CIO100 2017 #31-100: Richard John Wyke, Figured
Figured has 35 staff of which about half work in CTO Richard John Wyke’s team across Product, Project, UX, Development or QA roles.
The company is based in Auckland, but has staff working from Australia (in Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne) and from Omaha in the United States.
“Our most important business transformation project completed over the past 12 months has been the transition from traditional hosting, using third-party VPS providers for our software as a service product, to 100 per cent cloud-based hosting, using Amazon Web Services,” says Wyke.
“For a small company with limited resources, it’s critical that we could focus all our energy on product and customer,” says Wyke, who was head of product and development at the fintech startup prior to becoming its chief technology officer.
“The move to Amazon has brought us not just increased capability, but reduced the overhead of operations significantly. As such, our valuable development resource is no longer spending so much time dealing with infrastructure issues.”
He says in terms of capability, the move to the cloud is hugely important to the company’s overall strategy as a business.
“As a fintech dealing with some of the world’s largest banks and financial institutions, being able to prove that their data is secure is made significantly easier through the shared responsibility model of security in the cloud,” he says.
“Our provider is responsible for the security of the cloud and we are responsible for security in the cloud - our application and configuration of services.
“When we started this project, we started from a blank sheet of paper. We weren’t interested in making small steps towards an eventual goal – instead we wanted to start with the ideal solution. What we wanted to avoid was getting good at the interim steps and having to adjust at every increment.
“This approach took more upfront investment and we had to take the business on a bit of a journey with us. However, it has meant that we are now operating with full continuous development, continuous integration and massively improved quality, performance and availability of our product. Most importantly, we have gone from fortnightly deployments of code to an average of 10 deployments a day.”
His team has delivered some amazing innovations over the past year.
The one that he is most proud of is the work with Bank of New Zealand, building a multi-year financial scenario planning tool for the bank’s agricultural clients.
He explains that historically, rural bankers would have to sit down with their clients and spend significant time collecting information on cashflows and balance sheets, before they could complete their annual reviews or work through the details of new business.
The new Figured tool, which is being rolled out across 4000 farms across New Zealand, gives rural bankers, accountants and farmers the tools they need to link up to real time data feeds from Xero, so they can focus on making decisions to support their business.
“For the bank, these scenario plans are then used to feed into its credit risk systems improving the efficiency and reliability of its processes. Farmers benefit from being able to take these plans, convert them into annual budgets and track their performance against them during the season in real time. We’ve come a long way from managing these budgets in spreadsheets and scraps of paper.
“On the surface, the tool is deceptively simple. But we are utilising all the power of the Xero platform, the breadth of Amazon Web Services and the depth of capability within the Figured platform, for analysis and insight into ag financial data,” he states.
“We’ve applied some new technologies as part of this project to support the development, including a complete rewrite of our reporting infrastructure with investments in big data databases and beginning to work with machine learning to provide predictive capabilities.”
It’s certainly proved that you can do amazing things with a small, dedicated and focused team, he says.
“This new feature set is just one of many we’ve delivered over the past year. We believe that by giving our product and development teams ownership of their feature sets and space to experiment, we will see even more innovations over the next 12 months.
“We are very upfront with the business and within the team that continual improvement of our existing infrastructure, code and processes is vital to ensure the long-term health of our company.
“As such, we reserve at least 20 per cent of our capacity to improving what we have today, before we even start to build new things for tomorrow.
“Our experience with this approach has been very positive, and have found that this level of continual investment leads to reduced project timelines for new initiatives.”
Wyke has a supportive board and an experienced technology advisory panel, which provides a sounding board for the strategic direction of technology at Figured.
He says the technology advisory panel was introduced over the past year and it has been a useful way to gain some altitude when considering decisions and plans.
“As an emerging company, I believe that one of our most important advantages is the smaller team size and the benefits we gain in terms of close collaboration between teams and having a strong, company-wide understanding of our goals and strategy.”
To keep this close collaboration between teams and the rest of the company, Figured hosts weekly town hall meetings – or ‘Ice-cream Thursdays’ as they are called - where major projects, strategy and sales updates are discussed.
He says the events are open to all staff, with people across the business presenting what is going on in their daily roles. “Naturally I like to think it’s hearing about the exciting things we’re working on that brings everyone to the meetings – not the free ice-cream!”
“During the week and while people are travelling we keep the business up to date via Slack, through both short updates and long-form posts getting into more detail about technology at Figured,” he says.
For Wyke the two projects that stand out over the coming year, in terms of their complexity beyond the normal business as usual improvements are:
A project to open the company’s data sets to its customers for integration with their third party external BI tools, such as the Microsoft Power BI platform. He strongly believes in the power of the company’s platform providing insights and analytics out of the box.
Moving towards true multi-region datacentres, to support the regulatory requirements of the company’s international customers. While today Figured hosts its platform from a multi-availability zone infrastructure, this is designed to provide maximum application resiliency and high availability, not data sovereignty requirements which comes with its own set of challenges.
When asked how he meets these challenges, he says a big focus is keeping the agility Figured has as a small company, while growing and maturing to serve the needs of bigger clients.
“Our strategy is partly to shy away operating models that favour policies and process, instead favouring models where the focus is on individual ownership and leadership within our teams,” he states.
“In some areas, compliance demands a certain level of defined policy, but we work hard to keep it as light as makes sense for the business.”