Computer Futures

A 360 view from the CIO

The tech press has acclaimed changes in the role of chief information officer for a while now. Once seen in terms of a hardware manager, often charged with reducing costs, the position has morphed into a complex blend of strategist and supplier relations manager with an important role in empowering staff. Lance Fisher, managing partner of recruitment consultancy firm, SThree, exemplifies these changes and has played a significant part in making them a reality.

In post since December 2010, Fisher is leading a transformation in the way SThree’s consultants work, by supporting their day-to-day activities with a suite of cloud-based and mobile platforms. The project is not just about tools, it’s about capability. For example, using the new software systems Fisher has introduced, all candidate CVs are ‘coded’ for skills, experience and education in a way that allows consultants to draw up carefully tailored lists of available applicants, wherever they happen to be. It’s this process of using IT to deliver analytical power right into the hands of all employees that is supporting his aim of helping SThree become the most profitable company in its field.

Laying foundations

Fisher grew up in the south of Birmingham in its last decades as a centre of manufacturing; although a dependence on an ailing motor industry already clouded its future. His first step on leaving school was an HND in computer science; “I didn’t know what to do after school and computing seemed to be the future so I applied myself to that.” He then went on to work as a programmer and developer for a software house, then moving on to ACT financial systems working with a now almost forgotten programming language called MUMPS - and later C and C++ .

Then after a stint in Amsterdam with ITT Publitec, who produced an online ‘yellow pages’, he returned to a job with software developers Rolfe & Nolan, a move that launched Fisher on a path combining software and finance for much of the next few years. This phase of his career culminated with his first CIO role, at ICAP , followed by the FTSE, where he oversaw a transition from a data update frequency of 20 seconds to fully real-time information. While at the FTSE Lance gained a MBA from Warwick university before his move at Sthree, where Lance is now in his third CIO role. A role that has come with accolades , while at Sthree Lance has achieved peer recognition with Finalist in Computing UK IT Industry Awards for CIO of the year 2012. Winner of the ICT European CIO of the year 2013 and Voted #11 in UK top 100 CIO's of the year 2015

Technological innovations in recruitment

However, it has been at SThree where his ideas on the role of technology in the modern workplace have really had a chance to develop. The challenge, as Fisher sees it, is “how you move from traditional IT teams and departments and budgets, focussed on owning kit and ‘tin’ and processes, and moving it all to the cloud so you don’t have to worry about the frame rooms or operating systems any more”. His plan to get everything on to the cloud reduces the amount of hardware the company has to deal with while enabling the staff to take all the information they need, everywhere they go. At SThree, the main recruitment software is being hosted on a Salesforce platform. This holds the candidate data base and supports a search algorithm they have developed in house – one of a number of techniques for which the company is seeking EU-wide patents. “I firmly believe this gives us a unique edge” argues Fisher, “we can find candidates and skill code them faster than anyone else”.

In order to encourage staff mobility, SThree is also using Office 365 which give all 2,400 consultants access to email and allows everything to be held on a mobile device.

Keeping one step ahead

Of course, similar technology to that empowering the changes at SThree is also changing the way jobs are advertised and communicated more widely. There are now job boards, and aggregation sites like Monster and Indeed and of course LinkedIn Recruiter, which has become a significant force in job finding. Fisher is not concerned about this as the limitations any one of these approaches may have individually can be overcome by drawing on multiple sources of information – something only a consultancy can practically achieve. “On LinkedIn an individual has written an entry about themselves and therefore they can create things and get their friends to endorse them. You’ve got to be careful about the data. What is useful is the information that, at a given moment in time, they do actually work for an organisation and probably are doing that role.” For this reason, the social media component of the SThree platform pulls in data from sites like these, or their European and overseas equivalents, and combines them with CV and other information. “What you tend to find, depending on location and country and sector, are other useful websites. The trick is to have an open platform that you can link to any of these sources and pull them all in”. The key ingredient however is intelligence. They have developed a search algorithm modelled on the type found on Ebay: “The consultant can ask for a candidate with five years Java experience, working in London, on such and such a salary, and it will come back straightaway with a list of available candidates”.

All this data has other uses as well. Once anonymised they can be used to analyse all kinds of questions about how particular types of expertise and career paths develop, what colleges are successful, which regions are up and coming for certain skills and so on.

Understanding the power of data

This increasingly heavy reliance on data integration and analysis brings out another important aspect of Fisher’s role which is to protect the data and ensure its integrity, particularly since the arrival of the new EU data protection regulation which includes some hefty fines for data breaches. “Information gives us our competitive advantage. We’ve taken the view all along that we have to protect our data and have be clear about when and how we use that data.”

All the various cloud projects, and there are more on the way, make up one of the main differentiators of SThree as a business. While there are competitors in all of the various recruitment areas in which their brands operate, there are few that do them all. However, this diversity of specialisations is underpinned by the increasing standardisation of company processes, which the new back office systems now make possible. “It doesn’t matter which brand you went to, you’d log on to the same systems: the consultants are all trained the same way and we can move them around our brands quite easily. We are quite fleet of foot in what we can do with our people and our technology”

A father of young twins, Fisher remains quietly hopeful there will, eventually, be more time for golf. But, at the moment, his focus on being the architect and driver of change at SThree means the links may have to wait a little while to come.