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Fidelity's top IT exec sees potential in A.I.

Mary K. Pratt | Nov. 26, 2014
Stephen Neff has his eye on a host of emerging technologies and says artificial intelligence is especially promising.

Stephen Neff, enterprise chief technology officer, Fidelity Investments [2014]
Stephen Neff of Fidelity Investments

Since his January 2013 appointment as enterprise CTO at Fidelity Investments, Stephen Neff has made a significant impression in the financial services company's highest IT post. Earlier this year, he was named one of five finalists for the 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award.

He oversees an IT organization with an annual budget of $2.5 billion and 12,500 tech employees, associates and contractors around the globe. And he's tasked with running a distributed technology organization where a majority of workers operate within the various business lines reporting into business unit CIOs.

Neff says his objectives align with Fidelity's goals of providing both the best and newest customer experiences it can, delivering solutions that differentiate the company in the marketplace and effectively scaling its operations. "I'm fortunate enough to have people at the top on the same page with how important technology is," he says.

What's your biggest tech-related challenge right now? There are so many changes going on concurrently. The technical platforms are changing rapidly, and they're all interrelated. When you think about emerging technologies, there are the ones that you would normally put on the list -- mobile, social networking, cloud computing, big data and gamification. They're pervasive in the environment, but you can't just look at any by itself.

How do you deal with that challenge? We have a couple of groups inside the company that are really advance guards. Fidelity Labs is the best example. They focus on technologies that are three to five years out, and they do an assessment of the timeline for when they will be prevalent in the marketplace and the relevance to our industry. So those things -- cloud, social, mobile -- we were focusing on them several years ago and we ramped up capabilities across the company.

We are still a mixed shop, but a large percentage of our development is using agile methodologies [to help us keep up with rapid change]. We found we had to take a different approach to how we rolled out new capabilities, so a lot of what we now do is small releases that go out on a more frequent basis.

What emerging technologies are you excited about? The ones that we're putting more emphasis on are the various forms of artificial intelligence. AI-type systems will start to hit their stride. When you think about a lot of the interaction we have with the customers, much of the information to answer questions could be provided by machines. The phone reps could spend more time focused on the customers' needs rather than looking things up.


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