From recovery to reinvention: A Q&A with Equifax CTO Bryson Koehler
With hundreds of millions of people and organizations relying on financial services organizations each day to keep their information safe and secure, trust is at the heart of everything these organizations do.
Consumer credit reporting agency Equifax knows this all too well. In 2017, it experienced a historic data breach. As CTO, Bryson Koehler, recognized that rebuilding trust would mean fundamentally rethinking how Equifax managed technology and data security—and their business—as a whole.
Today, Equifax is in a very different place. The company is transforming the majority of their IT operations on the strong foundation of Google Cloud, and in doing so, transforming many aspects of their entire business. The company recently issued a paper outlining their transformation efforts to leverage the cloud while also building world-class data security measures. We sat down with Bryson to get a deeper understanding of what they learned from their successful three year digital transformation journey.
Glen Tillman: Where does Equifax see its mission today?
Bryson Koehler: It’s about finding opportunities where we can leverage technology and data to help people make smarter, more informed decisions, and improve the process and experience for them. For example, we have mobile devices in our pockets and on our wrists that help us with health coaching, but do we have financial coaching? We get lots of feedback about how to make good health and entertainment decisions, but many of us don’t get the information to make good financial decisions. And I think Equifax is uniquely positioned to help people live their financial best.
Glen: After the security incident in 2017, Equifax went through a level of transformation that is unprecedented, especially in your business. Can you tell us what drove that decision?
Bryson: When you have a data breach, that’s a kind of existential crisis moment for any company. You try to understand the impact, how to protect people impacted by it, and how you can make sure it doesn’t happen again. We realized we needed to think radically differently about how we could create a sustainable security posture and who we are from a technological culture perspective.
The cloud makes world-class security possible by providing consistency in the way we build and deploy technology. On-premises or private cloud installations often create a mixed-generation infrastructure that breaks automation, requiring manual fixes that lead to human error. By removing opportunities for mistakes, the cloud keeps us focused on good hygiene and discipline. It also offers the flexibility that lets you make changes, building reliability into the infrastructure and code without creating vulnerabilities or reducing productivity.
Glen: How did you establish what you needed from the cloud and why did that lead you to Google Cloud?
Bryson: When I looked at what we needed at Equifax, I realized that Google’s tighter focus around data, security, AI, and machine learning were a better fit. Security is something that has to be built in and not bolted on, and I think the engineering culture at Google—broadly speaking, not just the cloud—has good reason to take pride in their achievements in this regard. This ends up creating a culture that I feel more comfortable placing a bet for five years in the future than I would with any others.
I felt that Google Cloud offers a differentiated approach to data that was completely unique and did not seem to be available at other companies. And Google has really been there for us with a commitment of lining us up with the right people to help us achieve success not just in usage but also the outcome.
Glen: Many companies are still cautious about going to the cloud—especially in financial services—so what you did was a huge leap.
Bryson: It is a big leap but it’s one that’s worth taking. Our job is about ensuring that our data and systems are secure and protected, not just from hackers, but also from misuse. Making sure that data is being used in the right ways, places, and times with the right use cases and intent is just as important—and in time, more important.
Things are going to evolve, and you’re going to need to be able to adapt as those rules change. People stick to what they know because they don’t have a deep enough understanding how this all works. To achieve the change we’ve seen requires a technological shift, but more importantly, it demands a cultural shift that functionally changes who you are as a company because when you get back to business, you can’t go back to business as usual.
Glen: One thing that moving to the cloud helps with is removing data silos. Has that had a major impact on the culture?
Bryson: That will be the next part of our cultural shift. If you went back years ago, Equifax would have needed to get data from multiple sources within our own company to get a full picture. By bringing these data sources into a cloud based environment, we can organize our data into a single, seamless structure—while still keeping all critical governing and separation measures in place—creating differentiated products to help our customers make smarter decisions and to help consumers live their financial best.
Glen: How do you see the cloud evolving the financial services industry moving forward?
Bryson: If you think about this strategically, financial services companies are working hard to make better, more confident decisions and matchmake the right customers to the right products and services. When you think about the fraud intelligence exchange we’re doing at Equifax, for example, we all have that incentive to help reduce fraud, so sharing and partnering in the industry helps all boats rise. Fraud adds costs, slows down processes, and encumbers good customer experiences in many cases, so the more we can do as an industry to realize that this is not a competitive asset and work together to reduce it, the better we all will be.
There are great dialogues around that, and many companies are recognizing that the cloud is a great place to do this. From a data and analytics perspective, having the infinite horizontal scalability of cloud infrastructure provides much better capabilities to achieve that without increasing the risk footprint through replication and consistency, increasing security. And because so much of our industry moves so fast that transactions are measured in milliseconds, being able to share data in real time with the cloud improves the ability to help people in the future right when they need it.
Learn more about Google Cloud solutions for financial services.
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