CIO Spotlight: Bill VanCuren, NCR Corporation

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? “Culture is the number one barrier to digital transformation.”

NCR Corporation

Name: Bill VanCuren

Company: NCR Corporation

Job title: SVP & Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: March 2008

Location: Atlanta, GA

Bill VanCuren is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for NCR Corporation. In his role, VanCuren is responsible for the full strategic IT portfolio, global networks and processing services for both internal and external customer managed services, as well as all workgroup collaborative and mobile computing. He also oversees information security and compliancy as well as NCR’s SaaS datacenter strategy and operations. As a result of implementing leading practice strategies, VanCuren’s organisation has been named to the InformationWeek Elite 100 (previously the InformationWeek 500) four times over the last six years and has been recognised by CIO magazine’s CIO 100, honoring organisations that are using IT in innovative ways to deliver business value. VanCuren was also named CIO of the Year in Georgia in 2011.

What was your first job? My first job, where I received a real paycheck, was bagging groceries as a grocery store clerk when I was a junior in high school at 16 years old. This was where I learned the importance of customer service.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I actually wanted to be a farmer. But when I found out I had pretty bad respiratory allergies, my allergy doctor told me working on a farm would be bad for my health and advised I work in an air-conditioned environment. I then researched steady, growing job markets and good paying jobs in air-conditioned environments and discovered computer programming.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have an undergraduate degree in business administration with a major in computer science and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My career path has been primarily in IT roles, either embedded in the business or in central corporate IT spending. This gave me time to learn all the disciplines of IT while also making sure I spent time in the business functions. My IT job rotations included software engineering, development, project management, IT business partner, liaison roles, management roles, architecture roles, regional and international exposure, and eventually global responsibilities for development and deployment, all leading me to the CIO role.

This type of path is the career advice I give to people who want to become CIO – it gives you cross-functional capabilities and an understanding and empathy for all the various business functions in an organisation.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Initiatives must be aligned to the company's strategy. Any initiatives we're doing must enable the company's overall strategy to really be an as-a-Service provider. For example, moving our customers – banks, retailers and restaurants, primarily – to high-value services and subscription offers while enabling NCR to run their operations.

Our technology investments are very focused: endpoint edge, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, cloud-based enablement technologies and mobile applications for the consumer so they can easily bank, buy from stores or order from restaurants. All of those initiatives are technology enablers, but ultimately, make the customer experience better. This allows our customers to focus more on their consumers and NCR can be their trusted technology provider to run their operations.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? First and foremost, our priority is enabling the company's strategy to effectively allow NCR to be the enterprise technology provider for our restaurant, banking and retail customers, so in turn, our customers don’t have to worry about technology and can do what they do best, create a great experience for their consumers.

My objective is to make sure we have the capability for customers to easily order the solutions they need so they can have the entirety of digital services that NCR provides. I want to make sure that we make the whole ordering and invoicing experience easier as a whole package, opposed to segmented pieces of the solution. The whole solution offer must be commercially workable through an IT infrastructure that's efficient and effective. This approach supports NCR’s goals, which our CEO calls 80, 60, 20; 80 percent of our revenue should be coming from software and services, 60 percent of that revenue should be recurring every year and 20 percent is the goal for our EBITDA margin.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? The CIO role should be shifting more and more responsibility to customer-facing, revenue-generating front office technologies and spending less time and budget on proverbial back office internal technologies.

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? I think every CIO, whether they know it or not, is part of a digital transformation. If they weren't actively transforming for their own customers, they certainly, over the past 12 months, had to transform in order to survive the pandemic when their workforce went virtual. If your employees are working outside of the office, you're absolutely digital. Employees no longer have access to a big multi-function printer, whiteboards or face-to-face collaborative spaces. The CIO has enabled, to some degree, your company to be digitally transformed during the pandemic. Employees are essentially IT’s internal customers, and they need digital transformation, especially during the pandemic. When employees can safely return to office, their expectations will be even higher than they were when they left the office a year ago.

