Why Lastminute.com CIO Fin Goulding turned his back on corporate IT

The traditional world of banking IT can seem a long way away from the increasingly ubiquitous world of internet-based business.

The traditional world of banking IT can seem a long way away from the increasingly ubiquitous world of internet-based business.

Fin Goulding, CIO at Lastminute.com, made the jump from one to the other in 2007, when he joined the dotcom boom business that was co-founded by Martha Lane Fox in 1999.

After a career of working in corporate IT teams in companies such as Visa, NatWest and HSBC, he says that Lastminute.com held a bit of a culture shock.

Corporate IT departments are there as a support system to the rest of the business. They breathe life into banks, accountancy firms or retailers. But technology is at the heart of what Lastminute.com does and that is reflected in the way the company is run.

Goulding says this is part of the reason younger technologists feel increasingly at home in businesses such as his. There is more flexibility, less formality, but most importantly there is the chance to be creative and come up with ideas.

"In the traditional technology world, you receive the business strategy, align the technology strategy to it, and IT projects come from that. Here, it is the other way around. People work on ideas and there are no constraints on them. There is no predetermined business specification. The banks I know would die for some of the innovation here."

He says the internet is forcing a culture change on to IT. It may not happen quickly, but it is increasingly likely that workers who are inspired by the dynamism at some internet-focused businesses will choose to keep their valuable skills well clear of the traditional IT department.

Competition for the best staff will get hotter in the coming years - and higher salaries alone are not guaranteed to attract people.

Tackling problems

But Goulding admits it is "not all sweetness and light". He has spent his time at the company tackling reliability problems caused by its fast growth.

There are around 350 applications and 2,500 servers at Lastminute.com, and Goulding says it got to a stage where new applications could not be added without things breaking. He says the business has repaired some applications and retired others.

"At first, the strategy was to get stuff out there as quickly as possible. The company wanted to be first to market. That worked at the time, but now the business is so big the technology could not scale."

He adds the biggest challenge for CIOs at the moment is fighting budget cuts, which means changing the workplace culture is not high on the to-do list.

"Most CIOs have become cost-focused and are quite controlling. They are trying to be very predictable in what they do and keep change to a minimum," Goulding says.

"We work within a certain corporate culture, and it is difficult to change that. But I think that if you start restricting people, they will stop being innovative."

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