Paul Shetler, Digital Chief Executive and Entrepreneur

  • By Chloé James, RFi Group
Paul Shetler

When Digital Chief Executive and entrepreneur, Paul Shetler arrived in Canberra in July 2015, he ‘jumped off his 30-hour flight, took a quick shower and made a bee-line to the office and his team.’ (His new boss? PM Malcolm Turnbull, for those in any doubt).

He was just so excited to get started.

Paul, a native New Yorker - with the iconic drawling accent to match - came to Australia via London, where his roles were both very senior, and very varied. Microsoft had nabbed him to head up their financial services business (specifically the sales and marketing functions) across EMEA. The Microsoft stint was followed by   by a role at Swift, developing interface products at global financial messaging services. He then undertook a “round-two” at Oracle (he’d been with them in the States previously) heading up technology for banking worldwide.  as well as being involved in a massive integration project as a part of their “buying-binge”. Oracle had just bought I-Flex Solutions, later known as i-flex - add an additional 14,000 employees - and Paul’s job was to make it work, in conjunction with managing Oracle’s serious vertical enterprise strategy. Fast forward, he founded two small development start-ups, before his celebrated move to government. (It doesn’t get much more senior than Chief Digital Officer for the UK’s Ministry of Justice, and his subsequent move to Australia and Turnbull’s Digital Transformation Agency).

This, over coffee, on a very, very hot Sydney day, is where we begin.

“I wanted to do something big again. I was used to working in large organisations and when you change the way an entire network works, it’s something you can actually talk to your friends about. Government and the bigger picture was so appealing to me, I could say "Look! We did this thing!" point to it on my phone, or browser - and show that it’s so much better than it used to be. It’s fulfilling, an achievement, something fundamental and concrete – especially if it’s something that’s user facing that people deal with in their everyday lives, solving real problems.”

Paul draws similarities between government and large corporate organisation’s, such as banks, saying it’s only natural for there to be bureaucratic issues, and historic legacies ad loyalty’s that will tend to resist change.

“When I was working in banking it was all about "We own the customer, no we own the customer" but, really, no one does. Like in government, they're a republic customer and getting that message out within an organisation is hard. The complex set of interactions we have to have across multiple parts of an organisation, is really hard.”

To Paul, digital transformation is about working together and, most importantly, under the one, unique umbrella. He notes that organisation who “achieve digital success” (more on that later), spent a lot of time and money understanding exactly what they are trying to do. What the customer needs are so that they can design around those, that's, he says, what makes an organisation worth dealing with, when a customer is simply having the experience, not trying to navigate the organisation.

“I think the distinction between Digital and IT has a lot to do with the fact that historically IT has been very slow to take up modern consumer technology - internet technology. What that meant was that marketing departments could just go to Amazon and hire a couple of designers and do whatever they wanted without having to involve IT. That’s typically the pattern. At the end of the day, to deliver the services to the end user, the customer, you have to go into the back office. A better model takes into account the fact that things change over time and that different methodologies are better suited for certain problems and after a certain point, a product will probably move and evolve to different spaces.”

Paul’s view of ‘Digital vs IT’? Quite simply, that it shouldn't be about verses and competing against each other.

“To me, the approach you have to take is - it’s digital-first - because that's what’s dealing with the customer. So, if you really are a customer-centric organisation, you must be digital-first and IT needs to be a part of that. At the MOJ (Ministry of Justice – but “M.O.J” does have a pretty cool ring to it when said by a New Yorker!) I made the case that I couldn't deliver at the speed I needed to, as long as I was dealing with back office systems – it needed to be put into the governance of digital and, by the time my immediate successor took over, it was and that role became the Chief Digital and Information Officer.”

Paul stresses his focus on end-users, specifically the understanding of your end users and the necessity to respond in real time.

“What I’ve seen worldwide is some really great design work, really great UX (user experience) people, really awesome creativity, but the way that the work is split up is still so segregated and, in my opinion, that really doesn't work. As we see and learn, the user research needs to go through the whole process. It has to provide feedback immediately into your development cycles. If you just wait and wait and wait, you've got all this intelligence but you’re not acting on it and there's no point. Split functions don't allow banks to be as agile as they could be, should be and need to be. As more and more products become digital, and digital products are more and more able to move across boarders (in FS specifically the disaggregation and re-aggregation in interesting ways) the ability to respond quickly to user needs is going to be absolutely essential.”

