The Grill: State Street CIO Christopher Perretta

With technology as the driver, this CIO maps a financial giant's strategy.

State Street's executive vice president and CIO, Christopher Perretta, says technology is leading the transformation of the financial services industry. In any organization at any time, that's no small task, but Perretta says it's particularly challenging given the state of the economy in the past several years. But he welcomes the opportunity. "I aspire to be a change agent," says Perretta, who leads a team of more than 5,000 employees and contractors that supports operations in 27 countries. His leadership was recognized earlier this year, when he received an MIT Sloan CIO Symposium 2012 Award for Innovation Leadership. The award honors CIOs who lead their organizations to pursue the innovative use of IT and business processes to deliver business value.

What do you think earned you the MIT distinction? I think the team at State Street has done a great job at really putting new technology into a business context, and they're making a difference with the business. They're a very customer-centric group and a tech-savvy group, and they've made the connection between those two ideas. They've delivered in an environment that requires some pretty high-quality delivery. I'm proud to be a part of that team.

What's your role in all that? My job is to connect the dots, to build an organization that leverages the talent that we have. I think at State Street we've elevated the role of architecture, of technology architect -- and I use that word to include application architect, data architect, technical architect. We've elevated that role and made it a firm-wide endeavor, and that has greatly enhanced our ability to deliver solutions in a consistent manner across the board.

What are the most important qualities in an IT leader today? It's very easy to get into the tech tactical side of what we do and the incident management side of what we do, and one has to fight to free up the resources and the brain space to develop strategies and execute on them. You get sucked into the day-to-day, and you have to make an effort to build capabilities that are geared for five years from now. You can't lose the day-to-day, but you can't forgo the strategy. And then you have to execute on the strategy. So you have to build the organization and work with the people. [You have to determine:] Are you putting the right people in the right spot and giving them the right type of autonomy to do their jobs?

How would you summarize your vision for IT at State Street? In financial services, technology plays an expansive role. It is the physical manifestation of the product. We're both engineering and manufacturing and maintaining [the product], and we actually drive the car. And as technology grows -- and with Moore's Law, where processing power doubles every 18 months -- technology's role will grow in financial services. Technology is at the heart of what we need to accomplish from an operational standpoint. Technology has to grow with the business, and it has to be a key driver of business rather than just being an enabler.

How do you, as CIO, craft a strategic position and ensure that colleagues and staff are on board with that position? We start with the business strategy. We say, "What are the imperatives that we have, what capabilities does the organization need, and what are the attributes the organization has to have in the current environment and to fulfill the strategic plan?" And we put our investments and efforts in that context. Everything we do from a development standpoint has to have a commercial return. It's an investment in time and money, and we need to get a return. And that return has to be consistent with where we want the business to go. It's as straightforward as that. When you can connect major technology initiatives to the strategy of the firm in quantifiable ways, you can present to senior management a proposition that's appealing.

How do you encourage innovation in your organization? We kind of look at it as a pipeline. We have a couple of groups that are part of that pipeline. We have a chief scientist, and his job is to say, "What are the technologies out there that are likely to be impactful to our business, what are the potential uses of social media, or when should we be looking at certain hardware technologies?" Then we have the architecture group, which is really chartered with piloting new technologies and new approaches in real-world environments to demonstrate utility to the approach or technology. And when they're successful, we industrialize it for use by the whole organization. I always tell my head of architecture he has to be three or four years out for me, because those are the kind of horizons the business uses.

How does a CIO create a cohesive team in such a large operation? We don't think about it as passing work around the globe. It's not like, "Send this work over to China to get done or down to New Jersey." Instead, we think, "We have a team made up of people from around the world." And when you do that, it's a lot easier because they're working together. We also benefit from the [fact] that 75% of the work we do is for global consumption, so they're consistently considering the implication to all, not just for North America. That helps teams stay together. I think State Street has a strong culture in its own right, too, that's about global inclusion and serving those customers. And our customers are more global than ever before.

-- Interview by Computerworld contributing writer Mary K. Pratt (


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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