There are disruptive technologies, where a new idea or product radically changes ‘set’ practices and approaches. And then there are disruptive organisations, where new or altered companies bring fresh ideas and new blood to industries, often to the chagrin of existing established players.
One of the more disruptive organisations of recent years has been RAMS.
Formed as Registered Australian Mortgage Securities in 1991, with the RAMS Home Loans brand launched to the retail market in 1995, the company was initially almost a virtual organisation, based on a call centre, a website and a team of mobile home loan managers. It did not have shopfront operations until 2002.
From the start, the company set about an aggressive approach to home loans, and as a specialist organisation, it offered lower interest rates at a time when the large banks were satisfied - even complacent - with a situation where there was little competition in the mortgage market and high margins. RAMS put an end to that.
But like a lot of companies, especially those with an entrepreneurial bent, RAMS faced difficulties in the global financial crisis, and in 2008 the RAMS brand and distribution business were bought by Westpac Group. But it still exists as an independent entity, RAMS Financial Group, and it still means business.
As does its CIO, Bettina Wilcox.
“Technology is simply part of the business,” she says. “It’s all about adding value to the business and shareholders, so all activity is related to the overall business goals.”
To emphasise that business-as-opposed-to-technology approach, Wilcox’s academic qualifications comprise Bachelor degrees in Business and in Law.
Prior to moving into IT, Wilcox was on the graduate training program for the Commonwealth Bank and spent time in the lending area (business and retail). But she realised that the technology sector was where she wanted to be and accepted a role with IT services firm EDS, where she spent 11 years in a number of local and international roles.
“Business and technology are changing at a fast pace, I believe that adaptability and leadership skills are key to success in any discipline. Having academic qualifications and experience in other fields helps me to take an interdisciplinary approach to my job.”
In her current role, “interdisciplinary” means strong relationships with other C-level executives. Reporting to the CEO, Wilcox stresses that technology is not an island; its relevance and success depends on its focus on business outcomes.
"So strong relationships with other areas within the team are crucial," Wilcox says. "All the projects we work on involve other C-level executives and other areas of the business. I don’t believe that technology and technology projects can exist in isolation. All projects have a business impact. All areas are important.”
She adds, perhaps with a sense of whimsy, that “technology impacts all areas and, maybe one day soon, technology will be regarded as an area of the business."
Within those technology areas, Wilcox says that mobility and digital tech are having “a huge and very exciting impact."
“Mobile really emphasises how close you are to the rest of the business, but more importantly, how close you are to your customer. And it’s changing very fast. Working in the finance sector means balancing security and regulations with flexibility and agility to take on new innovations," she says.
“My view is that it’s all about adding value to the business and shareholders.”
IT contributes to shareholder value, she says, by doing the day-to-day tasks faster, smarter and at reduced cost; working on projects to grow the business.
“Technology teams are very lucky to be part of most projects and business initiatives.”
And how does this help the IT department and, more specifically, the role of the CIO?
“Generally, there is power in viewing technology as another arm of the business and not some back room function," Wilcox says.
"We all share the vision of the organisation, even if our functions may be different. Regardless of the role, it is all about adding value to the customer and the business. Future CIOs needs to understand and contribute to the business they are in and be adaptable.”
But can this be done easily?
“It’s achievable,” she says. “There are not many areas left across an organisation that technology doesn’t touch, so it’s about thinking of technology as part of the business.
"Working closely with other business areas, understanding the value the business brings to its customers and shareholders and be able to articulate how technology can and does add value.”
So if you haven’t got the message, it’s all about the business, and the CIO needs to understand that IT means business in everything it does.