Open Your Box of IT Innovation

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rahul Neel Mani

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“If you get your basics right, you get the license to innovate,” says David Awcock, Group Head of Technology, Standard Chartered Bank. Innovation and doing more with less are not just buzzwords but the ground reality. That doesn't mean having Systems up and running can take a back seat either. David shares his ideas, in an interview with Minu Sirsalewala Agarwal, on how he manages both.

Q: What is technology for you? How can technology enable agile business models - to do more with less?

A: IT is an enabler that can manage cost/risk and at the same time enhance business value. During 2009, when the bank faced difficult times challenged by the economic situation, we focused on managing costs effectively and making available the right technology to customers.

In 2010 the focus shifted to innovation and investment on technology to improve products and services. We want to make technology truly an enabling function and not a back office function. This is where aligning IT with business processes is an imperative to enhance business value.

All technologies must be assessed for their business value before adoption. A successful IT strategy has a strong corporate backing and is not driven by hype. Tracking the implementation stage becomes absolutely essential for building a strong foundation.

Q: As a technology head, what is your role in your organization?

A: The role of a technology head today is that of a value creator for the business. Technology enables organizations to identify the areas where the business could derive value from and then provide solution to realize the value.

My role primarily is to tech-enable the organization, maintain the network, see to the optimal running of the data center. To add to this, the role is evolving towards creating time and capability for innovation.

Being a part of the boardroom is integral to the technology role for quite some time now. Today technology is expected to deliver much more and beyond pure-play business. Today most of my time is spent on innovating for the business and creating value around the innovation.

Q: How do you do justice to all the roles?

A: What is most important is that an efficient system and network is in place. If the routine services have been done right one can look at spending time on the other areas.

You need to have a robust, clean, sustainable and a scalable architecture in place. With a right team in place there is more time for innovation as I am spending less time worrying about cost and stability of the existing systems.

Q: Your core banking system (CBS) is developed in-house and is based on open source. Do you always prefer open source over proprietary solutions?

A: We adopted open source mainly because we can build an application suiting our needs. You can have more control over how and when you use it.

The core banking system we have is an interesting one as we are one of the few organizations to have developed such a large scale CBS in-house based on open source.

The system is Linux based and J2EE; and is very modern. The open architecture enables us to highly customize it to our needs.

The system has been rolled out across the bank in many countries, including India and is now being rolled out to Malaysia and Singapore.

Also with open source, you are not at the vendors' behest for upgrades and there is no compulsion on licensing renewals or limitation to how and when you need to modify, phase out or scale your applications.

Often we have found that most of (proprietary) updates do not give the level of business benefits that we look for. And most importantly, it (open source) is highly cost effective.

Q: What role is social media playing in the financial sector as we go ahead?

A: Emergence of social media is important to all industry verticals as we go ahead, and especially in the financial sector it plays a creative role in understanding the end user needs. With more and more people accessing social media tools the customer-vendor relationships are progressing towards better demand creation.

An active interaction with your user community for new products based on their requirements is offering the business value over a period of time as it allows you to better manage risk associated with any new product.

Connecting the customers across regions and demographics enables the business to create better business opportunities.

As a result we have seen multiple new initiatives, like building of the groups equity business system where there is huge system activity happening. We are actively looking at the trading systems, transaction banking and the private banking services that is right solution for the right customer.

Cross-posted from CTO Forum

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