Leading with a Careful Mix of Action & Caution
SPONSORED BY NUTANIX
Experian Director of Technical Transformation discusses how important it is for CXOs to consider carefully and to embrace internationalism.
Never rush to say no, but also, take time to think carefully about the implications, and whether doing nothing is an option; although these two statements may be paradoxical, Aline Hayes, a CXO with financial data services firm Experian says business technology leadership is a constant balancing act of the two. Her careful mix of action and caution has enabled her to lead a diverse career and deliver significant business change.
"In the main, we try and create slick and smooth experiences, and they should be really easy to use, as everyone aspires to the level achieved by Apple," says Hayes, Director of Technical Transformation, for the EMEA region at Experian, the financial services data business. Technologists aspire to build technology that has an easy user experience, however there can be a negative side; one example Hayes uses is: "people with mental health conditions can have episodes that lead to big spending splurges because of the easy user experience. So, a lot of financial services firms are putting in little speed bumps. It is not to stop people from having agency, but slowing it down gives people time to think."
Hayes is an advocate for, at times, slowing down the digital world. In a technological age, she says this is part of the care and purpose that society is coming to expect of CXOs. "It's being highly supportive of people who are living in the moment, and they can end up in serious debt.
Hayes, therefore, says: "There's an imperative to get on, to step back and think." She adds that sometimes, strange as it may seem for a technology leader, the option of not pushing ahead must be considered. "If we do nothing, what changes? Does the situation get worse? Then you can look at the other options. You can find that you get the business benefits without spending. People don't discuss, will it cost more to fix than what you save? So, step back and look at all the options and only use technology where it is in the right place."
Hayes has had a multi-faceted career and journey to becoming a CXO, and a relentless desire to challenge herself. "People sometimes think I am not a technologist, which makes me laugh." With a degree in informatics and having led technology in banks, city authorities, and universities, Hayes is a technologist, but she didn't begin her working career in tech, and has an inquisitive nature towards the business. "Always take the time and effort to learn about how other areas of the business work. Find out what pain points exist, listen to the language they use and then use that language as it will make things much easier," she says.
Hayes says she "flounced" out of school following a poor showing in mock-exams; this led to a period of unemployment before a temporary job as a computer technician brought her into the world of IT. This led to a role in the IT department of a college where she would study technology and set up a help desk. On completing an informatics degree whilst raising children, Hayes went on to study but not complete (“I had competing high demands on my time and the studies came third after family and work”) a PhD in artificial intelligence (AI), long before it became the hot topic it is today. "In my first degree we did a lot around failure modelling and strategic management, so it was about understanding the business & solving business problems. As a mature student who was still working, it was easy for me to understand the context."
Having taken an unorthodox route into technology leadership, Hayes has continued to take on projects and roles outside of technology. "I think it's normal to do projects outside what I may be immediately qualified for. My advice is: don't say no straight away. If you get the reputation for never taking on something different, you'll never get the opportunity. Also, ask for those opportunities if you think you could do more," she advises peers.
This varied route to the top table of technology leadership has also demonstrated to Hayes the importance of having a diverse range of thoughts and experience to hand. "Diversity is hugely important to being a fair and good business," she says. At Experian, Hayes says the business has a high awareness of what debt does to people's lives and it incorporates that into how it creates digital solutions. "If the only people we get in a room are white, middle-class men, then we will have a limited level of perception. You get a much richer sense of the solution with a more varied set of lived experiences." She adds that the pandemic and the move to global remote working increased the awareness of the business about the working conditions of parts of the organization, for example in locations where colleagues regularly experience brownout power disruptions. Diversity to Hayes and a global organization like Experian is not only in the essential areas of race and gender but also about the uniqueness of nations it operates in. "It stops me from being part of that monoculture, and I learn so much working with people from Eastern Europe, North America, Central and South America, Malaysia, India, and China. I highly recommend it to everyone because you have to be open-minded and empathetic."
This skillset will be vital to technology leaders and their team members she says as more business becomes international. "Increasingly, organizations are reliant on global talent, and there are very few organizations that are not working with partners overseas, so you will have to have respect for people from different cultures." Experian also has a cohort of women technology leaders that it is developing to ensure the leadership always has access to strong gender diversity.
Like fellow Nutanix CXO Spotlight peer Rich Corbridge, Hayes has crossed from the public sector to the commercial world, and she also believes the perception of differences is not as stark as many believe. "The big difference is scale and complexity. In the public sector, the level of integration is significantly less."
Hayes continues to challenge herself, taking on creative writing whilst continuing to expand her business and technology leadership skills.