Regarding customer experience – yes, digital transformation drives customer experience, especially if you’re a CIO who wants to truly service your external customers. The design thinking you're going through (or should be going through) must be led by customer experience. I recommend all CIOs partner more closely with their marketing and sales organisations to align the customer experience, regardless if you have a chief digital officer role or not. If you don't have the digital officer role in the CIO organisation, embrace this role as one of your more important partner in the business.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Strategically speaking, being a customer-focused as-a-service business and meeting our 80/60/20 objectives guides everything we do. We are shifting to more business-driven metrics while still preserving the importance of traditional metrics like uptime, availability and response. In that sense, yes, we're definitely introducing more digital business metrics into our nomenclature. Additionally, we are transitioning to look at more value metrics, such as the percent of orders or invoices that are digital versus manual, and the number of customer devices that are connected to our support platforms.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Culture is the number one barrier to digital transformation. If you are part of a digital transformation, the first thing you should address, and what I've been trying to address in the past couple of years, is the culture of IT. Ask yourself: What is the culture? How well do you embrace a “customer-first culture” when collecting digital experience input from your users? How do you reward employee behaviour? For example, their focus on business outcomes as opposed to technology outcomes? How do all those things inculcate into a culture?

Me, my IT leaders and employees understand the value of trust, empowerment, different styles of working and collaboration, embracing diversity and inclusion. Developing and nurturing a trusting, customer-focused IT culture is one of our top goals for the year. In summary, I would say it’s mandatory table stakes for the CIO and for digital transformation to have a culture revolution to be successful long-term.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? As a CIO, I feel like this changes daily. The demand for IT skills in many geographies and many skill areas exceeds the supply. Depending on the day of the week or the year, this could fluctuate. Generally speaking, I would say application development for the vertical industries we serve, security and data analytics skills. Data engineering and data science skills are still in high demand, although I think that gap is closing as most of the universities are embedding a data analytics course in all majors now. I think the gap in data analytics skills will close faster than security skills. In general, we need a better balance of business skills and soft skills paired with technical skills. Finding, developing and retaining that really balanced individual who has a little bit of both is important.

What's the best career advice you ever received? The best career advice I ever received was, hey, Bill, spend time learning all the functions. The point there is that lateral moves can be just as important as vertical moves and may be more critical than the upward promotion.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. We have a succession plan for all executives in the company and it involves a diverse group of experienced candidates. In terms of training IT staff, we build on the traditional NCR HR developmental curriculums to cater specifically to IT career growth, including mentorship programs, industry networking events and hackathons with other IT-specific growth opportunities, such as career development videos from IT leaders and external speakers.

I leverage CIO professional forums to connect with other CIOs who can be mentors for high-performing individuals who are aspiring to be a CIO someday, making sure they are exposed to other industries and other CIOs’ ways of thinking.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? First, be yourself. Second, learn the technical and functional skills you need, but that’s not everything. To be a successful IT leader, continuously learn, work on and improve your business skills and soft skills such as listening, communicating and relationship-building.   

Work on improving those skills. If you’re an aspiring IT leader, don't try to win the contest of being the most technical or have implemented the most or largest projects. You want to have at least one transformational initiative on your resume, but you don't need many to be a well-rounded leader.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I’d have to say the longevity in the role I've been in for 10 years as CIO of NCR. I’ve helped the company manage through some tremendous changes: some challenging cycles in the economy, acquisitions and spin offs, a world headquarters relocation across different states. I believe my biggest achievement is being able to help NCR stay very relevant in the marketplace and making sure the business process enablers and the infrastructure that run the company are still very reliable and trustworthy, in order to support our growth and our brand. It makes me and my team immensely proud to have contributed to the transformational journey that has made NCR the company it is today.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I greatly value the path that I have travelled that has shaped me into the senior executive I am today, and I have the honor to serve as CIO of one of the most iconic technology brands in the world. That being said and if I were to be more introspective, I would have taken more job rotations outside of technology, for example, in sales and marketing. I think I would have ended up a little more well-rounded if I had more experience in more customer-facing, revenue-producing roles.

What are you reading now? I'm reading Barack Obama’s book, A Promised Land.

Most people don't know that I… Grew up on a farm.

In my spare time, I like to… I like to retreat to the mountains.

Ask me to do anything but… Be non-genuine, be insincere. Don't ask me to be fake.