CIO Spotlight: Manu Moreno, BDEO

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? “… to cultivate your soft skills, which become crucial when you reach leadership and managerial positions.”

Headshot of Manu Moreno, CIO at BDEO

Name: Manu Moreno

Company: BDEO

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: July 2017

Location: Madrid, Spain

Manu Moreno is the CIO at BDEO, an Artificial Intelligence solutions company working with insurance companies in more than 20 countries worldwide. BDEO is transforming the motor and home insurance industry through its proprietary Visual Intelligence solutions, changing the way policyholders interact with insurance companies. Manu oversees BDEO’s technology products that assist in the digitalisation and automation of the underwriting and claims assessment processes.

What was your first job? My first job in the technology field was as a Java teacher while completing my university studies. I found that one of the best ways to learn about something is to teach it! It was a great experience to help others learn some programming skills.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I have always been very interested in software development since I was a kid. I got my first computer when I was eight years old, a ZX Spectrum+ 48k, and I started copying all the code from the book BASIC into the computer (without understanding a single line of it), only to realise that all those weird lines of code were actually doing something! I think that little book triggered my interest in programming and, later on, in technology in general.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I studied telecommunications engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. However, my biggest interest was in software engineering, to the extent that I took part in the ACM programming contest organised by IBM. My team won the championship at the university, and then we placed fifth at the European level. Not bad!

During those early times, I gained some certifications in Java development and Java web servers, such as Weblogic. After that, I was not so interested in being certified, but I never stopped learning.

I have always trusted how quickly I can learn anything new in the technology field, and take into account all of my accumulated knowledge.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I think that my career path is quite different in the sense that I was very much interested in having my own business, and that business needed to be in a field that I was fully interested in: software development. I started out working for different companies for four years to get some experience. But then, as soon as I had the opportunity, I jumped into being an entrepreneur.

Most of my career path has been as a technology director (CTO), although I transitioned into being a CIO at my current position in the company.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? In the field of artificial intelligence (AI), you have to keep an eye on new technology and trends since it is an ever-changing and evolving field. Every tech trend that can improve our AI solutions drives our IT investments, with the goal of continuously improving and evolving our products.

More specifically, we are reaching incredible numbers in terms of accuracy in the detection and estimation of damages with our AI for motor insurance. Additionally, in the property industry, we are developing new AI use cases and new user paths to cover the extreme variety of cases.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our priorities for the coming year are to keep growing and improving our existing solutions, to achieve the most accuracy in our damage detections possible. Additionally, we are deploying some new products that the insurance sector has asked us for, and that will be incredibly useful for their digitisation process.

As a CIO, my role is internally oriented to the company. I plan to support the company’s growth by building platform modules, horizontal services, and infrastructure improvements that help the company to scale in terms of IT.

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 and the responsibilities it should include are not always 100% clear, as they need to adapt to the needs of the company and the stage of the company at a specific point.

At BDEO, we have both a CTO and a CIO. The role of the CTO is more oriented to the company's product and team management, while the CIO is internally oriented to the infrastructure, security, platform developments, and core services.

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? The answer is both customer experience and operational efficiency. And the great thing about what we do at BDEO is that they balance each other. In this case, it is operational efficiency that inevitably causes an improvement in customer experience.

For example, if our customers (insurance companies) are able to speed up an underwriting case using our technology, then that has a big impact on how their customers perceive their experience.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? In terms of KPIs, we measure the cost of goods sold (COGS), which includes, among other things, the technology infrastructure costs. Our COGS is quite low, and as a SaaS company most of our IT costs go directly to product improvements.

In terms of IT infrastructure, our business is quite mature. It includes three different product verticals supported by a common infrastructure.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? As a CIO and a co-founder, when we started the company, it was easier just to allow the culture to be transferred informally from the co-founders to the rest of the team. However, this was not sustainable with the company's growth.

So, we incorporated a process to define our values and culture in an explicit way, always including the team in that process. This process has been amazing, and I think it has been the best way to keep the entire team involved together at BDEO.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Currently, the IT market is under pressure. The demand for IT staff is enormous, and it is really difficult to find appropriate candidates. I don’t want to stress about the difficulties of filling any specific role, as I think it is complicated in general. Fortunately, our company BDEO is really attractive to new talent due to the possibilities of growing inside the company and the relevance the company is achieving in the market.

What's the best career advice you ever received? I think that the best advice I ever received was to wait a little bit before creating any business. As an entrepreneur, I was drawn to create a company in the technology field very early, directly after my university studies. Fortunately, I was advised that most of the companies created by recent graduates go bankrupt very quickly, and it would be better if I first found a job for a few years to develop some experience. I think that advice was great because I had the opportunity to learn a lot during those four years before launching my own business together with my business partner.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. In my specific case, with the accelerated growth of the company, the plan that I’ve been executing has consisted of hiring key candidates that are specialised in the different areas that I have been performing. So, the training hasn’t been directed to replace my functions, but instead, to train different people specialised in the various fields that I was covering myself previously, and that had me totally overwhelmed by the amount and diversity of tasks.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? One of the most obvious is always keeping up to date with the latest technologies. The managerial work of IT leaders can be extremely time-consuming, and it can make you abandon the basics of code development which, in the long run, can make you outdated. The technology field evolves so quickly that it is really important to keep up to date.

Another piece of advice I would like to mention is to cultivate your soft skills, which become crucial when you reach leadership and managerial positions.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I think that I am enjoying my greatest career achievement right now. I feel proud just by seeing how BDEO is becoming more successful every day, and how it is evolving and becoming more relevant in the market due to all of our previous good strategies and decisions. That hard work is paying off today. Now, the team also has more resources and is maximising them, achieving extraordinary company results.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I think that all along my career path, there was one common situation that led to a lot of conflict with customers. This situation only happened with custom-made projects, where we were charging the customer a fixed amount per month, applying scrum methodology. In this type of situation, the scope of the project was not clear from the beginning, and the customer had too much power to make changes. With so many changes happening so frequently, these types of projects led to a lack of focus and a lack of definition in the final delivery.

I would say that when these situations happen, the project budget and delivery time can easily increase to 2x or 3x due to the lack of definition and constant change requests from the customer. Now, I would reject participating in a project under these conditions, and I would only accept a project that has clearly defined the scope and the expectations for what the team will be able to achieve and deliver.

What are you reading now? I don’t read. (Just joking.) Lately, I have been reading a lot about self-development. I think that as a leader, in a key IT position, there is a lot of psychology involved in your inner game as well as in your interactions with other stakeholders.

Most people don't know that I… Drink beer with ice cubes and spices. Hahaha. This is quite interesting because, if you have ever been to México, there is a drink called “Michelada” that consists precisely of that. Here in Spain, it looks extremely weird, and I get weird looks every time I ask for ice cubes for my beer. But I like to allow myself to have some eccentricities.

In my spare time, I like to…Make music! I am a music producer in my free time, and I play piano and other instruments. Music has always been one of my major passions and has provided me with great experiences and joy.

Ask me to do anything but… Don't ask me the impossible.