"I wouldn't have a job if I didn't have a focus on customers," says Neill Rose-Innes.
Rose-Innes is GM of operations and CIO with residential mortgage brokers and, recently, financial planners, Mortgage Choice, a company which comprises a central operation doing business through around 400 franchisees.
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He describes Mortgage Choice as "a small-to-medium business with a big shadow", which is borne out by the stats: it manages $46.3 billion in loans and reported net profit after tax of about $15 million on total group revenue of around $140 million during FY13. The organisation also finalised $5.82 billion in housing loan approvals during the first half of 2012-13.
Rose-Innes' dual responsibility of CIO and effectively COO means he has his hands on many levers, bringing a strong focus on the business. But, as he says, a customer focus is really what it is all about.
"Customer engagement is vitally important. And to maintain our customer base means we need to be proactive," he says. "We set KPIs for our IT staff on their interaction with customers, and have a monthly scorecard to show how they are progressing. Yes, IT skills are the starting point, but equally important is customer-focus and communication."
Rose-Innes' own IT skills include an IT and business management degree from South Africa. He followed this with a couple of years as a programmer, and then moved into a series of IT and management consultancies.
Coming to Australia in 2000, he joined RAMS, one of the more aggressive smaller home mortgage providers, as CIO. He left to found a start-up capital financing firm, Greenway Capital, where he was in charge of operations and IT. In 2007, he moved to Mortgage Choice, again running operations and IT.
Throughout his career he has played on the entrepreneurial side of the professional ledger.
"On my first day at Mortgage Choice, I sat down with the IT team and said we needed to reorganise ourselves as an external service provider, a company in its own right," he says.(
This meant that the cost to the organisation needed to reflect the value of the services we provide. We need to justify our position as a supplier, otherwise the company might look elsewhere for someone to look after its technology operations.
"We have the advantage of understanding the organisation, its structure and its customers, but we still need to add value if we are to succeed."
An indication of that success is that the CEO of the company undertakes a survey of franchisees every six months to rate the various services offered. Rose-Innes is proud when he says that the IT department has come out top of the list for four surveys in a row.
The franchisees run their own show, and are the prime ongoing contact with the customers. But they rely on Rose-Innes' IT operations to give them the 'tools of trade'.
"One of our key activities is capacity building for franchisees and our own teams. The franchisees prospect for customers, and draw on our online mortgage comparison products to give them leads and find solutions for their customers. Keeping franchisees happy is integral to our operations," he says.
To this end, he chairs an advisory board that comprises 10 representatives of the franchisee community.
"We need to keep on top of our franchisees' needs, and give them a full service offering.
They own their own operations, and occasionally you'll have one who pushes the boundaries of the proposition, which is great. They are seeking more customers with a broader range of services and products. We need to keep pace with their aims, understand them, and give them the tools they need to increase their business ... and ours."
This means he is looking at systems that offer greater efficiencies, more automation, that are more intuitive and multidimensional. Analytics -- both rear view and predictive -- play a large part, and he is a big user of Google Apps.
"We're moving to cloud -- tools and systems, core repositories of our knowledge base -- not just for an improvement in 'total cost of ownership' but also to increase the productivity of our sales team and the franchisees."
He reports to the CEO, who expects all c-level executives to "have a view and express it".
"We have a good working consultative relationship, a 'trust and challenge' relationship, and we're all integrated at c-level," he says. This means he works closely with the general managers of distribution and marketing.
The move to digital marketing means a more integrated strategy is important, he says. He needs to understand the pressures they are under, and he understands that some might think the formal IT department is slow to respond. But he thinks it would be "a major distraction to have marketing want to have its own IT department".
"The requirements of sales and marketing do change, but that will be incremental, not immediate. We develop the underlying architectural support, but we also need to be flexible and agile," he says.
"The pace of customer serving will only increase, along with changes to customer behaviour and interactions. We need to leap from 'here to next week', not to tomorrow. That's the way we can fulfill our 'hearts and minds' customer focus strategy."
He says that the consumerisation of technology is "a good thing" -- something corporates need to deal with. Most users don't want system change, he says, but when it offers opportunities, then you need to be there, ready and able.
"Those [IT managers] who respond sensibly and efficiently will do well out of it. And this is a strong driver to take to the board.
"The CIO who is seen to give value is one who will generate more revenue and opportunity." It can be done, he says, though for some it's a "slow burn".
"If technology is your only responsibility, then your transition to the 'future-state' may be slow. The CIO of the future will increase revenue. They must understand the value proposition -- the 'should haves' as much as the 'must haves'."
They have to understand the business, he says. At Mortgage Choice there is a flat management structure, he says, which helps him to be both CIO and COO, and that gives him greater opportunity to understand the business.
But overall, "The eye should always be on customer," he says.
And if you don't have that, then you will probably have no job at all.