Don’t waste star tech recruits on ‘coaching’ roles. Embed them – MetLife CIO, Tim Batten

Tim Batten MetLife CIO

Financial services businesses should not waste star tech recruits on advisory or “coaching” roles, but instead embed these “role models” directly into engineering teams to help accelerate digital transformation initiatives, says MetLife Australia chief information officer, Tim Batten.

With FSIs in the midst of a software engineer hiring spree to support ambitious digital innovation and transformation programs, he stressed that “swapping out your current engineering team… for some sort of ‘A team’” would not be a practical solution for most financial services businesses – and particularly so for those with more limited resources at their disposal.

“The good news is your current team probably, [or even] definitely, has the makings of a good engineering squad, even if feel they’re not quite there yet,” he said.

Speaking at FST’s Insurance Summit 2021 on Tuesday, Batten praised engineers (and engineering) as the “secret sauce” for any digital transformation.

He called on insurers and banks to enlist standout engineering talent, or “role models” – individuals with, for instance, strong capabilities in systems architecture, in CICD (combined practices of continuous integration) or test automation.

“The best way to use these people, I find, is not to have them coaching or guiding from the outside, but to embed them in delivery teams and have them working alongside your current team.”

The focus, he said, should not only be “on the delivery of what the current team is doing, but also in uplifting those practices as part of that work”. This he found was the best way to spread these technical skills among team members.

After a few ‘Program Increments’, these “role models”, or even those newly upskilled members, could shift to other teams, he said, “permeating these capabilities throughout your organisation”.

He notes that discussions around digital transformation often miss the importance of an engineering capability to enable and underpin this massive program of works.

“That’s why I call [engineering] a bit of a secret sauce – a hidden dimension to a really successful digital transformation.

“I call it ‘engineering excellence’: things like the need to be able to deliver quickly in iterations, the need [to run] test automation, the need for good architecture, and the need a full CICD pipeline.

“You want to be able to do feature toggle [to hide or enable features during runtime]… to decouple your business releases from your technical releases. You want to be able to do canary releases to test things out.”

He notes that “a lot of teams aren’t at a level where they’ve mastered these things.”

“It’s going to be important that they do [master them], however, because these engineering practices aren’t just a support function; they are really required for a number of the things that we try to achieve through digital transformation.”

He cited, in particular, the industry’s near-universal ambition to deliver true ‘customer centricity’.

“How can you be really customer-centric if your data sciences inputs [don’t allow you to] analyse what customers are doing? If you haven’t got technical capabilities, like AB testing or canary releases, to test things out and really see ‘Is my customer reacting well to this or not?’ – and pivot if they’re not.

“If you haven’t got strong experience monitoring or if you can’t see what the customers are really experiencing in real-time, are you really customer-centric?”

“Similarly, you can’t be customer-centric if you can’t change directions, learn and adapt and evolve quickly. And that requires a tech team that can do rapid iterations.”

However, a strong engineering capability, Batten stresses, “takes time to build”.

“If you happen to be in that luxurious position where your organisation hasn’t yet fully embarked on that journey, don’t waste the opportunity.

“It’s a great opportunity to start on the engineering side so that when the organisation, as it inevitably will, starts down that digital transformation path, you’ve built up some of those engineering skills and capabilities ahead of time.”