Building the tech dream team for digital business
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Building the tech dream team for digital business

Sooraj Shah — May 2017
Nigel Faulkner, CTO at T. Rowe Price, explains how the global investment management firm has gone hunting for scarce digital talent.

The war for digital talent is escalating fast. Recent research by IDC found that 53% of companies surveyed regarded the acute shortage of skills in areas such as big data analytics, IoT, cognitive systems, augmented reality, 3D printing and next-generation security as hampering their digital transformation ambitions. As IDC commented: “It’s difficult for companies to execute on digital transformation, primarily because the technologies that support digital transformation are so new” — and the people in such short supply.

It is a challenge that some IT leaders are meeting head-on. At T. Rowe Price, for example, CTO Nigel Faulkner has recently presided over the launch of a technology development center, to be based in New York, that signals the global investment management firm’s commitment to attract the kind of capabilities it believes will allow it to take a digital leap ahead of the competition.

“Nigel
Nigel Faulkner, CTO of T. Rowe Price

Adding to existing IT and innovation teams in its home city of Baltimore and in London, the Midtown Manhattan center (already a digital hub that’s home to the likes of Facebook and Buzzfeed) expects to use the city’s allure to entice 50 to 60 of top data scientists, developers with quantitative and trading expertise, specialists in machine learning and technical architects. The aim: to allow the firm to create cutting-edge investment products and customer outcomes through the use of AI and advanced analytics.

Faulkner says New York provides far richer pickings than Baltimore, where the right mix of trading expertise and hot digital skills are not in abundance. Strategizing on a location for the development center, for instance, was all part of the fight for scarce talent. “We put pins in a map of Manhattan showing the companies we wanted to recruit from, and then chose to put our office right in the middle of those. So it’s probably not a surprise that it’s easier for us to hire them,” he says.

The pace of recruitment is being driven by quality more than quantity. “I want to hire the best people,” says Faulkner, “to set a high-quality bar of top-quartile developers that are 10 to 12 more times efficient than the mean. We’re looking to beat the odds and have more than our fair share of those with the right domain and technical skills,” he says.
Confident, agile delivery

It’s not all about machines that learn and crunch petabytes of data. To speed up digital delivery and eradicate any bottlenecks, Faulkner has enthusiastically embraced a combination of DevOps and cloud. “On the front end of our processes, where clients interact with us via web or mobile, we’re doing redesign work that uses cloud-based technology exclusively. The reason: we want much more agility. It’s an approach that we’re embracing aggressively,” says Faulkner.

He does point out that the organization doesn’t necessarily need the very fastest environment to succeed. “When it comes to continuous deployment, we’re not an Amazon — we don’t need to be able to deploy on a two-minute life cycle. But having flexibility and ability to release [code] into production on a daily basis with a lot of confidence is what’s required,” he says.

The organization is looking at deploying many of the common tools associated with DevOps such as Chef and Puppet, but isn’t necessarily hiring pure DevOps engineers. “I think it’s perfectly clear to everyone who comes from a longstanding infrastructure and development background [that they] collaboratively do the same work,” he says.
IT as a team sport

The idea of collaboration at T. Rowe Price is a common theme. While the company wants specialists in a number of areas it encourages a lot of cross-fertilization. In the big data analytics arena, for example, Faulkner’s view is that “data is a team sport, not an individual one. It’s unlikely you’ll find someone with the domain skills, the computer science expertise, the dedicated quantitative and statistical analysis skills and the human behavioural skills,” he says. Instead, for the development center, the company hopes to recruit a team that is equipped with a combination of those skills.

But one area that Faulkner regards as of key strategic value longer term is artificial intelligence and, more specifically, machine learning.

“The things that differentiate T. Rowe Price are our investment process and our ability to produce outcomes that are better than the market. And AI and machine learning can augment that process,” he says. That might involve the acceleration of a product life cycle, moving a potential investment opportunity that an expert spots from hypothesis to available product in a fraction of the previously expected times.

In a seller’s market for technical and domain skills, and under pressure to drive competitive advantage with digital innovation, T. Rowe Price is not alone in having to take its innovation activities to where the talent is or wants to be.

First published May 2017
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