layer on modern cybersecurity right into it. And, it helped to hire somebody who was in cybersecurity. But, also what I would say, he was as passionate about moving into this, and he could explain it in good terms to auditors and to other people who ask the questions.
Michael Krigsman: So, it’s really interesting. You definitely believe that you are safer with the cloud than with on-premise - than with controlling your own systems.
Mary Cecola: Yeah. I really do. And, we could have a whole other discussion on that and why that's true. I do think it depends on the cloud provider you choose and making sure you find one that has strong security standards front-to-back.
Michael Krigsman: I totally agree. As a matter of fact, I’m always surprised when I talk with CIOs of any but the largest companies in the world who say, “Well, we can protect our datacenter better than Microsoft or any of the large cloud providers.” I mean, it’s impossible.
Mary Cecola: Yeah, I think that’s true.
Michael Krigsman: That’s how I see it.
Mary Cecola: Yeah.
Michael Krigsman: We have another fascinating question from Twitter, from Wayne Anderson again. And Wayne asks fantastic questions. Thank you for that, Wayne. So, Wayne says, "When you hear another CIO say, ‘I'm in financial services, and my key focus is to control costs,' how do you react?"
Mary Cecola: So, I think that has been true historically and I spent 25 years at Deutsche Bank. I really do understand that. I think this cloud migration ─ freeing up your run-the-bank resources. Because the other thing that's also a pressure there is not just reducing a cost, but reducing your run-the-bank and bringing up your "change-the-bank, change-the-business." So, in financial services, I think that doing this type of thing, you could go … If you decided you wanted to go full cloud, pitch to your board, pitch to your senior management, “This will be the last major infrastructure project I'll ever come talk to you about.” Separate from yourself. Move your datacenter into the cloud, and at that point, I think you're going to see cost savings either from continual capital investment, or just the way you're running things in the cloud. But you'll also be able to give a lot more time and attention to the business, which I do know, in financial services, they are desperate for.
Michael Krigsman: How did you have the conversation and convince the board that cloud was the way to go? What were some of their concerns and how did you overcome those concerns?
Mary Cecola: You know, security is always a major concern. So again, it's really kind of going through cybersecurity items. The speed at which we moved, and our ability to change quickly as we rolled this out getting off our TSA was a big goal of the organization and explaining how migrating into the cloud would help with that. Then, also talking about this business case of going forward and not having to continue to do these types of investments. And also, putting us at the forefront that we can take new technology on extremely quickly with the infrastructure we have. Those were all really solid points.
Michael Krigsman: So then fundamentally, it was, correct me if I’m wrong, the ability to scale, the ability to be fast, and the ability to have greater responsiveness and participation with what the business wants and needs.
Mary Cecola: Yeah, you articulated that very well. But, that’s a big part of the business case, and their concern is always the safety. So, your ability to prove that you’ve built those cybersecurity things in, I think waylays the fears and provides the business to the board about why it’s a good idea.
Michael Krigsman: Can you give us some examples of how the resources freed up, or the focus or the mindset of going to the cloud enables you to participate more fully and be more responsive to the business?
Mary Cecola: Yeah, it's a good question. Now, remember I built this team. So, it's not as if suddenly resources were more available. I will say my infrastructure team right now is about four people, which I think is tremendous. And we have some people who help with the desks and going around. So, [a] four-person infrastructure team, with $18 billion dollar business, I mean, those are pretty good numbers. That said, we do leverage Avanade heavily to help us with that; and a lot of the space, especially around Microsoft and SharePoint. But, we've got a managed service provider and that's the relationship we're going to have there. So again, we're not doing a lot of our management around things that don't add the most benefit to your business.
Now, as I say that, adding your networks up, having everything work, is very important. Downtime you can’t have there. But when that’s up and working and running, nobody in the organization tends to see that as you providing that to them, right? So working in a managed service model, reducing the costs with the cloud, and getting the majority of the focus on the applications, and changing those, and making those better for the business, that's really where you're going to see the savings. And even when I talk about four infrastructure people, two of them work almost full-time with the application development teams.
So, [it] really brought down the focus on my team for a lot of the infrastructure work, and then we focused back again on applications, data stores, producing new opportunities.
