CIO Spotlight: Chris Fielding, Sungard Availability Services

Are you leading a digital transformation? “Our digital transformation is focussed on enabling our business to react with new speed and agility to customer requests.”

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Sungard Availability Services

Name: Chris Fielding

Company: Sungard Availability Services

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: January 2018

Location: Theale, UK

Chris Fielding is the CIO for Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS). She joined the company in 2008 and held several positions before taking on her current role in January 2018. In her time as CIO, Chris has championed Sungard AS’ move from on-premise to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, led a push into agile methodology and DevOps, implemented a new project intake process that increased business engagement and accelerated project completions, and decreased North American operating costs through improving the usage of offshore teams.

What was your first job? My first job was a Pascal programmer for a small software development company.

Did you always want to work in IT? No. After graduation, I was considering a career in life science research so I started a position as a research assistant in an insect endocrinology lab. That role gave me access to a software package that supported data analysis, and I found I wanted to do more data analysis using the software rather than results creation.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they?  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology, however that did not open a door to a position in IT. I was very fortunate to be sponsored by the European Union to pursue a Master’s degree in IT, which led to a world of opportunity in a fast-expanding sector.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I started my IT career in software development for the defence sector. As a subcontractor you only ever see your piece of the puzzle, and I found I wanted to see the whole picture and understand the benefits that systems could provide. I then switched into the commercial section of the company, which had some new projects using an unknown product called Oracle. By chance, I had arranged to meet friends in London at a career event and found myself in conversation with some people from Oracle. A week later I had started as a solution consultant with Oracle Consulting, which provided me with 13 years of great opportunities.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We are undertaking a huge digital transformation at Sungard AS to enable our business to react with new speed and agility to customer requests.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? In a pandemic-led world, my top priority is enabling our business team to work remotely in a secure environment where they can easily communicate with customers and each other. We are also working with business teams on the digital transformation front to simplify and harmonise processes to allow the business to pivot quickly into the post-COVID-19 economy.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? This is a difficult question, because the business teams don’t need an IT person telling them how to run their business. What IT can bring to the party are ideas about how technology can help business leaders react more quickly to the changing business environment, stay relevant to their customers, or fail fast and hopefully at a low cost if they are not getting traction.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Our digital transformation is focussed on enabling our business to react with new speed and agility to customer requests. We are also working with business teams to simplify and harmonise processes supported by new technology, allowing us to bring new products and services to market more quickly while reacting with speed and accuracy to customer requests.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We have had a traditional view of key performance indicators (KPIs) for IT, but as we move from our on-premise systems into SaaS-based services, we are reviewing and adjusting these KPIs to be more related to business value. For example, it’s not just about how many tickets the service desk closes, but about how much time the user was unable to work. As we move more into the SaaS world it becomes about how to manage our relationships with the SaaS providers, as they will be resolving some of the tickets in addition to the IT team.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? We like to believe our culture is focussed on partnering with the business teams to make their job as frictionless as possible. We build our strategy around ease of use and process simplification and celebrate our team’s successes through that lens. For example, we rolled out Microsoft Teams in 2019 and worked with business teams to raise their understanding of the new technology and how they could use it. The business teams gave us good feedback, which resulted in steady usage of the technology.

When the pandemic hit, we saw a three-fold uptick in usage and the whole business was able to pivot to home working with tools they knew and understood. The efficiency of the business teams remained high and the payback for the program turned out to be much higher than we had anticipated.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The roles that we typically find hard to recruit for are in the middleware and analytics spaces. These are hot skills where the technology moves fast, so we try to build skills internally rather than buy in whenever we can.

What's the best career advice you ever received? An IT tech in the research lab at my first non-computing job told me, “you seem to be quite good at the computing for the lab, have you considered a role in computing?”

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I work with a group of leaders, all of whom are in different stages of their career. I have new leaders I am helping to develop, and I have seasoned leaders with whom I collaborate and set stretch objectives to demonstrate their value to business executives. I feel privileged to work with highly skilled people whom I am always looking to help further grow and develop. If I am unable to find them the right role in my organisation, then I look out for ways to help them get to their goals in other parts of the business. It is not always possible to meet highflyers’ expectations and they may choose to move on, so it’s critical to respect their choices and look forward to working with them again in the future.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? You can learn from every opportunity. Take time to consider why you were successful on a particular program, in addition to analysing the learnings of mistakes when things go  wrong.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Developing an IT organisation, bringing new ideas and technologies to the table, increasing the skill levels of team members and watching them grow and develop into a high functioning organisation.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have taken more risks on roles I applied for, and made people aware that I was ambitious and had the skills to add immediate value in a role.

What are you reading now? Usually, I read articles to increase my knowledge on a particular area. Right now I am looking at developments in analytics technology and how that can change the world!

Most people don't know that I… Am a football fan. Having spent my childhood in Manchester, England, there are only two teams in the world - one plays in blue and the other plays in red. I am, and will always remain, a Manchester United fan.

In my spare time, I like to… Socialise and am part of the village life in my rural community. I love walking with friends and have been playing cards on the first Monday of every month for about 15 years. I also volunteer at village events, like fetes, and have taken part in many school events over the years, though my daughter is now at University.

Ask me to do anything but… Sit alone without the opportunity to interact with people. I love the outdoors and constantly want to be on the move and interact with people, whether old friends or new acquaintances. I love listening to people’s stories.