CIO Spotlight: Matt Deres, Rocket Software

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? “My entire career was a detour…”

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Rocket Software

Name: Matt Deres

Company: Rocket Software

Job title: SVP, Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: April 2019

Location: Waltham, MA

Matt Deres joined Rocket in 2019 as Chief Information Officer. He brings over 15 years of senior-level transformational IT experience and was previously the Senior Vice President of Information Technology at ACI Worldwide and the Vice President of Global Infrastructure & Operations at PTC. Deres was also the NA Regional Infrastructure Head at Computershare and the Global Hosting Services Manager for Thermo Electron (Thermo Fisher Scientific).

What was your first job? My first job was at the Boys Club when I was 15 – and I taught kids how to use computers. Mostly Commodore 64’s. It lasted only about 6 months, but at the time I never thought for a second that it would end up being a career for me later in life.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, actually. I really wanted to be a musician when I was younger. I was set on going to a prestigious music school in Boston but was then convinced by my family to do something more ‘stable’ before fully committing to that career, so naturally, I went to nursing school. Things obviously worked out in the end for me, and I still have a deep affinity for music, in fact I’m part of the Rocket Band which is made up entirely of Rocket Software employees.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Initially a Nursing Program at a local community college, but then I received my Bachelor of Science in Technical Operations Management from Northeastern University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My entire career was a detour. I started working in a variety of various jobs, mostly in the medical field: At a doctor’s office, as a nurse in a hospital, various support jobs in a hospital x-ray department, and working with pathologists to perform autopsies. Concurrently I was working as a musician, playing in a band in the evenings and teaching instrumental music in local elementary schools. When our band broke up, I took a job driving a truck at the Yankee Candle world headquarters. It’s there I landed a job as a computer operator.

Shortly after I moved to the Boston area and took a role supporting a Fidelity Capital investment company as their sole IT person. This started me on my current path of corporate IT roles, where I then worked at a number of mid-sized companies, mostly in the financial services industry, that were all tech organisations. Each of these companies that had grown through acquisitions and had an enormous amount of technology debt from various acquisition integrations, which I spent my time and built a career around correcting.

In searching for my current role, I was looking for something where I’d have the ability to do different things, rather than just focus on one. Getting to work with a slightly smaller business allowed me to have quite a few irons in the fire. It’s allowed me to help make an impact on the company, be a member of the leadership team, share how to go ahead with an acquisition properly and really just champion IT services and software both internally and for our customers.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Data initiatives and security are dominating much of what I’m focused on. Our customers trust us to run in significant parts of their organisation, and so we need to assure that we can keep that trust through our security program. Separately there is a lot we can learn about our business by studying our data. As a result we’ve spent time mastering data and linking it together to unlock an enormous amount of potential to work more efficiently and improve revenue.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our CEO always has our customers at the heart of what we do and so we’ve been working on how we can make Rocket easier to do business with, through various Go-To-Market improvements, integrating processes to enable technical support teams to better access customer health data, and of course, our security initiatives.   

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The role of the CIO becomes much less about technology and much more about business every day. IT departments apply technology to business processes to enable the business to scale, have repeatability, work securely, and work efficiently. A CIO must be connected to every part of the business, to connect disparate projects or look for new opportunities that others in the company would not otherwise be able to see.  Then with that understanding have a business conversation about how applying the right technology can be a differentiator. The CIO has really become the business operations and efficiency leader.