Michael Krigsman: Where does Agile fit in? And if you can talk about it in terms of not just project methodologies, but the mindset. Because I think it’s so central to that interactive and more responsive relationship that IT can have with the business.
Mary Cecola: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Doing this entire project in about 12-14 months, we were obviously agile. And I think Agile goes, to your point, much deeper than just a way to run projects. It’s not just having a scrum meeting or a Kanban board. Agile is really a mindset. And, our ability to think agilely to get … Our networks rolled out six months into this. We talk about having 12-14 months. We had to have the networks up and running and all the offices converted on to the new technology by mid-summer / mid- to late-summer. And right after that, we rolled in our general ledger. That was a few months later. We put in the other major applications.
In order to do that, we had to apply an agile methodology. We could not pull back and do requirements for six months. That would never have worked. So we had very interactive meetings with the business, we brought them all together on a regular basis. We reprioritized things quickly with them; got delivery back out; showed it to them ─ had that sort of interaction with the business. I also think we deliver a better product, because, you know, when someone asks you what you want, you don't always have all the answers, right? And this agile methodology you can do ─ of then showing it and changing it. I'm not saying, "Well you gave me these requirements nine months ago. You have to stick with them." [This method] also really helped us provide good solutions for the Antares Capital organization.
But Agile, I think, is more than a project methodology. It's a way to think. It's a way to approach problems so you're not sitting back and dithering for a long time. You're looking for solutions quickly. And then also, the ability to get changes out on the desktop. Or at one of our applications, we’re going to go on four-month sprints, delivering something every two weeks. For financial services, that’s fantastic.
Michael Krigsman: I want to remind everybody you’re watching Episode #226 of CxOTalk. We are speaking with Mary Cecola, who is the Chief Information Officer of Antares Capital. And, Avanade has underwritten this episode, and we are very grateful to Avanade. They are the largest service provider for the Microsoft platform, and I’ve worked with Avanade for a number of years now and it’s a really great company. So Avanade, thank you so much for underwriting this episode of CxOTalk.
Mary, you mentioned this agile mindset, and it’s funny. As you were talking, I was thinking to myself: Agile, in a way, is a kind of ongoing show-and-tell. Build and show, build and show, right? And get feedback on that. And you mentioned the term “mindset,” as distinct from project management methodology. So, what is that agile mindset?
Mary Cecola: It’s a good question. I think it’s … It is Show and Tell and going back and forth. But, it's also, again, thinking quickly on your feet; looking for solutions very fast. [It’s] keeping that delivery to the business not just about what they asked you for initially, but getting it on the desktop and making it what they want instead of what they might have originally thought.
Agile’s a mindset to me because what you're really trying to do is deliver something that makes the end-user’s life better. And, doing that means you have to make changes often. Sometimes, what you developed wasn’t all right, and you might have to throw half of it away. That’s okay if what you’re trying to deliver is what they want at the end of the day. So, I think Agile’s a mindset because if you keep that in the forefront, then you're going to stay agile, and you're going to stay delivering. Show. Tell. It isn't going to be right. Fix it, and that's a good thing.
Michael Krigsman: Okay. So now, I’m slightly confused.
Mary Cecola: Mhmm.
Michael Krigsman: Because, when you say you always want to be doing the right thing for the business, and giving them what they want, how is that different from IT before the cloud, before Agile? I mean, right? CIO and IT, haven't they always wanted to do the right thing for the business?
Mary Cecola: Maybe. And, I’m not going to say anyone didn’t, but you often get hung up on internal IT department processes and things that are important to you. And that often, in organizations, can create a gulf between the IT department who’s trying to do things a certain way especially when you have to keep a datacenter up. When you’re spending a whole year replacing your SAN. When you’re doing things that you want to say, “But this is important,” but at the end of the day, it doesn’t feel important to people who are trying to move the business forward.
So I think 1) That's where the cloud can add to this sort of, "Now we're focused both on the same important thing." Also, with traditional waterfall and collecting requirements and you sign off on it, I think often of developing systems [is] like building a house. When I say, “I want this sink,” or that it doesn’t turn out to be what you want at the end. You change your mind. You want different colors; you want different things. And, when you sign a requirements document and people disappear for six months, you deliver that [and] you say, "Wait, that's not really what I wanted." You often got again this gulf between, "Well that's what you asked us for." Or, you know, "This is what we've been working on. You signed off. You're done with it." Agile lets you throw that out.
