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CIO50 2021 #21: Mark Rees, Xero

  • Name Mark Rees
  • Title Chief Technology Officer
  • Company Xero
  • Commenced role Commenced 2013, CTO last 3 years
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 800 staff, 8 direct reports
  • Xero chief technology officer Mark Rees says the company’s “vision for scale” has meant putting technology solutions in place to keep pace with the global nature of its business.

    This approach includes using data responsibly, which is core to the next wave of innovation at Xero, where it seeks to leverage the power of data to “become the most insightful and trusted small business platform,” Rees says.

    “We recently shared our responsible data use commitments externally which serve as an anchor right across the business to ensure that as we grow and scale, continue to build products, partner, acquire and invest, we do this in service of our customers, partners and community,” he says.

    “At the same time, we formed a first-of-its-kind Xero Responsible Data Use Advisory Council with external experts and industry leaders from across the globe who help us fill the knowledge gap for small businesses and share insights and best practices when it comes to responsible data use.”

    Xero’s responsible data use commitments are structured around five key themes:

    ●      Protecting customers’ privacy and strengthening data security.

    ●      Ensuring the way it uses customers’ data benefits customers.

    ●      Empowering customers by giving them control.

    ●      Being open and honest on data use, data-driven decisions and fees.

    ●      Helping business partners, and accountant and bookkeeper community, embrace responsible data use.

    Recurring transaction machine learning

    Rees’s team recently worked to develop a new suite of planning and forecasting tools known as Xero Analytics Plus. Powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, it is designed to help businesses and advisors plan for the future.

    Rees says Xero Analytics Plus is unique because it reflects the work Xero has done to understand how small businesses want to interact with cash flow and the level of understanding they need in order to trust the information they provide.

    “Not only is it important for us to produce quality predictions but also to show how we arrived at the prediction and give small businesses the choice to include or exclude our prediction in their forecasting,” he says.

    Work underway now involves the applied science team looking at ways to develop reusable technologies. For instance, looking at how Xero could use the ability to spot recurring patterns as part of Xero Analytics Plus and adapt it for use in other areas like fraud detection to spot anomalies.

    Leading with empathy

    As the custodian of technical knowledge at Xero, Rees says his team has an important role in making this newfound digital world of work both accessible and beneficial to all levels of the organisation.

    “I’ve found the use of empathy to be key in my role as a leader within Xero. Empathy allows both parties to connect ideas more effectively because it lays the basic foundations for respect and trust. Taking adequate time to prepare for conversations, using clear examples and metaphors to explain concepts, allowing enough time to explain the concept and listening actively are all tactics I use to positively influence internal and external stakeholders,” he says.

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