CIO50 2020 #15: David Kennedy, Transaction Services Group
Over the last few years, Transaction Services Group (TSG) has grown enormously to become New Zealand’s first company to be sold for over $1 billion by private sale.
“In order to achieve this accolade, TSG has had to innovate on a scale that has rarely been seen in this country,” says TSG group CIO, David Kennedy.
The ICT portfolio alone needed to support this massive growth is comprehensive, and delivered to both internal and external customers.
“There are a million ideas that every company can improve on with today’s digital technologies,” he stresses.
“What TSG has done successfully is create a billion dollar business integrated through the use of technology.”
Into the subscription economy
TSG, he says, is transforming from a billing company to a software and services company.
Kennedy says the technology leadership and team play a big role in this transformation, and TSG has deep domain expertise serving the “subscription economy”.
“Our unique offering of integrated payments, software and value-added services helps gyms, community clubs and childcare centres manage their members and customers, driving improved member retention and revenue performance, and reducing administrative burden and cost,” he says.
Over the last three years, TSG has more than doubled its revenue, culminating in strong organic growth and several strategic acquisitions.
Headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand, the company now also operates across Australia and the UK, with emerging customer bases in Japan, Europe, and the US.
The team created software that enabled clients’ facilities to open 24x7 with no staff onsite. This resulted in increasing client revenue and increasing the positive social impact by improving the health and wellbeing of customers who use the sites.
The tech team created over 200 tools under its “infrastructure as code programme”, which reduced testing time for developers by over 90 per cent. Developers now have access to this suite of tools, he says.
“Cloud-based contact centres provide flexibility to their global service teams. This has enabled us to have remote contact centre staff, including flexible working for staff, who can only work for certain periods of time, such as working mums and mature people,” says Kennedy.
Their elastic networking programme can proactively identify and manage cyber attacks.
“We have consistent global monitoring platforms that automatically identify and notify the correct global team of any performance anomalies, to increase stability and availability of systems.
“We introduced site reliability engineers (SREs) into the product teams,” says Kennedy. “This is an Amazon-style innovation, which allows our product teams to have infrastructure talent embedded in the team. The SREs make sure the product team has complete ownership of the product end to end.
“The analytics platform is now seen as market-leading, and is a decision factor for new clients to work with us,” he adds.
This platform is instrumental in TSG increasing market share in their territories. With this, clients receive real-time operational performance metrics and can proactively improve their business.
“This platform was heralded as ‘nothing but incredible’ by our largest global client,” says Kennedy.
The team also created a global platform so teams in different locales can communicate and work together at a scale never experienced before.
Kennedy says these initiatives came as a result of TSG’s highest and relentless focus on customer obsession.
“Our formal vision is ‘to make our clients’ business easier’,” he explains. “This is how all our innovations come about.”
He says building a culture that allows the teams across the globe to develop and manage technology-focused innovations during mass expansion is critical.
“The Kiwi culture has a huge part to play in the current and future success of TSG,” he states.
Kennedy is fiercely supportive of the “family first” ethos and insists his leadership and employees follow the rule all family business is attended to, and no one should feel like they have to miss out on important family events or school sports days in order to complete work.
He says the number 8 wire mentality is embedded throughout the global TSG presence. This means he deliberately shares the meaning of this story to all his leadership and teams around the world, encouraging the innovative culture that persists throughout TSG.
He insists teams across TSG “look out for each other”.
“We need to make sure we are happy in the role, and given space we need to address something in private life,” he states.
He mentors many people inside and outside TSG, and is on the advisory boards of universities and tertiary education institutions, as well as on the board of Computer Culture.
In his regular meetings with his technology teams, “I ask deep questions to make sure they are both empowered to succeed, but also feel like they have a place to discuss their future within TSG, and also beyond if they choose to leave,” he relates.
“I strongly believe in the journey you share with the team you work with may not last forever, so you should enjoy the time together and also help every person succeed in their path to happiness; even if that means mentoring that person to become a leader in another company.”
The global CIO
Kennedy meets with the global IT leadership team in their office, and once a year, brings all of them together for an “IT Summit”.
“We travel to one of the TSG companies to make sure we are sharing the best approaches to problem solving and all leaders learn about the different companies and how they operate,” he says. “This is a great way to bring the leaders together and help them act like the global team they represent.”
Late last year, Kennedy was invited to spend several weeks at Amazon headquarters and Microsoft headquarters in Seattle.
Kennedy has been collaborating with the highest leadership at both organisations to create a future technology strategy to meet the growth strategy for TSG. He aims to revisit both organisations, bringing senior members of the ICT team with him.
He demands each member of a team spends their training budget. “We need to ensure they are progressing and understanding the ever-changing landscape.”
He insists on his leadership taking the team out to celebrate their success, or simply to get together and do something fun at least once every eight weeks with the teams. These activities range from competing in escape rooms, to organising fancy meals and afternoons in the pub.
As organisations undergo rapid, and continuous, change, Kennedy says one leadership virtue stands out.
“I am into my seventh year as a global CIO, and during my time, different qualities come and go,” says Kennedy.
“Patience, however, is something that makes an executive worthy of the title.”
CIOs have teams that are both technical and focused. They are at different levels in their careers, says Kennedy.
“It is important to be patient with them completing parts of the business strategy and developing into their full potential.
“We have to be patient with our internal and external customers,” he says, “to empathise with their needs and drivers is important.”
CIOs and their teams receive requests from across the organisation. It is important they clearly articulate the timelines for progress and the reasoning for the timeline.
Lastly, being patient is important to ensure you can collaborate effectively with the board to uncover the outcome that is right for the business, he states. CIOs must take the time to understand the broader business strategy and the board’s drivers.
“This is key when removing barriers to allow the technology teams to meet the demands of the digital age.”