Stephanie von Friedeburg (pictured) never intended to work for the World Bank, and certainly not as its CIO. “I’m an accidental CIO,” she tells V3.
Having achieved two degrees in Russian studies and then an MBA, the plan was Wall Street and banking. However, the small matter of the collapse of the Soviet Union threw a spanner in her career plans.
“No banks were investing in the former Soviet Union at the time, so I ended up joining the World Bank because they agreed I would go and work there [Russia] for six months, and then I intended to leave.”
That six months turned into five years, during which time she helped the Yeltsin administration privatise numerous companies, as part of her role within the International Finance Corporation (IFC) division of the bank.
“It was the greatest thing I ever did. I met a lot of really interesting people and it was really the Wild West out there.”
She returned from Russia and spent some time overseeing the bank’s investments in the country before being told, somewhat out of the blue, she would head up the IFC's telecoms and IT operations.
“The CEO of the IFC at the time was a German man who believed in shaking people up and moving them around to get the best out of them. It was a lot of learning but I did that for 11 years,” she explains.
“Then just as that was coming to an end I was asked to go and be the CIO of the entire IFC, to really clean it up in essence, by making sure it had the right devices, app and services in place.”
Von Friedeburg did such a good job there she was approached by the president of the World Bank and asked to be the CIO of the entire group.
“I said to HR ‘can I say no?’ and they said ‘no you can’t say no to the president of the World Bank', so I took the job.”
And that’s how you become CIO of the World Bank.
Since taking over this role in 2012, von Friedeburg has embarked on a major cloud and mobile first policy within the organisation, which has seen it adopt tools such as Box and Office 365.
The move was facilitated by the fact that, because of the somewhat liberal technology use policies in place, staff in the bank had started using consumer services, like Gmail, to share and access highly confidential files, which wasn’t ideal.
“We had this unsanctioned adoption of cloud applications that wasn’t necessarily good for the organisation as our data was being put places where I as CIO felt it shouldn’t be,” she said.
“For example, staff would think ‘I’m going abroad so I’ll forward this critical document that I’m negotiating with the government or a private-sector client through my Gmail,’ and that’s just a really bad idea.”
Von Friedeburg explained that when she first began considering how to tackle this problem her own staff suggested creating an in-house tool, but she decided to move in the opposite direction.
“I just thought you can’t outrun the internet. It makes no sense for us to spend the money to build and maintain an app where there’s probably applications out there that solve the problems,” she said.
A handy connection between her friend and former Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky and Box senior vice president of industries and Box.org founder Karen Appleton, led her to a meeting with Box and its eventual rollout in 2012. Von Friedeburg also now serves on the advisory board for Box.org, the firm’s not-for-profit arm.
She said the move to Box has not only improved the security of the World Bank's content by stopping staff using insecure services like Gmail to share data, but has boosted staff productivity in more ways than one.
“We often have people working in some of the most fragile conflict states in the world and it’s not uncommon for us to have to pick them up and get them out of wherever they are,” she explained.
“Historically that involved the IT guy with them grabbing the servers, taking them with them and setting them up in a new office.”
However, this meant that staff would often be out of action for several days as access to email and other information was unavailable. However, since moving to Box and Office 365 this is no longer a problem.
“We can now just say ‘OK leave, wipe the servers, leave them behind’ and they can get to new offices, boot up a computer and they’re good to go,” said von Friedeburg.
Outside the law
One problem that the World Bank could have been forced to consider with the use of cloud in so many nations is the myriad data protection and privacy laws that apply to each nation and region. However, owing to its unique nature the organisation is able to circumvent this problem.
“We have privileges and immunities that are granted by the member countries who own us. In signing up to be a member of World Bank you are in essence saying that we are not subject to local jurisdiction and local law,” she explained.
No doubt there are a few CIOs out there who wish their company had the same privileges.
Not everything is in the cloud yet, with some of the apps the bank uses, whether from vendors like SAP, or its own in-house tools, requiring re-architecting to run in the cloud, or they are not yet suitable to run in the cloud from a security and privacy perspective.
Von Friedeburg believes this will change, but it may require banks to form their own clouds, rather than relying on traditional vendors like Microsoft or Amazon Web Services (AWS).
