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Fidelity Investments CTO builds IT career on tech's leading edge

Big data, monetizing data, digitization, globalization? Stephen Neff, Enterprise CTO at Fidelity Investments, has been at the forefront of the new new thing in IT since his first job at IBM. Unlike some CIOs whose career took them from industry to industry, Neff found his focus early on in financial services, where technology and data has long been integral to business success. Even at IBM, his initial job was supporting the company's banking customers.

From IBM he moved on to Wall Street investment firm Salomon Brothers, working in its New York and London offices. He joined Fidelity in 1996, serving, among other roles, as the CIO of the investment firm's asset management businesses.

SearchCIO's executive editor, Linda Tucci, caught up with Neff at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, where the Fidelity tech exec was honored as one of five finalists for the 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award. In this video excerpt from a wide-ranging interview on technology leadership in today's digital enterprise, Neff traces his career arc.

Before we dive into the theme of the day, the digital enterprise, I'm curious, how did you get from being a math major at Rutgers to what you do today?

Stephen Neff: Well, I was a math major, but I also took quite a few comp[uter] sci[ence] courses -- COBOL as a programming language, for instance. And when I got out of school, I actually started work with IBM in New York. I was in a branch office, but supporting a customer base that was in financial services. It was primarily banks at the time. So, my exposure to technology started in financial services from the early days in the '70s.

I worked for a number of years there, and then worked inside of IBM, managing a systems team that had one of our data centers that supported the field for us, for IBM. And then I left IBM in the late '80s and went to Salomon Brothers. I actually had a connection -- someone who had left IBM. It was a completely different change in direction. It was still technology, but from the customer perspective. When you work for a supplier, you do see customers. This was actually to work inside of the customer. And that was a completely different change.

Financial services was all about rapid change, [the] pace was fast, but the information flow was absolutely amazing at the time.

Even then.

Neff: Even then. And I worked in New York for a number of years for Salomon, then over in London for two years. So, I was very fortunate to get a global perspective fairly early on. And then I came to Fidelity in '96 and I've been here since. And again, with Fidelity, I've seen just the investment and the view that technology is a primary enabler for business success and for our customers has been kind of the mantra of the company.

So, the theme here today is "Leading the Digital Enterprise," but in financial services, did that digitization happen sooner than it did for those companies?

Neff: I think financial services is one of the industries that has been pretty far out in front with not only the use of technology, but also using information to produce results. And the results may be anything from, you know, better trading performance, investment performance, but ultimately it comes down to who's your client, who are your customers and what are they trying to achieve as outcomes.

So, the whole notion of big data in financial services goes pretty far back. It's a huge topic right now in a slightly different context, but anyone that was involved in the early '90s with the early digital trading floors that we've built got to see big data in a very big way in those years.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, executive editor, or find her on Twitter at @ltucci.

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