Cloning the CIO

Computerworld US' Mark Hall checks out how a co-CIO management structure is working at Omaha-based online brokerage Ameritrade Holding.

          After Capitol One Financial in Falls Church, Virginia, recently decided to scrap its experiment with co-CIOs, Computerworld US' Mark Hall thought it would be worthwhile to check on how a similar management structure is working at Omaha-based online brokerage Ameritrade Holding. Here's the exchange between Hall and co-CIOs Mok Choe and Raymond Dury.

          What prompted Ameritrade to create the dual CIO role?

          Dury: Over the past several years, Ameritrade acquired six different technology divisions through either acquisitions or special independent initiatives. Those separate divisions are now all under Ameritrade Technology Group (ATG), reducing expenses and leveraging synergies.

          This was evident when developing and releasing the Ameritrade Advantage product suite featuring the Advanced Analyzer and Super StreamMachine, to name a few. The Advanced Analyzer technology was derived from our BigEasy technology, while Super StreamMachine advancements were from our recent TradeCast acquisition.

          Choe: To continue enhancing the focus on the client experience, and offer a highly efficient and scalable system, and integrate the acquired new technologies requires a specific set of skills.

          Raymond's background is more in financial services technology. In fact, Raymond was instrumental in the development of OnMoney's portal technology, including account aggregation, while my IT background is more focused on creating and implementing brokerage applications; I helped in the development and optimisation of Ameritrade's high-performance technology trading platform.

          Dury: Having two experienced co-CIOs will allow us to meet the technology expectations of our clients quicker and with more efficiency for our shareholders. [Ameritrade CEO] Joe Moglia recognizes this and our specialised IT backgrounds and therefore created the dual leadership position.

          How is it structured? That is, who has what primary responsibilities? Was it divided by technical expertise? Management experience? Both? Has anything changed since you began working together in this role, and if so, why?

          Dury: We have equal responsibility for all of ATG. Our relationship is based on trust, the only way a partnership like this will work. We tend to manage those items where our skill sets and experience will benefit Ameritrade the most.

          To whom do you report? Has that relationship changed over time?

          Dury: We both report to Joe Moglia. . . . Our relationship with Joe has not changed.

          Choe: It's great having another CIO to bounce ideas off of who may have a different perspective. With a company that's so technology-dominant like Ameritrade, we talk and think through all major technology decisions together. This ensures that Ameritrade makes the right technology decision from the start.

          What are the benefits of the shared role?

          Dury: We draw on our combined experiences, knowledge and skills quickly to address technology issues and capitalise on insights from the business. We can focus on a project and still be confident that the day-to-day [activity] is working well.

          What are the challenges?

          Choe: We are fortunate not to have many personal challenges, so we are focusing on the business/technology challenges. They will keep us busy.

          Dury: We've truly created a team environment in ATG. Based on our individual backgrounds, we both address a situation with different ideas that seem to become incorporated into its solution.

          How often do you two meet to discuss issues?

          Dury: As Mok said, we value getting each other's perspective. We talk on the phone at least once a day. We usually get together once a week to discuss longer-term issues.

          Given that you both have had the shared role for a while, what are the key lessons that you have learned? Are there any anecdotes that either of you can share that underscore those lessons?

          Dury: We have learned that keeping each other informed is most important. If it does anything, it builds trust.

          Choe: I agree. You should always be able to: 1. trust each other; 2. keep each other informed communicate often and thoroughly; 3. play to each other's strengths; 4. do not let anyone come between you.

          From a personal career perspective, why would the two of you want to share a job?

          Choe: We felt that there was a tremendous opportunity to build on our past success by combining all the acquired technologies under one department with continued focus on the client experience.

          Dury: Indeed, this will hopefully lead to greater success, since it will create synergies and offer the client the best online brokerage experience. Completing this goal will be a positive for anyone's career.

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