Hightower: from digital journeys to customer destinations

For Google Cloud and software engineering expert Kelsey Hightower, focusing on how humans can interact with technology to make their lives better has become his driving force.

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With multiple decades of working in technology under his belt, Hightower has become one of the world’s best advisors on building assets and software which respond to human need. He’s also been an invaluable asset to the ANZx team since 2018 as we developed the bank’s newest retail proposition – ANZ Plus.

“Having to make a decision on the things you do and don't need can be tough. Getting past that decision paralysis is the biggest thing.” - Hightower

I spoke with Hightower during his recent trip to Australia to catch up with the ANZx team. We discussed focusing on the destination instead of the journey, working through decision paralysis, hiring diversity in technology, and more. You can listen to our full conversation in the podcast below.

Candy store

Hightower recalled his first session with the ANZx team back in 2018 when the group held a whiteboard session over the course of two days

“We said ‘We're all going to get together. No excuses.’ And we put the big picture on a whiteboard. I remember one executive saying ‘Wow, that's the first time I've seen everything in one place - it's hard to know what will happen next’.”

Hightower says it was important for the team to understand their starting point because you can “build anything” so he believes the focus needs to be on building the “right thing”.

“It's one thing to say we really need these features so we can do what we need to do with our customers. It’s another for our own engineers to say “yeah, it should definitely work that way because I've tried it with my own hands and I understand why”.

“The team comes [together] and it's like a kid in a candy store,” Hightower explains. “Having to make a decision on the things you do and don't need can be tough. Getting past that decision paralysis is the biggest thing.”

Always moving

Four years and a new app later, Hightower says the ANZx team – who designed the ANZ Plus proposition – are “living proof” that a heavily regulated, financial services institution can move beyond legacy systems and create a progressive piece of technology. However, he says it’s important for all companies to move past the idea of being on a “journey”.

“A lot of people in the industry use journey way too much. You ask them where they're going and [they] don't know,” he says. “Well, journeys are much better when there's a destination.”

“The world now is so customer-centric. When another bank has a new product in future, your customers are going to be asking you questions about it. And it's so easy to switch suppliers and vendors and partners so you have to keep up.”

Hightower says he prefers to maintain a mindset of being on a journey to arrive at a destination and figure out where the next destination will be – always moving forward.

“The biggest thing is that you're not really getting to a destination so you can set up a camp, you're getting to this destination so you can figure out what the next one is.

“Once you unlock that and it becomes how you operate as a technology company, everyone strives for that.”

Be what you can’t see

Reflecting on his career, Hightower recalls taking his first job so he could pay the bills and “survive”. By the middle of his career he wanted to prove that someone who “looked like” him could be successful and accepted by the industry.

This idea struck a cord with me – hiring diversity in technology has met stubborn resistance globally for a very long time so I was interested to learn Hightower’s thoughts on the matter.

“In our lives, we actually prefer diversity by default,” he explains. “Unfortunately, we haven't realised that's how work should be. It's really cool to get someone with a different perspective to join your team and it's your job to get the best from that person by letting them be themselves.

“That's where you get the best ideas. You ask ‘have you ever thought about this? No, we haven't’. And you end up with better products. We have to realise that by default humans like diversity.”

You can listen to our full conversation in the podcast player above.

Daniel Gonsalves is Portfolio Lead for ANZx

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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