by Edward Qualtrough

SThree CIO Lance Fisher interview – Innovation and future CIO leadership

Apr 18, 2017
IT StrategyProfessional Services

SThree CIO Lance Fisher says innovation and finding new services for the company’s core business is one of the three pillars of his strategy and the one which can help to show the value a CIO can bring to a specialist staffing agency.

A perennial CIO 100 member and the CIO at London Stock Exchange and FTSE-listed SThree since end of 2010, Fisher has previously spoken to this title about applying the disruptive lessons of online markets and social networks to recruitment – and he recently discussed taking the firm in new disruptive directions and support from CEO Gary Elden regarding this agenda.

“People have been predicting the end of the recruitment consultant for thirty years. Although that has not happened so far, we are constantly looking at what’s out there that can disintermediate us,” Fisher said.

“We want to understand what customers want so that we are investing in new ideas and technology to complement what we do. The best way to avoid disruption is to continue to provide the best and most relevant products and services.”

CEO support

Fisher acknowledged getting rid of the consultant altogether was at the extreme radical end, but with SThree recognised as somewhat of a leader in its field in the data and analytics space of matching jobs with candidates, a machine learning engine was an obvious tool to match skills requirements with the desires and professional aspirations of those on its database.

“You’ve got to bet on some horses,” he said. “We’ve got our traditional model which you can see has to change and become more efficient, and then you’ve got new business models coming and which ones of those do you bet on?

“Our job is constantly looking to see what’s out there, see what’s coming through.”

Fisher said that CEO Elden, whom the CIO reports to, continues to challenge everyone in SThree to look towards the future.

While different disruptive ideas around becoming a platform business and provider to others in the industry are mooted, Fisher believes it will be in the test and learn phase where SThree achieves success.

“The interesting thing is to think about iterations of our current model and to see how relevant they would be compared with what we do today,” Fisher said.

“There are different ways for us to serve our clients and we want to test and explore more of them so we can make smart choices for the future.”

Diversity and innovation

Fisher explained that one of the drivers of innovation has been from diversity of opinion at the organisation. SThree has its own internal diversity agenda as well as offering a service to help external organisations reach a broader range of candidates. CIO Fisher has recruited a male-female ratio of 50-50 into his department in recent years which has helped shift the needle although he admits the department is still only a quarter female.

“I think we’ve found because we are more diverse, you have different opinions,” Fisher said. “It’s been interesting that innovation has come out of just letting people go off and try things and give them more control. It is changing our culture and you can see that all the way through.”

One of the diversity services SThree has been able to provide is around unconscious bias. Using the data engine and the candidates SThree’s algorithms thought might have the most suitable skills for a position, the recruiter is able to inform organisations if, for example, they might not have progressed any women or candidates from a BAME background from a video interview through to a second stage where they might have been some of the most qualified people for the position.

The CIO describes this as a value-add driven by the data and SThree’s candidate search engine, and is a way SThree is able to influence other companies around how they are or are not developing the diversity of their organisations.

“We have been able to take our own learnings around diversity and use them when we speak with our clients,” he said.

Security and EU General Data Protection Regulation

Fisher’s other two major areas of focus are using money wisely in order to be able to invest in its innovation agenda, as well as security concerns which blend into the complexity around compliance with EU General Data Protection Regulations. EU GDPR became law in 2016 but will not be properly enforced until May 2018.

“Security and EU GDPR is a big focus,” Fisher said. “I’ve currently got a team of five now working on it with someone dedicated to GDPR and the rest cyber security.”

When we meet just a couple of months after competitor Michael Page has been hacked SThree has conducted a malware phishing test with pleasing results, but Fisher jests an alternative conclusion could be that employees, particularly the executive leadership, just do not open their email.

“Our concern is our own people being the biggest security risk,” Fisher said while discussing potential damage to SThree, which is based either around poor security nous or insider threats with those who might want to steal candidate data or relationships.

While compliance with EU GDPR has its challenges for Fisher and SThree, for the technology and IT staffing experts recruiting Data Protection Officers is obviously a huge area of opportunity for the firm with the CIO describing the hiring market as “very buoyant” as it also seeks to become an expert in spotting the talent map of DPOs.

In six years at SThree one of the big changes has been to move the organisation where everything was done in-house to one embracing key partners to achieve shared goals. This has resulted in a technology transformation based around the so-called SMAC-stack of social, mobile, analytics and cloud, and for Fisher moving away from building and supporting on-premise legacy systems to an as-a-service model where managing partners is key.

CIO role and innovation

Fisher believes that the CIO is evolving into a position where they are seen as the technologist who is the “go to” consultant of choice – as well as the glue that connects IT to the business, vendors and the organisation’s clients.

While staying on top of security and EU GDPR are major priorities, it’s the disruption and innovation agenda which is equally time-consuming and does not always result in the golden carriages you read about in the media.

“We know that the model may change in future but we’re doing well as an organisation and you have to play this chicken and egg situation,” Fisher said. “Essentially we want to place a number of small bets to give ourselves a broader portfolio of options.

“That innovation piece does take a lot of time and we focus a lot on ensuring we are placing the right bets. How many horses do you want to bet on?

“What we’ve found with innovation is you have to kiss a lot of frogs basically – that kissing of the frog is taking time. But over time we are getting better at identifying which ones are likely to turn into princes.”