The five-minute CIO: Atticus Tysen, Intuit

20 Jan 2017

Intuit CIO Atticus Tysen. Image: Intuit

“Metrics are a core component of all of our IT initiatives,” said the CIO of Intuit, Atticus Tysen.

Intuit is a California-headquartered business and financial software company that makes most of its revenues from inside the US, but is increasingly seeing growth in global markets such as the UK, Canada and Australia.

Among its products are consumer tax preparation app TurboTax, small business accounting software player QuickBooks, and professional solutions such as ProSeries and Lacerte as well as multiple payroll products. It sold its original flagship product Quicken to HIG Capital in 2016.

The company employs 7,700 people and in 2016, it reported $4.2bn in revenues.

Atticus Tysen is an Intuit senior vice-president and chief information officer, responsible for the applications supporting the company’s human resources, finance, marketing and sales, and support organisations.

Prior to Intuit, Tysen was vice-president of engineering at Aveo Inc where he set overall technical direction and led several groups to build and deliver proactive tech support and messaging systems for personal computer manufacturers such as Dell and Gateway. Prior to Aveo, he worked as a software engineering manager at Octel and Apple.

Tysen earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Stanford University.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology roll-out across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

When I transitioned from being a customer of IT to running IT, one of the biggest things I noticed was the difficulty of running all of the existing systems while trying to build out the new future.

As a company that is more than 30 years old, we have many different layers of technology – some legacy, some transitioning to new technologies – that we have to make sure all run well in order to best serve our customers.

Our biggest initiative to simplify our infrastructure is to seamlessly migrate the company to SaaS offerings and, overall, be a cloud-based company.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

We at Intuit value IT and have four key strategies in place for our team:

  • Be a world-class IT organisation
  • Put business outcomes first
  • Provide delightful leading-edge solutions
  • Serve as proactive technology stewards

We believe that by focusing on these core strategies within our organisation, we will be able to make a measurable impact in the business.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

We must be able to support thousands of employees across Canada, the US, the UK, India, Australia, and Singapore; and of course, empower our employees to best serve our customers.

Our IT infrastructure is extensive in that we have legacy systems that we are migrating to new technologies due to being a more than 30-year-old company.

One of my objectives when I became CIO was to simplify our infrastructure so that the existing and new systems we’re putting in place serve us strategically, and enable Intuit to improve the end customer’s overall experience.

We also have customer service operations in 10 countries around the world and thousands of agents supporting our customers every day. We must have a strong IT foundation in order to support that work so we can best serve our clients.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

I am a firm believer in “radical transparency”, meaning that every dollar of my IT budget is publicly viewable by the entire company. I encourage any employee in the company to give feedback on the budget.

Overall, as a CIO, you have a portfolio of investments you can make – toward marketing systems, general workforce systems, upgrading technology, supporting back-office systems and ERP systems – and you have to balance all of that to make the best outcome for the entire company, and invite informed debate and engagement.

As the CIO, it is my responsibility to be the steward for IT, but it is a joint investment role between the IT needs and the business needs.

How complex is the infrastructure? Are you taking steps to simplify it?

We must be able to support thousands of employees around the world who work at various office sites; on the road, at their homes, and through mobile devices, laptops and desktops. Our priority is to always protect and secure our data in safe environments while providing the best experience for our workers.

Our infrastructure is complex. We currently have nine billing systems, three commerce systems, five CRM systems, and we are actively working to simplify all of those to one set of a modern system.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

Our IT team is about 60pc in-house employees and 40pc are contractors. We’re increasing in how we partner with our vendors to have them manage parts of our offerings, while relying on our experienced employees to work with those vendors.

I have an objective to try to move as much of the technology we use to SaaS, vendor-managed or hosted offerings. This is to allow our internal IT team to focus on ‘change the business’ initiatives versus ‘run the business’ initiatives.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

I think one of the most important things in an IT leadership role is to always consider the business outcome of our technology investments. Having come from a business unit, I always keep that aspect in mind when making strategic decisions.

Another key role is to give air cover for their team to experiment with new technologies, and give their team room to identify ways to do something better in a safe way. It’s important to think of ourselves as technologists first, who have a genuine understanding and love for business outcomes.

One of my key responsibilities is to bridge that gap between technology and business outcomes, which is a rare but growingly important skill. I think one of the most important things a CIO can do in any company is to really help educate the rest of the C-suite on technology and trends and begin to understand how technology is not just an enabler for company strategies today – it is a key part of their strategy.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

One of the biggest trends that is on my radar, and within the IT industry, is data. We are all trying to take advantage of data to provide better offerings to our customers, and looking at ways to analyse that data in a more automatic fashion to help humans then find patterns.

Machine learning will be one of the next big trends that we will incorporate into our technologies to better support our customers and business objectives.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

Metrics are a core component of all of our IT initiatives, as we keep a laser focus on the goals and objectives that will best drive Intuit’s mission, and enhance the customer and employee experience.

Our teams develop KPIs and metrics for success directly with their business partners to determine IT’s effectiveness within each of the groups, as it relates to the larger business objectives. Some of our overall metrics for IT initiatives are employee satisfaction and retention, impactful data incidents, regulatory compliance process deficiencies, percentage of customers billed correctly, NPS scores, defects, time of systems availability, and more.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

One of my big shifts as an IT organisation was to stop being an ‘order taker’ and to start to claim our role as a business partner focused on external and internal customers. This type of mentality also allows our VPs to work with business partners to better accommodate the larger business objectives. I also have a goal of sun-setting legacy systems as we migrate to more integrated, cloud-based system.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

We currently have nine separate billing systems that IT must try to bridge across and we are actively working on consolidating them into one global system. This transition will allow a variety of new capabilities, such as wholesale bundling to quick pricing systems. This has been an ongoing project for the past two years, and will improve the overall end customer experience.

We are also rolling out a set of collaboration tools to keep our global workforce connected and productive.

Last, we are engaged in a cross-functional effort to consolidate the amount of tools our agents use, which would simplify and improve the agent experience. This correlates directly to the experience of our end customers.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years