And if you have the agile mindset that, look, everyone doesn’t get it right the first time. We’re going to show, we’re going to change, we’re going to do it, and deliver something that is what people want, but maybe not what they asked for. Does that make sense?
Michael Krigsman: Yeah, it makes sense. So, the agile mindset, then, forces you into a different kind of project management methodology.
Mary Cecola: Exactly. It really does. You still need the proper documentation ─ we’re all in a highly-regulated business. And following that, making it highly light and flexible ─ not making too much process ─ and focusing on the end-deliverable.
Michael Krigsman: What about change management in an Agile environment. How is that different from a traditional software rollout?
Mary Cecola: It’s a really good question, and what I’m going to tell you that you need to keep certain controls and processes in place. Change management is one of those that becomes more important. Things are changing quicker. You can build environments quicker in the cloud world, and make those changes. You can make application changes much quicker following structure, and making sure that you got good source control. Following a very structured approach to migrating that into production, having good back-out abilities, is more important when you’re putting change in quickly.
Michael Krigsman: It sounds like you spend a lot of your time – we’re going to say managing vendors – I’m not sure if that’s quite the right term, but selecting partners and working with partners and negotiating with partners. Is that a fair statement?
Mary Cecola: You know, that is fair. And, the fact that, again, around this fourteen months to create a team to implement all these items … We made some key hires along the way, but I also really leverage some key business partners ─ firms I’ve worked with before or I could really trust for the different things they do. And, I was using three different vendors. Avanade was a very key one. Again, right in that Microsoft space. And, working closely, we made an early decision that we were going to use managed service providers for parts of the IT department that we did not consider, I’m not going to say, “mission critical” ─ everything is mission critical ─ but it’s something that you can outsource and monitor instead of spending your precious hours on it. And so, we have some very good strategic vendors.
Michael Krigsman: Why did you make that decision to work with managed service providers? Why did you do that?
Mary Cecola: There are a couple of reasons. 1) We did have a speed issue. So, having providers come in and help us go very quickly as sort of surge consultants. But longer term, migrating certain things to managed service providers and being able to check service levels. It again takes the focus, the day-to-day focus, of a lot of your team in management away from these items that may not be as crucial at the end of the day having to build that entire group.
I also find sometimes, keeping an innovative mindset, keeping an Agile department, keeping it lean, keeping those types of people focused, and not creating a lot of groups or being able to make changes with those managed service providers when they’re not delivering the way you need it also makes managing your department a lot easier.
Michael Krigsman: And what about the skills issue? To what extent were you thinking, “Well, if I go with these managed service partners, I don’t have to develop these skillsets in-house.” To what extent was that part of the thinking process?
Mary Cecola: Absolutely, and I think it’s a really good point. Either A) I was able to bring in managed service providers that knew a lot of things and could help the team I had on the ground with some of their problem-solving, but there are a lot of skillsets that we just went with ─ a new help desk. I didn't want to have to create one of those and figure how to train that up. We will leverage that and then the tool that they were using to do the problem management along the way. Those were items that we could really add that talent and that competency without that being something we had to grow in-house.
Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Again, from Wayne Anderson. Wayne Anderson asks the questions that I should have thought about asking, but didn’t. So thank you, Wayne. And he says, “What was the single most important trait or factor to contribute to vendor trust for you?”
Mary Cecola: That is a really good question.
Michael Krigsman: Isn’t that? That’s a great question!
Mary Cecola: And my answer is “delivery.” I mean, well, a couple things. When I have a vendor who can come in and deliver on their promises, that’s crucial to me. A vendor who’s transparent. So, consequently, there’s a problem with what they’re working on, they let me know. They let others come in and help ─ also really important. The worst thing is for a vendor to go off, have an issue, and let you know later. Ones that are very strong in the competencies they have. And then their ability to move resources out when they don’t work… Sometimes, resources aren’t working for talent, and sometimes its cultural fit. The ability to say, “This isn’t happening and get those changes very quickly,” is important to me. They have to be trusted advisors with me. And in some ways, the lead of these managed service providers that I've used; those people are on my team. They meet with my team, and they feel like a part of our organization. So, we don't treat them like they are something different. But, those traits: really being good at what they say they’re good at; having transparency into what they’re doing ─ when they’re having issues, and what’s going well; and then also the ability to work with us on resources is key. You earn that trust, don’t you?
