Tech Officer Vantage Point: Ally Financial’s Sathish Muthukrishnan

Leading tech officers give the inside track on how to unlock advantage through technology.

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Three takeaways from our conversation with Sathish Muthukrishnan, Chief Information Officer at Ally Financial.

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There are two ways to drive transformation—proactively through leadership, or reactively in response to customer or competitor action. To differentiate your organization, leaders need to be at the forefront of transformation. If you’re not, it becomes an evolution, not a revolution.

Sathish Muthukrishnan
Chief Information Officer, Ally Financial



How CEOs can drive successful tech transformation…

Making an organization more tech savvy is everyone’s responsibility, not just the technologists. And the CEO and board of directors play a very critical role in that. First, they need to understand how technology can drive business outcomes. Second, they need to empower their technology organizations. Transformation doesn't necessarily always have to be done in a certain way, so CEOs need to allow the technology organization to open up a little bit, to dream a little bit. And finally, CEOs need to ensure they give their voice behind the company becoming more tech savvy—and that their support is heard with the board of directors and throughout the organization. This is where they can do the heavy lifting, carefully crafting their messages, and ensuring everyone understands how technology is at the center of driving the company forward.


Why CEOs need to be curious (and patient)…

By embracing curiosity, CEOs can get a clearer picture of the intentions of the tech officer’s decisions. A tech officer is managing multiple businesses, multiple functions, and different levels of maturity in a technology landscape. There are a lot of balls in the air. And they’re making multiple critical decisions every day. So, if the CEO is curious about these decisions and the outcomes that they drive, it will give the technology leader confidence that somebody is by their side.

CEOs also need to be patient. Investments in technology to drive transformation is the first step, and transformations do not  happen overnight. A CEO’s patience will allow the sometimes painful journey of transformation to progress and be amazing.


Why culture is critical to company-wide tech transformation.

Culture is often overlooked or not given the right level of importance when companies are transforming through technology. Yet it is ultimately the common thread that will enable and empower people to embrace transformation and drive it forward. In my mind, culture is the differentiator between value creation and value capture.

Ultimately, transformation is only successful when the whole organization embraces change. This willingness to transform has to come from the very top, from the CEO and board. When that happens, it drives engagement from employees and business outcomes.

The tech leader also has a significant responsibility in enabling a culture of digital savviness. It starts with explaining the why. Other leaders may not understand API or automation. But if you take the time to explain why these technologies are important to achieving business outcomes it creates a culture of digital literacy that helps the organization systemically transform.


How boards need to think about technology…

Just as companies are evolving and adopting technology, boards are also evolving by including tech-savvy board members, including those who have led large technology organizations. Boards are now expected to help the company see around corners, and that includes embracing technology and embedding it into how the company will operate in the future. They must guide the conversation and the organization toward experimenting and embracing technology in a way that drives positive outcomes.



How tech officers need to talk to the business…

Tech officers shouldn’t start with technology. They have to lead with the customer problem, how technology solves that problem, and how the outcomes connect to the organization’s overall P&L. If you can connect technology to financial outcomes, it becomes easier to drive transformation. 
Visibility is key when it comes to working with other C-suite leaders. A tech officer’s role is to get the C-suite to understand how technology operates from a financial perspective. It means that those leaders are ready to ask questions, such as, “Is the investment worth it? How long will it take to get the return on investment?”

Once you give C-suite leaders visibility, you have a curious, captive audience. You can then explain in-depth what the technology does, why it might take longer than they would like to deliver certain aspects, and what some of the intricacies of the tech transformation processes are. Ultimately, it helps the tech function move away from being a solution provider and into an opportunity definer. It’s about communicating that the role of technology isn’t just to solve tech-based problems. It’s about influencing and shaping what the business is trying to achieve.


How tech officers can gain credibility—and get that all-important seat at the table…

First, ensure that the organization’s existing technology capabilities are running at optimal efficiency so that there’s no negative business or customer impact. As soon as you reduce the operational noise, the conversation can switch from being reactive to proactive. This gives tech officers the opportunity to showcase how they can deliver value and capture true value for the business.

Second, maintain your credibility through execution consistency. If a tech officer promises to deliver certain capabilities by a certain timeframe, this must be met because tech deliverables are often (and should be) built into the financial outcomes that the business is measured by. So, essentially, tech officers need to find ways to show they’re enabling the success of the business.


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