CIO interview: David Johnstone of Martin Currie Investment Management

The head of solutions management at the asset management firm discusses IT projects and the changing role of IT leaders

After earning a degree in informatics from the University of Edinburgh, David Johnstone took up roles as a developer and database administrator in the retail sector, developing commercial software for retail IT suppliers and doing in-house software development at retail companies.

He moved to the finance sector for the first time in 2007 when he joined Martin Currie Investment Management. He is now head of solutions management at the asset management firm which is based in Edinburgh, with offices in London, New York and Singapore.

All IT services at the firm are provided from Edinburgh, where Johnstone is based.

He is responsible for the development and oversight of IT business systems. This involves systems and business process analysis, software development and testing, and management of third-party software and service providers. 

He says his main challenges today revolve around managing the high volumes of data the business needs and keeping on top of the changes to industry regulation. The company uses a mix of in-house and external resources. 

“We try to provide a flexible IT service using best-of-breed third-party software systems, service outsourcing and bespoke development to tailor our IT systems to the business needs," says Johnstone. 

"We try to give our business users an integrated IT platform with a consistent data set, and are pretty agile in our approach to change.”

Since his time at Martin Currie Investment Management, Johnstone has taken different IT roles and completed a diverse range of projects. 

His biggest project to date is his role in transferring investment operations services between outsource suppliers. In a highly regulated industry such as financial services, this kind of project is a big deal due to the nature of the data being transferred. 

In 2012 he took on the role of IT support team leader, which he says gave him the opportunity to interact more widely with IT suppliers and provided him with an opportunity to promote bring your own device (BYOD) in the company. This resulted in the implementation of a scheme based on software from Good Technology. 

In April 2014, he moved back to the development and projects side of the department and into his current role. He is now responsible for in-house development, business process analysis, user acceptance testing management and the IT relationships with business system suppliers.

Current and future projects

In line with his biggest challenge of ensuring the business gets the most out of the high volumes of data in the company, Johnstone is currently involved in a project to implement an enterprise data management (EDM) system. 

He says the project is still in its early stages after getting down to a shortlist of two suppliers. The team is now gathering full requirements and designing a target operating model for the system.  

“The reason for looking into such a system is while we have an automated set of in-house developed systems to manage and transform our data, it lacks the flexibility of an EDM system, and business users do not have sufficient visibility of the data as it flows between systems,” he says.

The IT head role will stop being about providing a hardware infrastructure, and will be much more about helping the business understand how technology systems can transform their business processes

In the social, mobile space the company is also looking at its use of mobile technology. “We are planning to review our mobile strategy in 2015, as we are currently using a combination of BlackBerry and Good for Enterprise to allow mobile access to email, and we recognise more functionality could be provided,” says Johnstone.

He is also about to try out the use of social media for internal collaboration. While business-to-consumer (B2C) companies are using social media to communicate with customers, less is said of the trend in businesses to use social media platforms to improve internal collaboration. Johnstone is joining a trend seeing enterprises improve workflows through enterprise social media

“I’m about to begin a trial of Microsoft Yammer, the enterprise social media platform, to evaluate how it could be used within our business,” he says.

The changing role of IT leaders

This type of digital project is typical to what is happening in business today with the consumerisation of IT. And it is this type of change evolving the roles of IT leaders.

Johnstone believes the role of the IT leader is fundamentally changing as more IT services are provided by a small number of large IT specialist firms. 

“IT hardware is becoming much more disposable,” he says. “The IT head role will stop being about providing a hardware infrastructure, and will be much more about helping the business understand how technology systems can transform their business processes, and be about managing the supply of those services from suppliers.”

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