Michael Krigsman: I think that the issue of … I’m so glad that Wayne asked that question, because the issue of trust, especially in the cloud, where you are putting your crown jewels in somebody else’s hands.
Mary Cecola: Yeah.
Michael Krigsman: It’s so important. And we have another interesting question; this time from Scott Weitzman. And Scott asks, “With the cloud environment, is your COE, your center of excellence, also held and built within the cloud?”
Mary Cecola: Umm, so, it depends on what our center of excellence is. I have heard that term used around different sort of functions within an organization. But we have no on-prem servers. We have none. So everything that we have built is in the Azure cloud environment.
Michael Krigsman: Wow. Now, I want to continue with this theme of the relationships with vendors. And, I know that you’ve been working very closely with Avanade, and so where does Avanade fit into this picture? And, you’ve kind of alluded to it, but where does Avanade fit?
Mary Cecola: Yeah, it’s a great question. One of the first people we had in was from Avanade. He helped us to build our internet site. He’s helped us to move all of our files. And, these are not data files. These would be files out of share drive at GE into SharePoint. And as we architected that working directly with different departments, I’m going to bet there are a few people at Antares Capital who don’t realize he’s not one of our employees.
They were key with the network rollout and we had a couple good Avanade partners who were on the floor. When we talk about this network rollout ─ five cities in seven weeks, and some of these offices ─ two hundred desks. I mean, just unloading the boxes sometimes. We changed every technology component on the desktops in that transition. Just getting the equipment on the boxes, setting it up on the desktop, hooking it to the network. I loved when I was in Chicago and half the people we had here to do other things … So, I’ll come in the week and I’ll help you with that.” So, we had people of all different backgrounds helping us basically set up desktops, and those were our Avanade partners with us.
So, we’ve leveraged them around the Microsoft Suite of SharePoint desktop. They help my ISO with the cybersecurity decisions and looking at that. They helped us with a lot of the early architecture around the cloud. I actually remember going to Avanade and talking about what we wanted to do. And, one of their key partners said, “You know, everybody else Mary is halfway down this marathon. You guys are standing at the end line saying, ‘Where do we go next?’” And it was a really good insight to why we were having trouble getting answers to certain questions because we were in a place other people weren't looking at. But, I appreciated [that] they've helped us look down that road and look forward, and try to find new solutions.
On top of that, they really helped build up our relationship with Microsoft, making sure we were talking to the right people.
Michael Krigsman: Any time you’re doing this kind of project that you’ve described, which is so encompassing and especially on a very tight timeframe, it’s always fraught with complexity. And, it’s hard enough to do that if everybody works for you inside your organization and reports to you. So, in that relationship with Avanade, how did you manage all of these pieces? And how did you ensure that everybody was working on the same page and moving forward in just the right way since you're dealing with multiple organizations?
Mary Cecola: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I think project management and time-boxed projects, and hitting deliverables like that … I mean, we had teams: we had infrastructure team; we had desktop teams; we had every single application being developed at the same time; and in the background a whole separate team who is bringing the data over through GE, cleansing it, and deciding what areas it went into. We used very strong project management. I had brought in a key delivery manager that I had known very well in the past to help with that, and really those streams all reported up. We had regular meetings together.
To your point, people don’t always want to tell you about the problems they’re having. We had a very open door about that. And it was more. Again, I bring up this transparency because what you’re talking about and the ability to do this type of work so quickly … If people don’t feel like a group can walk into your office and go, “Mary, we’ve got a problem!” You’re not going to get through it because these problems are going to linger in the background.
We had a very open door on that, we talked about problems very openly. Problems were brought to the forefront, and this is where I’m going to get to the agile mindset. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I have a problem I had better hide it!” It’s “I got a problem, guys! Help me solve this so we can move on to the next thing.”
