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Execution will decide tomorrow’s tech success

06:30am November 12 2019

Future-ready platforms, industry-leading maturity and a performance culture will be key to Westpac’s success, says Chief Information Officer Craig Bright. 

Not that long ago, the notion of success for technology professionals in Australia was centred around becoming a “business technologist”.  

Getting closer to the business, having business know-how, being a great communicator, able to talk the numbers etc.  

But the game has changed – the world is no longer just about technology moving closer to the business, but also business moving closer to technology. With time, technology has become more pervasive and complex, making strong engineering skills increasingly important. 

We need to find the right balance in having skilled engineering talent and business-oriented technologists for the new complexity of technology.

Of course, there are other factors at play in Australia’s engineering talent shortage – our relatively smaller companies mean we play multiple roles and the past offshoring of entry level roles, such as software development, has eaten into the pipeline of future talent. 

In finance, customer expectations are being set by the world’s digital giants and data has emerged as a powerful source of competitive advantage and efficiency, which is not only non-negotiable but also massively defined by technology. That means technology must simultaneously deliver an exceptional customer experience, operate at or below industry benchmark cost and seamlessly support increasingly stringent regulatory and control requirements. 

The thing is, that challenge isn’t “new”. Everyone gets it. 

What will differentiate companies in the future is the ability to execute. 

At Westpac, our vision is to become one of the world’s great service companies. Digital transformation continues to be one of our strategic priorities, and a year into my role as group chief information officer it’s clear there’s solid technology foundations to build upon. 

But with the world constantly changing, I see three imperatives for Westpac in the years ahead: having future-ready platforms; industry-leading maturity and a performance culture.

At a high level, that might sound like jargon or consulting speak. But it’s what underpins them that will be key to driving execution. Because, success is 80 per cent execution, 20 per cent strategy. 

Future ready platforms essentially enable you to engage digitally in real-time with customers in a way that’s personalised, intelligent and autonomous; adapt quickly; and operate and scale efficiently. It requires architecture that’s customer centric, real-time, modular and cloud ready, in stark contrast to the product-centric, batch, monolithic and proprietary architectures that have existed in the industry for some time. 

The good news is we’ve made progress in recent years. 

Panorama, our new-age wealth platform, is complete and is the fastest growing platform in the market with $23bn of funds under management. We’ve also completed the rollout of the New Payments Platform across all brands and are on track to be ready for Open Banking next year. The Customer Service Hub – our new platform which simplifies, standardises and digitises processes for customers and bankers -- is live for Westpac first party mortgages by the end of year, while our shift to utility infrastructure underpinning the bank gathers pace. 

Meanwhile, our new real-time data and insights platform (DDEP) will go live this month, providing a foundation for better personalisation of customer insights, offers and predictive servicing. This goes to our updated thinking around cloud following technology and regulatory changes over the years, our focus being on both public and onsite environments.

So, while we’ve got to finish what we’ve started with our platforms, there’s a lot to work with. 

However, that’s not enough these days. Our ability to execute with greater speed and efficiency will only be achieved with industry-leading maturity and a performance culture. 

And industry leading maturity brings me back to engineering talent, as it goes to heart of delivering the right solutions at the right cost and right level of simplicity. We’ve already made inroads here, bringing in fresh talent through our new Chief Technology Officer, Chief of Engineering and General Manager of Infrastructure, while continuing to strengthen our capabilities across our teams. 

But industry-leading maturity is more than engineering – it’s about getting agile execution right and transitioning away from the industry’s long-standing large project mindset to more integrated multi-disciplinary teams working together on an enduring basis with a shared scorecard, accountability for not only change, but also aspects of running their platforms and following agile ways of working. 

A good example is our new St.George property app built by a team spanning product, business development and technology. There’s a lot of talk about agile, but if you don’t balance autonomy and control, and speed and maturity, it becomes nothing more than a buzz word gone wrong, which is why we’re gradually importing some impressive agile learnings incubated in our Westpac New Zealand division. 

Core to maturity is also how we operate. So, we’re upping our service management and commercial management, including lowering our cost-to-acquire from vendors towards global pricing standards. 

These initiatives helped deliver over $100m in productivity savings. But in a more challenging banking environment, we must get even more efficient and acquisition costs, asset utilisation and automation are as important as ever, but can’t be delivered without the appropriate engineering and commercial skills. 

However, capability without culture doesn’t get the right outcome – and that’s why a performance culture is more critical than ever for any organisation. 

While there’s endless ideas and books written about culture, I tend to boil it down to ingraining a focus on being the best you can, not just the best you know. In today’s digital, cross border connected world, if you’re not aspiring to be world class, you might as well not bother. So, constantly looking at other organisations and industries is paramount, as is a commitment to being masters of our science, not just effective craftsmen.

Technology done well is based on defined processes that are repeatedly executed, measured and continuously improved. That leverages scale and drives efficiency, two core issues for banks. 

After more than 20 years in the industry, the demands on technology have never been greater and the challenges larger. However, looking at it another way, the opportunities from getting it right have also never been more exciting. 

But we all get that. 

Whoever can execute better, faster and cheaper will still be leading in another 20-odd years – and that’s our focus. 

Craig was appointed Group Chief Information Officer in December 2018. Craig has more than 30 years’ experience in technology and financial services. He has held divisional CIO roles in retail banking, business banking and investment banking and led complex global scale technology operations. Prior to joining Westpac Group, Craig was Chief Technology Officer, Global Consumer Bank at Citigroup. He led a division of technology employees executing a cloud and mobile first strategy supporting digital channels and a mix of Citi Smart Banking formats worldwide. Craig has also held senior roles at Barclays in London, National Australia Bank and Ernst & Young.

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