Westpac’s new chief operating officer Scott Collary, who oversees group technology, has flagged fewer large IT projects going forward and more “fit for purpose” investments, as the rapid pace of technological change makes tech solutions that can be modernised and “evergreened” increasingly important.
“I think there’ll be less big, huge enterprise IT transformation projects and more of the investment focused around how we simplify and modernise the tech stack today, using persistent and continuous delivery,” he says in his first interview with Westpac Wire since joining the bank in November.
“But it’s not going to be one big monolithic project, it will be very fit for purpose activity to get to where we need to be.
“For example, we are uplifting and investing in our data capability. As we put new stuff in we migrate from legacy solutions, and we’re going to do that in a prioritised way to get value out of the activity early instead of doing something for five years and getting the benefit at the end.”
The comments come as several of the bank’s larger projects, such as Customer Service Hub and the development of the new mobile banking app, notch up significant milestones, but are closer to their finishing lines than the beginning. Another large project, the development of the Panorama wealth platform, completed a few years ago and has experienced strong growth. But the banking industry is also littered with examples of large technology projects where budgets and deadlines have blown out.
Mr Collary, who was most recently chief information and operations officer for North America Consumer Businesses at Bank of Montreal, says a key challenge is the sheer pace of technological change. But on the flip side, in certain areas like product processors for key product lines like mortgages, he sees few options using modern architecture, requiring the bank to “simplify the back-end as we modernise the front”.
Adopt a “build to change” approach rather than build and forget, or modernise existing infrastructure for quicker customer benefits at less cost.
“20 years ago when I was doing this, you could be confident you could put a strategy in and it was going to last for a while, the changes weren’t that dramatic,” he says, singling out the shift to the cloud as one of the biggest trends today.
“Now if you try to build to a 10-year technology roadmap, by the time you get halfway through the technology has changed so much it’s irrelevant. So, we want to make things capable of modernising, changing and evergreening.”
Originally from Pennsylvania in the US, Mr Collary has more than 30 years of experience at several banks across technology, operations, risk and commercial roles. Prior to joining Bank of Montreal in Toronto in 2017, he spent a few years at ANZ in Melbourne following senior roles at Citibank, Fifth Third Bank and Bank of America as part of a career that began in the 80s, when a key tech development for banks was the arrival of PCs.
His return to Australia came about after CEO Peter King last year created a new Group Operating Office in the wake of the departure of CIO Craig Bright, bringing group operations, group technology and corporate services under the same roof.
Mr Collary says the model is working well and actually isn’t new, other banks previously bringing operations and technology together at different times.
“When I look across the market, banks have become more and more technology focused, so making sure business and technology strategy are closely aligned is critical,” he says.
“And operations is critical in terms of understanding what’s going on across the bank, and driving, streamlining and managing processes for customer benefit, albeit in a different way as automation increases.
“But the reality is, while the businesses will own their processes and be accountable, they can’t be experts in everything – in tech and operations and cyber and this and that. So, by bringing operations and tech together, we can better provide that process orientation and expertise and better understand what is happening across the organisation.
“It’s resulting in a more rapid response mentality, kind of an extreme way to do agile work, so the business and operations and tech can really come together to solve a problem and execute faster.”
Mr Collary doesn’t shy away from the bank’s tech challenges stemming from operating multiple brands and legacy infrastructure at different life stages following mergers and acquisitions over the years. He says his team is going “division by division, lines of business by lines of business” to determine the fastest path to either simplification or modernisation based on their starting points, priorities and desired end states.
Mr Collary adds that the bank’s challenges in recent years and subsequent executive changes have created the platform and urgency for drastic action to set the organisation up for the future.
“I was at Citibank during the GFC after re-joining there in March 2008, so talk about the crucible, it was pretty intense,” he says.
“But I had friends and colleagues who were there who I trusted and thought what a great opportunity to help fix something that was clearly not performing well. And it was a time when you learn 10 years’ worth of stuff in two years, you got to do more and try more than you could have ever imagined.
“And so, when the opportunity to join Westpac came up, I knew there were issues, but I also knew the market and I thought ‘gosh we could really do some good work’ and there’s a lot of appeal in that.”