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How to stay relaxed when you're leading a revolution

How to stay relaxed when you're leading a revolution

The ASX is in the middle of a four-year, $50 million transformation of its trading and post-trade systems. And it's not just the technology that's changing.

ASX CIO Tim Thurman

ASX CIO Tim Thurman

When the Australian Securities Exchange’s CIO Tim Thurman arrives at the office each morning, he surveys the new world he has created. Gone are the closed-door cubical offices, the desktop computers, and many of his technology team aren’t in sight, but off sitting with other business units.

“I come into work and I see my stand-ups going on,” he says. “They have their breakouts. Almost every wall on one of my floors here there’s a whiteboard. No one is taped to a desk. Every team member on our projects collocates. There’s no excuses now from going and being collaborative with your teammates.”

The ASX is in the middle of a four-year, $50 million transformation of its trading and post-trade systems. The overhaul will change the exchange’s back-end completely.

The project includes a new market monitoring system from TIBCO, the replacement of the ASX Trade24 derivatives platform and the equities platform, and a new risk management system using NASDAQ technology. There have been forays into blockchain as the exchange looks to its aging post-trade CHESS (Clearing House Electronic Subregister System) platform.

“About 99 per cent of our technology is on the roadmap for being replaced,” says Thurman. “Technically, it will be a night and day difference”.

There’s also changes happening to general ledger systems, billing systems, surveillance and compliance systems. Disparate CRMs are being slimmed down from 14 to one.

“We’ve got two dozen projects running in parallel that are chipping away, taking small bites of a big white elephant,” he says.

All change

It’s not just the technology that’s changing. Thurman is revolutionising the workplace environment and culture of the business. No easy feat in such a historic institution.

“The exchange has never gone under this level of change before in its history,” says the Canadian, who joined the company from Credit Suisse in 2012. “When we started tearing walls down and offices it was a bit disruptive. It was not easy. As you can imagine there was some resistance.”

The upgrade was announced in February last year. It’s required some convincing of colleagues in other parts of the business as to why the change had to happen in the first place.

“It was very hard back when I first got here to convince the ASX that all of our technology had to be replaced,” he says. “I think that was the biggest thing for my colleagues on the business side to get their heads wrapped around, is that it needed to be done.”

“But Elmer [Funke Kupper former CEO] brought me down to change the way the ASX works and the technology. Part of my MO is be very disruptive and it’s what we’re doing.”

Kupper resigned in March amid an investigation into an alleged bribery payment made during his time as CEO of gaming firm Tabcorp. His replacement Dominic Stevens started this month.

The technology plan will not change as a result, Thurman says.

“[Kupper] was very much a key supporter of the tech strategy,” says Thurman. “But nothing’s changed really. I’m sure [Stevens] is going to have the same drive and goals as Elmer and I’m looking forward to that.

“I’m looking forward to getting into some of the detail and explaining to him exactly what we’re doing. I think it’ll be all good.”

Cool stuff and culture

The result of the overhaul, the ASX says, will help it deliver greater innovation, efficiency and liquidity to customers, and strengthen the position of the ASX as one of the world’s leading exchange groups.

Thurman has his eye on the data it will open up and the ‘cool stuff’ that will come out of it.

“That’s the add-on to deploying all these technologies and sun-setting all the legacy tech, is we’re bringing all that data together,” he says.

“When we’re done in a couple of years the data will be consolidated into a point where it’s accessible, we can take a look at it and start doing some cool stuff with it. Because that’s the crown jewel. Our data is the crown jewel.”

Thurman also hopes there will be lasting change to the way the technology team, and the wider business operates too.

“I’m hoping that the people, once we’re done, will have changed and come along on the journey also. To the point where were talking an Agile language on a normal basis, and also the agility of the ASX is across the entire company not just technology. Which is happening by the way…” he says.

“When we actually build a new project there’s no debating how we want to run, it’s a question of do we want it hybrid agile? How many sprints are we going to have? Backlogs? Colocation? Even to the point where we invite our vendors and partners to come colocate with us at various stages of the project.”

Always tomorrow

Despite the huge task at hand, Thurman says he never feels stressed and never gets rushed.

“I like the idea of taking the time. There’s always tomorrow. I don’t like to be forced into a decision when I know I’ve got the time. If you need to take an extra day, take the extra day or even two, three days. If you need to go talk to our clients let’s put the brakes on and get a town hall going or a customer forum or our account managers on the street and talking to our clients.

Thurman ensures his team has a methodical approach to tasks and for every problem they face he demands at least three solutions. Taking time and weighing up a route forward pays off in the long run, he says.

“It’s not just ‘find me a solution and go hard at it’. Let’s look at some options. We’re not going to run down a rabbit hole, which they’ve done here in the past before my time,” he says.

“And if you’ve got a tough decision: take a step away from it, go for a coffee or a beer, come back to it tomorrow and rethink it.”

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Tags agileASXAustralian Stock ExchangeTim Thurman

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