by Peter High, published on Forbes
Like other companies, the IT function at Intuit used to be one that the rest of the company loved to complain about. It was an easy scapegoat for a number of issues. Atticus Tysen has been at Intuit for 14 years, and for the first 11 years of that experience, he was outside of IT and was quite familiar with the complaints. He held roles in Product Management, in Engineering and Operations, and in Enterprise Business Solutions. Rather than pile on as others complained, Tysen elected to do something about it by joining IT as senior vice president and chief information officer three years ago.
Since then, Tysen has revamped the function such that it has more of a product leadership mentality rather than that of the order takers of old. He has also ensured that IT is transparent in its communications so that the value it contributes is more readily understood by the company and its customers. Tysen covered all of the above while also offering advice for CIOs of non-technology centric companies who might wish to emulate some of what he has done in the transformation he has led.
(To listen to an extended audio version of this interview, please click this link.This is the seventh article in the Business CIO series, featuring executives who have emerged from other corporate functions to become CIOs. Read past interviews with the likes of Marriott CIO Bruce Hoffmeister and World Bank CIO Stephanie von Friedeburg. To read future articles in this series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: Atticus, yours is an interesting background. You have been with Intuit for about fourteen years and have been CbIO for more than two and one-half of those years. In the interim between the time you started at the company and two and one-half years ago, you held a variety of roles: product development roles; Vice President of Enterprise Business Solutions; and Engineering and Operations roles. As a result, for the majority of your time at Intuit you were a consumer of IT, as opposed to a leader of it. I know from our past conversations that you have said that one of the main reasons you joined IT was that you kept hearing complaints that IT was the source of many problems, so rather than echo the complaints, you decided to join the team. Can you talk a little bit about that insight and the journey from outside IT to leading it?
Atticus Tysen: One of the big things I discovered being part of IT is the hard job of balancing running all of the existing systems while you are trying to build out the new future. Before I got into IT I did not understand that. All I understood was the latest request I was asking for. We have a legacy as a company– we are a little over thirty years old— and our business model has evolved. We have many different layers of technology, as does every company of our age, and that context is important to understand. The IT organization has to operate all of that well, because that is serving customers and different segments of our customers. If any one of those systems is not performing that means we are not performing for some set of customers. So while operating that flawlessly we also have to build out the future, start to move people to SaaS offerings and migrate the company. It is a difficult trade off to accomplish. I think it is hard to appreciate that on a day to day basis until you really get in and understand it from the inside.
High: Obviously Intuit itself is a technology business: what you are selling is, in so many cases, technology. The other roles I suggested outside of IT are technical and you have made the point, as others who are CIOs and technology jobs have made as well, that you are surrounded by people who feel like they could do your job better than you can. I know from our past conversations, Atticus, you have said they are probably right at least in segments of what you do, but probably not for the entire thing. I wonder if you could also explain that rationale.