On Thursday I had breakfast with a group of banking CIOs just across the road from the Bank of England. I'm sure all of us had heard the latest woeful headlines that day as the Greek economy looked set to default on its loans and Italy had its debt rating reduced, placing greater pressure on the Eurozone and in turn the British economy as the zone is our major export recipient.
However the banking CIOs at breakfast were not holding their heads in their hands. All had ambition to make changes in their organisations and drive IT led improvements. Three main themes came out of the discussion, which included a presentation and debate with Mark Popolano of Kurt Salmon: culture, governance and whether cloud computing has a place in financial services.
One of the most interesting things to come out of the discussion for this scribe was the discussion on culture. The IT industry is slowly shifting its model from product and sales oriented to a service orientation. Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud computing have set about this change and every vendor you talk to at present is looking at a service model. Most CIOs have a service driven mentality and the same was true of those attending on Thursday.
But, I got the impression from one or two CIOs attending that this trend towards services rather than products has not permeated the higher management levels of all financial institutions. More than one expressed that leaders are rarely interested in service and do not want to commit to any programme that will delay a new product coming to market, even if that programme offers major improvements.
This instant gratification, make a quick sale behaviour pattern worries me and one or two of the CIOs there as it suggests nothing has been learnt from the credit crisis and subsequent recession. A major lack of strong processes was inferred to be the cause of the situation banks find themselves in and from views shared by a couple of CIOs, nothing has changed.
A view put forward to combat the above problem and the issue of alignment between IT and the organisation is to address governance as the commonality between IT and the organisation, not a set of rules set down by the CIO.
Cloud computing offers organisations opportunities, but the assessment and realisation of benefits from those opportunities are more complex in financial services, the attendees suggested. A number of CIOs said that the datacentre was the biggest pain point and a cloud solution would be welcomed. But data security is and where data resides was the concern for almost all at the meeting and will hold back the clouds in financial services. More than one CIO expressed that they did not feel they could trust the governments of China and the US and therefore would not want customer data residing on servers in those jurisdictions. As a result, the location of data will remove some of the cost and flexibility benefits of cloud computing.
All CIOs present discussed private cloud computing and had little time for the public cloud, one even went so far as to describe it as an "irrelevance".
My overall impression of the meeting was that CIOs in the banking sector are at the beginning of the possibilities they can offer the sector. The culture and complexity of the structures and products is a challenge to CIOs and many wanted to challenge that. CIOs, like a wider part of the IT community are looking to become service leaders ensuring users and customers have a long term and rewarding relationship with organisations and products. This is not necessarily the case for the wider organisation and is a big challenge to overcome.