So! Who, if anyone, is already doing this well...  Who, are the ones to watch…?

Straight away, Paul points out Amazon as doing a really great job.

“The retail sector is the stand-out, and specifically, Amazon.  They are going to be a big, big deal in Australia when that really hits here, especially because of the industrial structure we have here. When someone like Amazon comes here, it is already in tooth and claw, they're just a killing machine. And honestly, I don’t know how people are going to respond to that.”

His excitement is captivating to say the very least, continuing that he sees the company as completely revolutionary. 

“Amazon have got a lot of things right. They have the end-user facing stuff which they’ve done a really good job with, all the complexity, all those financial supply chains, physical supply chains that they have to integrate to provide their service - you as a user, I as a user – we know nothing about it, it’s completely hidden from us. And it works. They literally don’t even sell anything, they’re a platform. Platforms can become quasi-monopolistic, and they are the real ‘ones to watch’. They have huge efficiencies and the more people on them, the more efficient they are. They are constant and it’s very hard to compete against that.”

Paul’s advice when it comes to platforms, the cloud and operating in this space – “stop building data centers”. Why, he questions, are businesses competing with the Amazon’s Google’s and Microsoft’s of this world, who between them are consuming almost all the silicon produced. “With so much capitalization there, how could you possibly compete with that - you can’t - so just don't.”

Paul wraps up the chat asserting the key necessities he sees as driving some if the fundamental change to operate more like an “Amazon”– 

1) Move to the clouds - Take the money you’re spending on other things and start spending it on service design

2) Understand what your users want to do

3) Develop better products that are not siloed, are about life events and that tie together different parts of what you offer 

“The thing with digital is that it tells you really, really quickly if it doesn't work. And, because of that, you can get rid of it just as quickly. I will say that - experiment. In digital, just experiment, don’t get bogged down in pilots, put your ideas out into market. Pilots, in my view, are a way of never really doing anything. Just get it out there, if it doesn't work get out and if it does work, flood it. That's the kind of thing that digital allows us to do today in a way we just never could before. Yes, you have to be able to pivot and think quickly - because that's what all of the new competitors coming into the market are doing -  but compete and be comfortable with competing. In this day and age, being conservative doesn't serve you well in the long run, an aggressive world moves fast.”

Paul reminisces to the time he really felt this all really kick into gear – when he moved to the energetic hub ,Shoreditch in London in January 2006. “It was great, it was rough, but it was in transition. Where musicians, DJ's, young professionals in every industry lived side by side. We had a great time” he smiles. “Digital really grew in Shoreditch, when you considered who was there - the city, the data, the internet startups, musicians, multimedia, it was a weird intersection of all these different people with different skills all in one very, tight place at the same time – and when the Global Financial Crisis happened, everybody was affected. This is what I see as the catalyst of the dawn of the digital revolution. All these very diverse, very talented, very smart people in a concentrated space, who would normally have nothing to do with each other, but, because of outside forces, were meeting in bars, meeting in pubs - it was so interesting, the collision of cultures, banking, music, art, media, hospitality - a real energy - and so much great stuff comes out of that.”

So, is there an “end-goal” for digital transformation and success? To put quite bluntly himself out of a job, Paul proclaims, there is!

“The goal should always be to not to have to exist anymore. If an organisation becomes fully digital, operating at the same speed and quality as an internet greenfield, success is your redundancy! Seriously though, a CDO should be a transformational role. When an organisation has transformed itself, it is competing – yes, you need someone overseeing all that, but it's a different, more operational role. You’ve got to a point of commercial success which is the whole reason the transformation was needed in the first place - getting rid of all the impediments to that, all that work will be taken care of.”

It was so fantastic chatting to someone of Paul’s expertise, we can’t wait to hear more from him at RFi Group’s ‘Global Digital Banking Conference - New Zealand Edition’ on 8th March.