Bank CIO Mary James on the importance of keeping IT people business-focused

FY Teng

What would you say are key attributes that every technology leader must have today?
That person must put himself or herself in the customer's shoes. If you do not understand what your customers-internal and external customers-want, and you only have your own views of what you believe to be what the customer wants, that will not work.

That is essential. Indeed, sometimes you're called upon to analyse and determine what technology your customers want based on what they really want to do. A lot of people want a solution without understanding what the real problem is, or without understanding what the business needs are.

When I look back at some of the people I've groomed, I see that I've devoted quite a bit of attention to getting them to constantly look at what the business folks are looking at. And I've made sure that they ascertain what their business users' real needs are before embarking on a strategy or any technology projects.

We don't implement technology for the sake of technology. We implement because there's a need and there's a strategy and purpose for it.

We must always put ourselves into our customers' shoes. That's doubly true in our business. We are essentially in a service industry, and the customer is the most important person in the bank.

What would you like to be known for?
One of the things I am known for, I believe, is for being a big implementer. That means I am able to successfully bring about projects, large and small. But I want to be known more for my ability to groom business and technology leaders. One of the things I enjoy the most at work is seeing my staff's grow in ability and moving up to becoming team leaders on their own.

I would also want to be known for being pragmatic in my approach to deploying new technologies. As the CIO of a bank, almost by definition I'm not afraid of embracing new technologies and always keen on what innovations the future may bring. But I implement only what makes sense for the bank.

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