Elizabeth Holmes | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
Engineering the Details
By Robert Green
At a time when businesses have to be extremely careful how they spend money to make sure it is used wisely, the gap between a good idea and a good idea that makes money can be huge. Bridging this gap often calls for processes and methodologies that don’t exist and even if they do, frequently fail for want of the right person to drive their use by both the business side and IT. That right person, and the rigor they bring to the table, is often the difference between success and failure in many business endeavors.
Elizabeth Holmes became an engineer because she was always predisposed to building. From an early age, Elizabeth liked the whole process of designing and making useful things. Passionate about details, her engineer’s precision has been an advantage in a career that has led her to develop a number of new products and services for information technology – often from scratch. An Atlanta native, she became a nomad for several years while moving around the US and overseas. “My father was in the Air Force and we moved constantly – I never finished a whole year at the same school until the fifth grade.” After Lassiter High School, Elizabeth went on to Georgia Tech, one of the top engineering schools in the country. “I would not go anywhere else,” she said, “but it was a brutal, grueling experience. You survive Georgia Tech and nothing has been hard since. Tech taught me all of the core technical skills that I use today - you really learn how to break down a problem and solve it.”
Graduating from Georgia Tech in Civil Engineering, Elizabeth went to work for AGL Resources where its environmental group was just getting started. Recognizing for the first time that it had a number of clean up issues to deal with, the Atlanta gas provider became aggressive in confronting environmental problems before they became large liabilities. In the process, Elizabeth became well acquainted with testing, clean up and a recognized expert on several industry specific hazardous wastes. “We did most of the work without EPA mandates, but there were a few Superfund sites as well. Drummed hazardous waste was not uncommon, but the company wanted to do the responsible thing, and it was very rewarding to be a part of that effort.” She considers herself lucky to have been a part of the next new movement at AGL Resources – information technology. Probably because she had graduated from Georgia Tech, Elizabeth was given the task of selecting the first PC for the AGL service center in Marietta. This was the early 90’s and marked her transition to IT, where she helped build the company’s first fully integrated information technology department. She has worked in IT ever since.
Elizabeth moved to Equifax in 1996 at a time when the famous credit reporting company was just beginning to upgrade itself for the digital age. She enjoyed working at Equifax. “Everyone wants to work on what’s most important to the business. I was fortunate to be recognized for my accomplishments and was selected to work on these types of projects throughout my career. ” As Equifax began to move into business-to-business consulting with a product called Decision Power, Elizabeth was on the ground floor to make sure customer needs were met and the product expanded to meet changing demands. The real time product allowed Equifax customers to make instant decisions on granting credit. Gone were the days of telling the consumer that they would hear the decision in a few days. Decision Power became one of the fastest growing parts of the Equifax portfolio, rivaled only by the Consumer division, where Elizabeth worked next.
In its prior 100 year existence, Equifax had worked almost exclusively with companies. The Consumer division for the first time allowed individuals to monitor their credit and become more proactive in their credit management. Like everyone else on the team, Elizabeth was proud of her work on Consumer because it both empowered people and was highly profitable for the company. “Equifax was an amazing experience and being a part of its transition from data to information armed me with a large inventory of strengths and skills. Having the right processes, tools and talent to execute consistently with high quality is has made me successful.” She stayed with the company through its transition to GE style management in the mid 2000’s and left in 2010 for an industry with a lot of opportunity to apply all of her experience on a much larger scale – payments.
First Data, the global leader in electronic commerce and payment processing, had just moved to Atlanta from Denver, joining Elavon and Global Payments in what is essentially the center of the credit card processing universe – approximately 85% of all card payments made in the US are transacted by companies headquartered in Georgia. Elizabeth looked at First Data as well as the payments industry in general and saw two significant opportunities: First Data wanted to serve customers better through the centralization of disparate systems – the company had grown through aggressive acquisition creating too many contact points with customers – and the payments industry as a whole had huge opportunities to leverage new technology to provide better products to their merchant customers.
Elizabeth’s first job at First Data was to create the strategy for an enterprise portal that was extensible and could be leveraged across the globe, basically “build once and reuse.” The portal gives First Data merchants a rich user experience and a single access point for all of the tools they needed to manage their business. In performing this role, Elizabeth’s engineering discipline and prior experience were a big help. “I was able to take my process knowledge, metrics and software development experience and put it all together to bring structure – a foundation if you will – to a new group that had little or none.” The work goes on. “My organization was focused on creating a new paradigm - the right standards and ability to enforce adoption across the company. Year one was foundational, this year is all about execution.”
With the portal on solid footing, Elizabeth has recently moved into a new role focused on defining how the enterprise team benchmarks, tracks and communicates its effectiveness towards the company’s financial goals. Elizabeth, then, is the much needed driver that every company should have to make sure business and IT are moving down the path of profitability. Have her coworkers been hampered by the new discipline? “Not at all,” she says. “Deep down we all crave structure. Greater comprehension on where you are and where you need to go is deeply appreciated.” That she is a friendly and persuasive person probably made the job easier.
Elizabeth sees the payments business as a green field of opportunity and enjoys being a part of the team at First Data. An engineer at heart, she wants to continue to build solutions. Whether they are software solutions, that delight the customer and contribute to the bottom line, or process, metrics, and IT marketing solutions – it is all about organizing the details so that business and technology can see the big picture with meaning and make better decisions. Does she have a favorite example of details coming together to form a useful picture? “We have a product at First Data called SpendTrend. It provides merchants with a very timely gauge of where consumers are spending by several dimensions. I see it as a corollary to consumer confidence – if fewer people are dining out and more are using the card to pay utilities – that gives you an idea of how consumers are feeling. As consumers feel more secure, they will spend in different ways. It is fascinating to have this type of view in to human behavior. I am part of a team that extracts and transforms transactional data so it can be turned into valuable analytics.”
Tips for Success from Elizabeth Holmes:
- Get the Facts – many decisions are based on emotion, opinions and biases, often without realizing. Removing emotion allows for a better decision and more importantly, one you can defend and support with data.
- A choice of one is not a choice – always give the customer at least two options and let them decide. This builds a better partnership between technology and the business.
- Be dispassionate in debate and passionate in execution – in a diverse workplace there are a lot of great ideas that need to be considered. But once the decision is made you have to get fully on board and be passionate in execution.
- There is no substitute for a good RACI Matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) – nearly all major conflicts can be blamed on a lack of definition around decision rights. Do that first and #3 is a snap.
- Market what you do – this one goes hand in hand with if you don’t write it down it never happened. As a technology person, you must publish your accomplishments on regular basis. This allows your business partners to know you are working hard for them and celebrate your combined success.
Atlanta Trend wishes to thank Elizabeth Holmes for taking the time to share her insights on her successful career with its readership.
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