Meet the Agents of Transformation - BP Trading

Ayman Assaf, CIO Compliance, Regulatory, Risk and Finance at BP Trading

Ayman Assaf is the CIO for Compliance, Regulatory, Risk & Finance in BP Supply & Trading, defining IT vision, strategy and execution. An inspirational executive with extensive experience leading IT organisations and major digital transformation programs, Ayman is passionate about developing innovation-led cultures, as well as championing the progress of women working in technology. In 2015 he won the FDM Everywoman Technology Award for “Inspiration of the Year”.

How you are driving innovation in your current role?

BP, like many companies, is undergoing a transformation, and technology is at the heart of how we are revolutionizing the way we do business. I lead a global team that is accountable for all aspects of IT, from shaping the vision and strategy, to road mapping and developing new applications, and researching and selecting cutting-edge solutions, right through to operational performance in pre- and post-production.

What does it mean to you to be an Agent of Transformation?

When you work for a disruptive business, incremental or gradual changes simply don’t cut it. So throughout my career, I’ve always adopted the ‘try fast, fail fast’ mentality, where you look at new technologies and ask yourself, is this going to transform and disrupt? Is it going to improve performance and drive increased value to the business? If the answer is yes, then you must move quickly and decisively. I have always found that to be very exciting.

What do you think is most exciting about being an Agent of Transformation and a technologist at this time?

My passion for learning about new technologies has never wavered. By embracing groundbreaking technologies like AI and data analytics, my team is working in ways we never imagined possible, such as taking the data and using it to predict things like Exposure, which usually takes weeks, but can now be done in real-time. We are learning new things all the time, and by taking this insight and deploying new ways of working, we are having huge business impact.

What was the best piece of advice you received on your way to becoming an Agent of Transformation?

“Suspend your assumptions and listen.” Regardless of who you are talking to, listen attentively and apply what is meaningful to you. It’s such a critical life skill, so when I’m hiring new talent I always say to them, “Don’t let us tell you what to do! You come here with new ideas and thinking so challenge us in a professional way to do things differently”. It’s really important to me that my team listens to new points of view, asks questions, challenges the status quo, and shares ideas.

Who has influenced you most on your journey to becoming an Agent of Transformation?

I’ve worked with some incredible people in my career, but it is my 11 year old daughter who truly inspires me. She questions and challenges me, and teaches me to look at things in different ways, to be adaptable and open to new ideas. She reminds me not to be closed off to anything, because if you are, new experiences will pass you by.

What advice would you give to other technologists who are looking to progress in their careers, to work on more exciting innovation-focused projects and to become an Agent of Transformation?

My advice would be to future-proof your technology career. You can do this in two ways:

1)     Don’t take a back seat on learning – be observant and seek knowledge wherever and whenever you can. Ask questions and listen.

2)     Develop your business knowledge. It’s no longer okay to sit in an IT silo. Technology – and therefore technologists – are integral to the business, and you want to be sat at the same table, having open conversations with your colleagues from across the business. In the same way that they are becoming more tech-savvy, it is your responsibility to be business-savvy.

How do you approach your own development, in terms of continual learning and seeking out new challenges?

I read a lot and invest a lot of time attending events where I can network with interesting companies, innovative start-ups and universities. We also run ‘Learning Circles’ at BP, as a way of expanding our knowledge about cutting-edge technologies that are driving transformation. They have been a hugely successful way of sharing information, experiences and ideas across the business.

How can those technologists that currently feel held back by organizational structures, processes and culture, instigate the change required to enable genuine innovation and transformation in their businesses?

Businesses today should be actively encouraging cultures of innovation. If someone were to find themselves in a situation where that wasn’t the case, I’d encourage them to speak up, ask questions, network with other departments and volunteer to work on projects with new people. If your efforts fall on deaf ears, find something or somewhere new, where your passion for technology and innovation is welcomed and appreciated.

How does AppDynamics enable you to take a customer-centric approach to your innovation programmes?

AppDynamics has hugely improved customer experience. I had applications that regularly had issues. As soon as we deployed AppDynamics we had much better visibility and the ability to identify issues before they could impact user experience. This meant my team could spend more time focused on new innovation projects, instead of having to redirect their resource to addressing incidents.

We can also access real-time insight and data that helps to inform key decisions that affect the end user or customer. Our operational process is now as intelligent as our development process – it completes the cycle.

What should organizations be doing in order to develop, nurture and support Agents of Transformation?

The best advice I can give is to develop a culture where everyone is engaged, with a clearly communicated vision and where the value they can bring to the business feels meaningful to them on a personal level. At BP we run a campaign called ‘Connected Innovation’, where we celebrate the successes of teams and individuals, and showcase how everyone can be an ambassador for innovation.

Finally, as an Agent of Transformation, what sort of legacy do you want to leave?

I want to be remembered as a trailblazer, for trying new things and breaking boundaries, and to have fostered a culture where that is the norm. I am very proud of the team at BP and the work we are doing to ensure every one of our employees has a role to play in our digital transformation journey. I would love us to become a company full of change agents.

"Don’t take a back seat on learning - be observant and seek knowledge wherever and whenever you can. Ask questions and listen."

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