How the role of CIO has evolved in the field of technology
By Peter DeTrempe and Nancy Terrell
JULY 31, 2019 | TECHNOLOGY
We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Steve Reynolds, Chief Information Officer at Onyx CenterSource, to discuss how the role of CIO has evolved in the field of technology in recent years. Reynolds’ company Onyx CenterSource is a leading global provider of B2B payments and business intelligence solutions in the hospitality industry. As CIO of Onyx, Reynolds oversees the company’s global technology organization that includes approximately 80 staff members globally.
The Ascend Team: Let’s talk about the CIO role in general. Onyx CenterSource is the third organization where you’ve held that title, but you’ve been part of that ecosystem for a long time. How has that changed recently, and how do you see it changing?
Steve Reynolds: People ask me why I wanted to be a CIO. Sometimes I ask myself the same question. Technology is one of the most demanding and evolving of all the industries. Every day something changes. Twenty years ago, the focus of the CIO revolved around, “Where is my data center? What hardware server am I going to buy? How much disk space do I need? What network bandwidth can I afford, and what type of resources do I have to have to manage all that hardware that I’m purchasing?”
Today, it’s not necessary for us to own hardware – or software in most cases. Just about everything a CIO needs to run a technology department is available as a service, whether that be infrastructure-as-a-service from a public cloud provider like Amazon Web Services (AWS), platform-as-a-service from Google or software-as-a-service from Salesforce. We now have relationships with suppliers at a much deeper level, because we are running on their backbone as opposed to our own. The skillsets required to do that is less about having people who know how to run the hardware and the network and more about people who understand how to utilize the services to create the solutions for your business.
How has the role of the CIO within a company changed?
Today, there is hardly any aspect of the business that does not require technology in some form or fashion. Because of that, the good news is CIOs now have a seat at the table with the CEO, CFO, COO, CMO and CPO and are more involved in the company decision-making and strategy. As opposed to 20 years ago, I’m not sure how many CIOs got to sit at the table. That is really changing.
Your background has a lot to do with strategy, and it involves being able to enrich the data and determine where the value is for your customers and markets.
Absolutely. Data enrichment is part of Onyx’s business intelligence strategy. If you were to ask Mark Dubrow, our CEO, he will tell you that we believe the future growth of our business could very well leverage our business intelligence. Onyx will become a data-rich information company – a knowledge company, that happens to also make B2B payments.
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How are you trending or analyzing the data that you’re capturing? How do you see machine learning and AI evolving over time?
Travel agents know what was booked at a hotel, but often don’t have visibility of what actually happened at the hotel at the time the guest stayed. For example, the reservation could have been canceled, the stay could have been extended, or another rate could have been negotiated after the original reservation was made. At Onyx, we handle reconciliation of these modifications for the hotels and travel agents. We contact the travel agents with, “We know you booked these reservations, but changes have been made, and this is what your true commission payment should be and why.” This is an important aspect of the services we provide.
Onyx is just starting to scratch the surface in business intelligence. We are using machine learning not only for internal operational uses, but also for providing knowledge to our customers that increases their revenue and profits. We’ve begun the transition from operational reporting to providing knowledge-based decision-modeling tools. Said differently, moving from “What happened?” to “What should I be doing?”
For example: A hotel could offer a 12% commission, but maybe they only needed to offer 10% to get the same number of bookings. A 2% commission rate can make a big difference for a hotel, especially if it is a high-end hotel that charges $400 a night. Our challenge: What can we do as a business intelligence provider to help hoteliers not only predict their bookings but also set the appropriate commission rates?
We recently completed a 60-day Machine Learning/AI with AWS and another third-party partner. The study specifically looked at our data components and how we could utilize AWS’s ML/AI tools. The results were very intriguing and could result in a new product offering for hoteliers and travel agents.
Lastly, we recently introduced a new product line called Analytic Data Services (ADS) that includes a number of analytical tools for hoteliers and travel agents. We are testing in beta with a few hotels and travel agents and expect to go live with the products this year.
What about cybersecurity? Do you have a separate information security initiative or group within Onyx, or does it report up through you?
Security and compliance used to be an afterthought. Not anymore. Now it is front and center as part of our product planning and development process, as well as any of our customer and supplier interfaces. Because of the industry we are in, our customers require us to be certified and conduct annual audits in addition to the standard compliance audits. Cybersecurity is part of our day-to-day thinking. It’s ingrained in our process from the beginning.
Onyx has a Director of Information Security, essentially our CISO, who reports to me. In addition, we have an Information Security Steering Team, which includes the CFO, COO, CPO (Chief Product Officer) and the Technology Leadership Team who leads governance of our company’s cybersecurity strategy. We also include third party cybersecurity vendors to provide additional support. The threat to cybersecurity is ever-present and moves so quickly — it is naïve for a company to think they could just hire a couple of people to stay on top of things.
You have been a leader in so many diverse and complex industries. What is the largest number of employees you’ve had to manage?
In previous organizations, I have managed as many as 600 employees.
How does one successfully manage 600 employees?
You find good leaders. I pride myself on hiring a team where everyone on it is a lot smarter than I am in at least one area. I have been successful in being able to find good leaders. There’s just no way a person could manage organizations of substantial size without having a good set of leaders. I expect the same out of them — to hire exceptional leaders also, and so-on.
Lastly, let’s talk about companies or individuals you admire. Can you speak to some of these companies or their leaders?
I would say I fall into the typical technology hero mentality. I admire Steve Jobs, not just for his technology prowess, but I liked that he was able to combine right brain and left brain. It wasn’t just about technology with Apple; it was about design too. I admired that he was able to lead and utilize both sides of his brain to build and develop Apple into the company that it is.
Elon Musk is an interesting guy. I don’t know that I would want to be like him, but I admire how a Silicon Valley entrepreneur disrupted a global automotive industry the way he has.
Lastly, I have to give Bill Gates credit in that he disrupted the software market and made his operating system and software programs available to consumers.