CIO Ben Askin: Think Of Digital Transformations As ‘Business Programs Rather Than IT Programs’

For this CIO of a tax technology company—who works closely with business leaders on transformation—work has gotten a lot more exciting.

The role of IT is changing dramatically and fundamentally in this “new hybrid, ultra-fast-paced world,” says CIO Ben Askin.

Askin shares insights on all the projects he’s spearheading as a trusted business advisor to others in the C-Suite at Vertex, a tax compliance software and services company based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

What is a project that you are currently leading or recently have led at Vertex? What about that project are you most proud of?  

When I arrived at Vertex two years ago, there was a need for business transformation with respect to how the company operated. At the time, business processes, systems and data were siloed with very little end-to-end processing and integration—a critical component to unlocking additional value for a company. We needed to shift our focus from the past to the future of the company and how it operates.  

Two years later and we are going through a full business process transformation with extensive technology enablement and new, strategic ways of working to improve our IT throughput and quality. We are reimagining our core business processes end to end, and, as a result, enabling significant automation throughout those processes and transforming transactional data into cross-company insight.   

Currently I am leading three primary transformations alongside Vertex’s COO. First is a company-wide business process-focused ERP modernization. This initiative will focus on Vertex’s front, middle and back-offices, specifically our customer support and customer success areas.  

We are also spearheading an effort to fully transform process and technology enablement for how we manage the tax content that is used within Vertex software products. This program is especially exciting as it’s a game changer for our customers.   

The last of these projects is creating a modern data architecture from the ground up throughout the company, or as we call it, the Vertex Data Fabric. This connects every aspect of our customer and employee journey, and is driving a whole new data-informed culture in the company.   

However, my favorite project to date was my first transformation program I led at Vertex. Collaborating with Vertex’s chief customer officer Kate Shields, we were able to holistically improve our customer support function. I handled the technology process enablement and Kate focused on the change management aspects within the team. Creating change is some of the most challenging work, and Kate was very thoughtful in her approach, making the process enjoyable for employees from start to finish.    

I believe the key to any transformation or modernization program’s success is having great business leaders that take ownership for the transformation itself and its business outcomes. For this project, I had to do my part in driving quality, scale and business outcomes. Without ownership and collaboration from other business leaders, these kinds of programs typically don’t meet their true potential. Kate had such a great vision for our support organization and so much passion for the transformation that needed to occur, I knew it was going to be one of the best programs I had ever been part of.  

Success is ensured by viewing these transformations as business programs rather than IT programs, which Kate did with contagious excitement. We built and deployed amazing technology powered by Salesforce and Snowflake and we are continually improving on the enablement side to enable deeper data insight and process automations. It was inspiring to watch our IT team advance their capabilities in multiple areas. The results of the initiative spoke from day one with an improved customer experience and lower cost per interaction.    

What are some trends that you have been following within the tax technology industry? What is your opinion on these trends?  

I never expected being the CIO for a tax technology company could be so fast moving and exciting. The trends and legislation we are seeing are evolving rapidly from all corners of the globe. We have to be able to predict our customers’ needs for the days, months and years to come and rapidly incorporate those needs into our solutions.  

The main trend that I look at is our customer and partner ecosystem makeup. I monitor the go-to market and target operating models we need in service and the types of interactions customers expect from us every day. Tax technology customers are more diverse than ever. Their needs are constantly changing, requiring them to quickly advance the handling of tax in their organizations depending on what industry or ecosystem they are part of.  

For example, enterprise customers are leveraging their tax departments more and more to make strategic business decisions. Marketplace and e-commerce ecosystems are growing faster than ever. These customers have completely different needs in how they want to interact with us, but we must still provide the same great service our enterprise customers experience. Doing so requires thoughtful processes and serious advanced automation—i.e., workflow enablement by machine learning and artificial intelligence—and advanced technologies to keep them moving in frictionless ways. 

These trends are what keep us on the leading edge of technology enablement and create great opportunities for employees to build their skills and capabilities at an unprecedented rate. 

What is a “lesson learned” from the project that has impacted your career? How will you approach similar projects in the future?  

There are two primary lessons learned since I started at Vertex just two short years ago. The key lesson that I am focused on currently is business and IT collaboration with a relentless focus on our customers’ success. The key to customer success is keeping focused and driving for the best customer experience every day.  

The second—and an equally important part of the above—is to ensure we are providing the best opportunities for our IT team members to continually develop and grow professionally. I treat each employee’s journey with equal importance to our customer’s journey. Everyone wants to be part of an awesome team with lots of opportunity to grow and expand.  

Throughout my career, I have learned that the role of IT is changing dramatically and fundamentally in our new hybrid ultra-fast paced world. The role is moving from basic IT services, like cost center mindset, to becoming a trusted business advisor in helping to shape the business pathways for growth and scale. This is all while continuing to help keep costs in check across the enterprise. More than ever, IT plays a critical role in the journey of people, process and technology. This is the new role of IT and an exciting time for anyone to be part of a modern IT team.

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