First in a series highlighting colleagues working behind the scenes to help FINRA achieve our mission.
Raj Pillai is no stranger to crises. Y2K. 9/11. The Northeast blackout of 2003. Superstorm Sandy. He has worked through them all, the latter at FINRA, which he joined in 2011.
“There are different challenges with each situation. Every time, we’ve gotten better and better in terms of technology,” says Pillai, who as Senior Director of Enterprise Technology Services is FINRA’s lead on videoconferencing.
So as he approached the COVID-19 outbreak, Pillai was drawing from deep experience and applying those lessons. Stay focused on the goal and the mission – that will guide your solutions. Lean into the collaboration with colleagues – gathering cool and creative heads helps you innovate under pressure. Look around corners and prepare for anything that may come.
As a result of the work Pillai has led with his team and others in the Technology department, today the entire organization can videoconference from homes as easily as making a phone call. This has helped colleagues continue the face-to-face discussions of broker-dealer examinations, risk monitoring, enforcement actions, market surveillance and other areas that drive FINRA’s mission of investor protection and market integrity.
“Everybody who used to go to videoconference rooms is now using the tool. We went from 1,200 Zoom meetings a day to almost 3,000; from 6,000 participants a day to more than 10,000. That’s almost unimaginable,” Pillai says.
It didn’t happen overnight.
CIO and Executive VP Steve Randich and Senior VP Maurice Chavarria envisioned that all FINRA users should have a collaboration solution that is accessible, reliable and usable anywhere at any time. Pillai and his team in 2017 began rolling out Zoom as that solution, connecting conference rooms in different locations. The next year they began to tie it into multiple personal devices, with the aim of supporting flexible work arrangements while retaining the value of visual interaction. Introducing Zoom also required countless hours of effort by multiple individuals and departments; Finance VP Carrie DiValerio, in particular, was instrumental in ensuring that the initiative moved ahead with timely funding.
In early January as COVID-19 emerged as a threat, Pillai and other leaders in Technology accelerated existing plans to address potential bottlenecks in the virtual private network and the Internet, and do so securely. Pillai credits close teamwork with the Yatao Zhu, Senior Director in charge of the network; Kurt Hader, Audiovisual Technician; and Barry Suskind, Senior Director of Cyber and Information Security. Pillai’s own team of collaboration specialists are helping colleagues manage meetings of 200-500 people, which happen seamlessly, three or four times a day.
“Our goal is to make sure that FINRA staff are not facing any unnecessary technology challenges during these stressful times and be available to assist in any way we can.”
Working from home, Pillai experiences the same benefits and challenges as everyone else. He has more time for a long morning run, and also has a high school senior at home competing for Internet bandwidth. He offers a few tips for coping: turn off devices that don’t need to be on the Internet during the day, and turn off WiFi on other unnecessary devices; take a screen shot of meeting IDs in case of an issue, and have your cell and home phones ready as back-ups; and “let the teenager sleep in so that you have better Internet.”