“I think you’re going to see big financial institutions making group clouds, so they get the benefit of the cloud, without going public.
"It’ll mean competitors working together to create their own ‘banking cloud’, and becoming a quasi-competitor to the likes of AWS, but just for banks and financial services firms.”
Meanwhile, to complement the bank's cloud use, von Friedeburg is considering introducing a choose your own device (CYOD) policy, so staff could be given a budget of $2,000 to last three years, and they can pick and choose the devices they want to use, from smartphones, tablets and laptops.
“We looked at BYOD, it’s what we had for years, but what we found was we’d have people on an iPhone 6S and people on BlackBerry devices, both saying they needed certain mobile apps and it would just be too difficult to support that,” she explained.
Security is also a top concern at the World Bank, especially given the sort of information it owns: “We have data that no one else holds," von Friedeburg said.
However, given that the bank is technically ‘owned’ by its 182 members, von Friedeburg feels that outsider threats, while present, are perhaps not as prevalent as they are for other financial firms.
“We have done a good job securing our network so we know as a general rule when we’re being attacked from outside. It’s not 100 percent but we tend to be able to isolate the threat and find out what’s going on.”
This means, though, the threat is more likely to come from the inside, whether through malicious intent or, more likely, staff error.
“Often employees are just not thinking correctly, so we spend a lot of time educating them on things like what good cyber security looks like, what their obligations are, running phishing exercises and so forth.”
Changing the world
While von Friedeburg spends a lot of her time focusing on the technology requirements of the World Bank itself, her role has also given her insight into what she believes is needed to help developing nations thrive.
Interestingly, she argues that fixed broadband is key to driving digital development, rather than beaming internet from the sky, as the likes of Facebook and Google are trying to do.
“You can’t do it from the sky,” she said, arguing the latency issues caused by services in the sky mean they are not a viable way to help businesses thrive.
“The developed world has said to the developing world, ‘don’t worry, the private sector will solve that’ because the private sector has built out fixed infrastructure in the developed world,” she said.
“But we failed to appreciate the underlying strength of the infrastructure in the developed world was built on investment from government entities, like AT&T was a government organisation that built the basic footprint, and then it was broken up and the private sector took it from there.
“So we have this catch-22 situation in the developing world where the private sector doesn’t understand how to make money from infrastructure, so isn’t willing to invest, but then you have people who think ‘I could make a really interesting business if…' and that ‘if’ is usually the need for connectivity.”
Of course the cost of rolling out fixed infrastructure is prohibitive, but this is where von Friedeburg believes the World Bank has proved its worth, by creating models of private-public finance to bring fixed comms to remote regions.
She cites the development of the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSY) as an example of the benefits that proper fixed infrastructure brings to developing regions.
EASSY began development in 2003, with investment from the World Bank, and began commercial operations in 2010.
“Before EASSY was built we had 10MB in our offices [in Africa]. Now we have 100MBs but for the same price,” she said, highlighting the step-change in connectivity speeds proper fixed internet access offers.
Data for all, but Wall Street can wait
Looking to the future of the World Bank itself, one area von Friedeburg wants to improve is the way it makes its data more open and accessible to anyone who wants it.
She said she was inspired to tackle this when she was told by a then-managing director at the World Bank from Egypt that when he was doing a PhD on the impact World Bank funding has had in the country, it was hard to find the data he needed.
“He told me that we [The World Bank] were the only ones who had the information on the damming of the Nile and its impact, but to get it he had to apply as an academic to see the data, and then come to the bank and see the archives.
“So I love the idea we could democratise the access to this information and make it available digitally too, so if you’re in an emerging market the bank may already have information that’s useful to you and you can just access that there and then, rather than having to apply and visit us to see it. I think that’s really important.”
As for her own future, von Friedeburg wants to focus on how to better harness the power of technology and the technology industry to improve the world.
"If I do something different it will be to do with trying to take the energy and the creativity of Silicon Valley to emerging markets. We need to bring those two things together.
"If I could take just one percent of all wealth in the Valley and put it productively to use in emerging markets, alongside the brilliance and the energy that the Valley has, we could really make a difference."
"Wall Street will still be waiting," she adds.
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