You know, Avanade brought their management around that. I think I mentioned their senior person is one of my team and a partner to us. I think having … It was both the managed services working with them, but also having this very open mindset of problems are things to discover and solve, and not to worry about and hide.
Michael Krigsman: We have just a few minutes left, and I think it would be really interesting if you can share advice or share your learnings about working in this kind of environment where you’re managing a mission … vendors working on mission-critical parts of your business. So, how do you develop that trust? How do you manage that relationship? How do you keep the complexity inherent in check so it works?
Mary Cecola: It’s a great question! I think having a shared vision is very important. We know our shared vision of moving to the cloud. We know our shared vision of being technology-forward. But, also seeing that whatever impact we have, we have to have the lowest impact on the Antares Capital business side that we can have. And everyone has those in the forefront of their minds as they move forward.
Having oversight and clear delivery, and understanding when things are missing, and what you’re going to do about it ... So, you need, I mean not a formal contract, but a clear contract with these vendors of what the mission is, how we're going to approach it, getting them to understand that vision but also your corporate culture and then having good controls and a good ability to monitor what’s being delivered and how it’s coming through. And, prioritization. Never forget prioritization.
Michael Krigsman: But you can’t write all, as you said, you can’t write all this down into a contract. And so, when you’re working with Avanade, just as an example, how did you make sure that that trust was there? I mean, what did you do? What advice can you offer other people who are staring into a huge project with external vendors, and they’re terrified?
Mary Cecola: That’s a complex question. I have done it a number of times. I think 1) Bringing them into your team and bringing them into your fold, and treating them as part of the project is very important. Don’t delegate to them that they’re going to do this, and [that] you’re not going to have any oversight. Staying very clear. Having those meetings with them. We would also have meetings between the technology departments, [and] the business areas we’re working with. We talked about issues openly. You have to be very actively involved. You can’t be hands-off.
But on top of that, I guess that’s where I talk about moving people out if they’re not working out. If you see someone who isn’t fitting the culture and the vision, having honest conversations and having a firm that will have those with you. And migrating people out when you see them not either being transparent or making decisions around technology that is taking us backwards. We ran into that with certain people.
I don’t ... I think the big answer there is, you can’t just delegate it. You still have to own that project. You still have to own that firm that’s doing it, and you know, build trust but verify.
Michael Krigsman: And obviously, it worked. And then, my final question to you in our last one minute is what advice have you got for other CIOs who are trying to convince their management that cloud really is okay; we can do it?
Mary Cecola: Yeah. I think my first advice is “Don't appear to own it.” If you're going to go into it, move an entire application, and architect for it. If you're looking to explain to people and they have questions and they say, well, "Is the cloud safe?" or "Is the cloud this?" Changing that argument and saying, "What controls do you need to see? What items do you consider safe? What are you holding this up to?" Because if you just say, “Is the cloud there?” That’s not the answer. The answer is “What controls are you looking for? What way would you consider something safe?” And being able to answer those questions.
So, sort of changing it from, “Oh, it’s the cloud. It’s big and scary.” Picking good vendors is very important, and showing that you did that well ─ that you’ve checked that they are secure. And then saying, “What kinds of things do you need to see to say any environment’s secure?” I mean, you and I challenged earlier, I don’t think on-premise datacenters are that secure. So what makes comfortable that it is secure, and how can I show you that that’s true about where I built mine? I think that’s very important.
Michael Krigsman: So always have as your reference point the business value, the needs of the business and not get hung up, as you said earlier, on IT processes.
Mary Cecola: Yeah. Exactly. That’s very important.
Michael Krigsman: Okay. Well, we have been talking for about 45 minutes and unfortunately, our time is up. I wish we had a lot more time.
You have been watching Episode #226 of CxOTalk, and a big thank you to our underwriter Avanade, and a really big thank you to Mary Cecola, who is the Chief Information Officer of Antares Capital for being here and sharing your experience, and your wisdom with us. Mary, thank you so much!
Mary Cecola: Thank you, Michael!
Michael Krigsman: Everybody, come back next week. You can go see our upcoming episodes on CxOTalk.com/episodes. And, for sure, you should subscribe to our YouTube channel by clicking the YouTube button that’s on your screen. Thanks so much, everybody. Have a great day. Bye-bye!