When it comes to making analogies, Pension Protection Fund (PPF) CTO Simon Liste’s Spanish roots – both his parents are Galician – come in handy. He is not someone who likes to tapar agujeros (cover the cracks on the wall). Liste’s modus operandi implies diving straight into the root problem and fixing it.
That’s exactly what he is doing as CTO at the PPF – a government statutory fund that provides compensation to members if their employers become insolvent and can’t pay pension benefits due.
Drawing from more than 24 years of experience as a technologist across different industries, Liste joined PPF in February 2018 to lead its digital transformation.
He is a firm believer that, whichever industry you are in, technology is a key enabler for change and innovation. This has become obvious during the pandemic: technology is allowing employees to continue working even in the most difficult circumstances.
Central to PPF’s digital transformation is a three-year strategy to overcome the organisation’s legacy and make it a technology-first company.
Here, Liste speaks to Tech Monitor about the progress achieved so far in the plan – and why CIOs should be an agent for innovation within their organisations.
PPF’s three-year plan
PPF’s three-year strategy is to transform the organisation from the core.
To achieve this, Liste says the company had to understand the full potential that technology solutions can offer, while maintaining value for money without compromising service or quality.
Now halfway through year two, the strategy was built on three pillars: gaining control and enhance, review and re-design, and digitise and innovate.
During the first year, Liste and his team focused on disaggregating the company’s IT support structure. Like many other government organisations, the PPF had followed an outsourced model where an external service provider held complete control of its IT estate.
Instead, they moved to a hybrid model made up of internal specialists and external partners. “I wanted to ensure that the business doesn’t have dependency on one single external partner but not to be dependent on internal resources only, either,” says Liste. “That’s why I think the hybrid model is the best approach. It also allows us to turn the tap on when there’s appetite for change and want to scale up.”
Liste’s filter for external partners was based on vendors’ specialism, their industry reputation, flexibility and agility that would allow progress at a suitable pace.
By Q4 of year one, PPF had regained control of its estate and had improved service levels. Above all, it also had a clearer vision of what technology can do for PPF’s 249,000 members and how to better manage its £36.1bn in assets.
During year two of the three-year plan, which will conclude in Q2 2021, Liste and his team have successfully enhanced PPF’s technical estate.
This has included providing secure remote services, increasing and maturing cloud capabilities, designing and implementing a security strategy, improving the business experience of IT, and lowering costs while delivering a better customer-centric service.
Needless to say, all of this paid off when the coronavirus outbreak began disrupting the UK.
“These are a few of the successful deliverables but the biggest success was being able to have all of the PPF working remotely within 24 hours of the lockdown in March, ensuring we were able to continue to protect our members,” Liste tells Tech Monitor.
Many of PPF’s members are vulnerable people so Liste had made it clear that any disruption caused by these changes should be kept to a minimum. That’s why instead of rushing to implement Teams across the organisation, which could take months to complete, he decided to use Zoom as the collaboration tool during Covid-19.
“We didn’t want a massive upheaval or a complete architecture redesign that would have meant potential unavailability or impact to the service we provide to our members,” he adds.
Liste’s plans for year three include enhancing PPF’s cloud infrastructure (private, public and shared), boosting the channel experience for internal PPF colleagues as well as members, improving data management, reporting and visualisation experience, and growing and maturing their communications services.
“We’ve committed to deliver this and maybe a little bit more by year three because I am a little bit greedy,” says Liste.
The CIO as an innovator
Every organisation expects different things from their CIO or CTO. In Liste’s, he has been tasked with driving change and innovation from day one. However, he confesses, he’s lucky to have a CEO who is on board with his digital transformation vision.
Liste’s influence over the wider strategy of the business can be credited to his capacity for deciphering the technical language of IT into a business-friendly language that can be understood by the Board.
“CIOs need to have the ability to translate business demands and show how technology can help,” he explains.
The CIO role, he continues, is going to be much more business driven. CIOs need to adapt to this and be able to tell the CEO how technology can help an organisation not just saving on costs but placing it ahead of its competitors.
Liste concludes: “It’s about the business drivers, not about the technology. Technology should not drive. Business and technology work together and go forward as a unit.”