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 has been largely cantered around automation and self-service. The only way to truly automate the processes in IT is to simplify and standardise your technical portfolio. That standardisation comes with the benefits of being easier and less expensive to maintain. It also provides the scalability needed, by removing low value work and creating the space for the IT teams to focus on high value work. Outside of work, people engage with self-service in all aspects of their life. They use a food delivery service to select a meal from a restaurant and choose a time for it to be delivered. They purchase anything from a lightbulb to a car off a website, configuring it to their desires along the way and having it delivered to their home. This has made self-service the new normal for how people like to engage with technology.  When you have to engage with people and negotiate an outcome for everything you want to do, it makes the experience feel old, out of date, and less satisfying overall. Putting the power of self-determination and instant gratification with self-service heightens the user experience, delivers the services when the customer needs them, and again takes work out of the hands of IT, allowing them to focus on larger projects that have a positive impact across the organisation and for customers.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We have a variety of KPIs that look at issues from a variety of angles, such as uptime and availability for critical services, achieving SLAs for delivering on service requests or resolving incidents, and one for measuring the amount of service requests that have been delivered via self-service or automation. We look to improve each year over year, including driving up the automation delivery, which is currently just over 30% of everything we do.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Many times IT organisations are G&A functions, which have cost structures that are tightly controlled. As a result people who can work with agility and accuracy are good fits.  Rework is a productivity killer. However, at the same time I like to remind people that that the quality of the service that you deliver is your reputation in a company. I like to have a good reputation and IT is a service provider, and so removing any friction in doing business with IT and delivering on your commitments will improve that reputation. Finally I have a very open door mentality for myself and any leader in my organisation. I regularly have skip level meetings and invite anyone to schedule any time that’s available in my calendar to discuss any topic.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? At the moment Data and Security people are in high demand. Having events like the Solar Winds breach will cause for the best talent to be highly sought after. Likewise many companies understand the value of unlocking the data nested away in all the various back office platforms and so really good data analysts or data scientists can be more difficult to find.

What's the best career advice you ever received? To show up. Showing up means being on that Webex/Zoom/Teams meeting 2 minutes before it’s intended to start so that you can use all the allocated time for the agenda (oh. And have an agenda!) Be present in the meeting and slow down the multitasking. Asking someone to repeat a question because you weren’t paying attention is simply rework. Do you have time for rework? It also means getting in front of your customers and staff no matter where they are.  Put yourself on a plane, when that time comes again, and meet with that team in India or the managers at that office in Brazil. Its hard to say bad things about someone if they come to you, get to know you and your issues personally, and look to engage on a solution.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I’ve had a lot of luck developing leaders over the years. In just the last 2 years, two folks that I’ve worked with have taken on CIO jobs, and I couldn’t be prouder for them! One of the roles of a CIO is to help curate a team to partner with you on the delivery of the IT strategy and IT Service Portfolio. Leaving their future up to chance when the proverbial bus or lottery ticket comes to bring an exit to the role is uncontainable. Plus you can greatly improve the trust that the business holds in the CIO and IT organisation if people know they can go to any of the IT leaders for help and not just the CIO! Giving leaders the opportunity for growth, through various projects or making them responsible for certain relationships builds up the roster and gives them team the experience they need to progress their careers.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? The advice I’d give is to network as much as you can. This last year was the perfect example of the importance of cultivating relationships throughout your career for leadership and guidance purposes. Making connections within your organisation and at industry events is crucial in today’s business world. I’d also encourage IT leaders to take on any project they’re interested in when they first start working. This is truly the only way you’ll get an understanding of what areas of IT you like and which you don’t.

What has been your greatest career achievement? As you can tell by now, I’ve had a lot of different careers. When I took my first IT job, I never had an expectation that it would turn out to be something that I’d be doing more than 20 years later. It was really just the next thing that I was doing.  I learned so much in that first job and enjoyed the work immensely. I got hooked and stuck with it. Taking that first step into this new thing changed my path forever – it actually gave me the career that I have!

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Really not that much of anything. I like the way my career meandered. I think that having a broad background helps me think about problems differently than if I had gone to college for IT out of school and did only that. The more experiences that you have the more you can contribute. Traveling for work has provided me the opportunity to see many countries around the world, seeing how people actually live. Having a medical background has helped when triaging and compartmentalising problems. To have done it different would have put me in a different place than I am now.

What are you reading now? One observation that I’ve had with the pandemic is that people are working a lot more. There’s no commute and nothing to do, so why not work. As a result, any thought of a business or technical book makes my head hurt. I need something to just unwind now, so am catching up on reading through some cookbooks I’ve been wanting to get to, including Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto and Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.

Most people don't know that I… because I actually wanted to be a musician when I was young and was in a band, we looked for opportunities to promote the band in any way we could. As a result I took a job as a caterer with a company that did backstage for touring bands and for movie sets. It was a great way to see the country, learn a lot about the music business, hear music every day and meet some great bands, musicians and actors.

In my spare time, I like to…Obviously play music! But also I cook a lot and am in the throes of renovating my house room by room.

Ask me to do anything but… go to the gym. Not that I hate exercise, but I can’t bare thought of staring at a wall on a treadmill or bike instead of taking a hike in the woods to experience the world and nature. I suppose it’s another form of multitasking, but I’d rather swim in a lake with my family than mindlessly going back and forth in a pool.