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Thursday, March 14, 2024

OneFamily’s response to the data quality question

Interview

13 Mar 20246 mins

Business IT AlignmentCIOData Management

Graham O’Sullivan, group CIO at UK-based financial services provider OneFamily, sits with CIO.com’s Lee Rennick to discuss transforming legacy systems, building the digital self-serve customer experience, and creating a roadmap for gen AI.

OneFamily is a financial services organization, operating broadly in savings and investments, and responsible for £8 billion of assets under management. But what’s most interesting, says group CIO Graham O’Sullivan, is it’s also a mutual, which means its over two million customers across the UK are also members, so they have a strong voice in how it operates as an organization. But hearing those voices, and how to effectively respond, is dictated by the quality of data available, and understanding how to properly utilize it.

“We know in financial services and in a lot of verticals, we have a whole slew of data quality challenges,” he says. “Traditionally, AI data quality has been a challenge.”

Having been in financial services for almost 25 years, O’Sullivan spent his first 11 years at Citigroup, which was then the biggest bank in the world, claiming it had more software developers than Microsoft. So migrating systems was integral.

“I spent a lot of my career looking at legacy technology stacks, and large systems that had been around far too long, and became too critical,” he says. “So I was involved in designing the next systems to replace those platforms, the migration activities to safely migrate customers and data away and onto the new platform, and then the challenge of decommissioning as well.”

So the common theme of what he’s always done is to look at challenges of transformation — how to transform both in terms of technology and data to take a business forward for the benefit of customers, as well as the people who work there.

“We’re changing business processes and the experience for employees coming into the building, and those working from home, to say this is about a different way of doing things,” he says. “What we’re also trying to do is create, as a digital transformation, that self-serve experience for our customers.”

Lee Rennick, executive director of CIO Communities for CIO.com recently spoke with O’Sullivan about a career in financial services, clarity of business outcomes, and being fully engaged with the customer. Watch the full video below for more insights.

On having an impact: I remember early in my career listening to conversations at various points and looking for that secret sauce; what the thing is I need to do and write it down. It’s about the journey, so for me, master the job in front of you because that’s where the conversation begins. That’s where you start to get noticed. That’s where people start to talk about you and keep you in mind for things. So keep an ear out for those opportunities. One way I’ve found they’ve presented themselves is where you’re in a conversation and someone brings up a problem that keeps getting batted around. No one seems able to tackle it and sort it out. That’s a rich opportunity, and quite often the makings of next steps in one’s career.

On gen AI: I’m hugely excited about the tech. That’s the headline, but the marketing teams have done an incredibly good job. The challenge and conversation shift for me is how to make a safe enterprise solution out of these incredible things where gen AI is creating digital content. I read recently that ChatGPT can create fantastic recipes to cook with, which may or may not make tasty meals. So number one is safety. We talk about an LLM generating new and original content to put in front of customers and have them answer emails or phone calls. There’s a lot of consideration around the appropriateness of the responses, parameters, and how that model is trained. And related to that is data quality. I ran a data quality program for a large UK bank for three years where with millions of pounds just to solve data quality problems. But it’s a continuous discipline. The headline of data quality isn’t going away.

On digital transformation: My general observations are first being clear on business outcomes. It sounds cliche, but looking at the modernization program we initiated when I came to OneFamily, we did it in terms of initial fact-find and RFI in mid to late 2019 and, of course, a lot ensued after that. So with blood, sweat and tears, we had a watertight business case that survived a pandemic, a significant acquisition, and three different CEOs. After all, you need the CEO to be bought in to that vision. But we always had that to go back to and point at and say, this is why we’re doing this. So the people involved may change, but the endeavor and true north were the same. I’ve seen the transformation journey tackled front to back and change everything, or can you overlay and do something alongside or something different. It depends on your circumstances. Our modernization has been an entirely digital transformation. So you speak to anyone across our business and they’ll say it’s our modernization, not the IT’s or customer services program — it’s enterprise wide. You’ve got to make it real for people, so it’s one thing to roll out the new toolset, but actually, are you speaking to new ways of working a new culture?

On seizing the moment: I’ve been involved in transformation for a long time, and I’ve done it in investment banking, retail banking, and now at a financial mutual. The pattern is broadly similar in that it generally starts with a recognition of a problem, the technology stack, the business processes it supports, or a need to innovate and change because the products demand that innovation. But equally we have our people and our team here to help those where the digital journey is either not native for them or they need additional support. In the mid-noughties, the UK government launched a scheme where every child born between a certain period was given a £250 voucher to invest in the stock market. So we had a large number of new customers. We couldn’t directly engage with them all because they were children, but we knew they wanted a digital journey. So it’s not like we sat here with a crystal ball and said, let’s transform and modernize. The imperative was knocking on the door saying, what are you going to do? For us, that was a great use case because it presented a lot of challenges. How do we do that self-serve digital journey but equally serve the rest of our customers? It gave us that confidence to say, this is the right way to go and let’s look across the rest of our product set and do more of this.

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Michael Maren
Michael Maren
Former marine biologist who likes to spend as much time in the tropics as possible, due to a horrible time I once had in Alaska. Brrrr.

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