Bank of England

New Bank of England's CIO John Finch has said that he doesn't believe that the organisation needs a chief digital officer (CDO) to drive a digital transformation.

Speaking at Gartner's Symposium in Barcelona this week, Finch detailed his vision for the BoE to become a 'digital social enterprise', but said that this will be achieved by ensuring that the entire senior executive team is technology savvy.

Finch joined the BoE September, having previously worked as the global CIO for Experian.

“I think the chief digital officer is made up of a number of different people all at once – I think every chief executive has to have a bit of CDO in them, they need to understand how technology is transforming their business. A lot of businesses have a chief strategy officer, they clearly need to understand how this electronic digital thing is affecting their business. And I think the CIO has a role to play in this,” he said.

“I don't think we need a CDO – I think we need a group of tech savvy policy people. So if you think about the bank as a regulator, it has policy experts that look after fiscal, monetary economic policy. They really need to be educated as tech savvy employees so that they can understand information in the broadest sense, where it's coming from.”

He added: “I think we need a governor and governors that get how we are going to connect to the world and fight through all these security things. And we need a CIO that gets all of this and can enable it to happen. “

Gartner has said that it is aware of 500 CDOs globally, but this number is growing rapidly.

Finch said that the CIO should be responsible for providing the technology set to the organisation enabling it to reengineer for the digital world. He said that he believes that the CIO should be responsible for 'triggering the innovation debates' about how this digital transformation takes place, ensuring that the network and technology capacity is available, whilst being aware of the security and compliance requirements.

Unpicking legacy

However, Finch admits that with most organisations legacy IT is going to hold back digital transformations and that a two-lane IT model is likely to develop, whereby digital innovation is experimented with separately from the underlying back-end.

“Our infrastructure is in-house, but it has a legacy and it has grown up in silos. Most companies are grappling with this problem and I think it is going to be one of the core limiting, slowing down factors, to drive through this reengineering of the business. Actually being able to unpick and connect all of those elements of the legacy, becomes a core issue,” said Finch.

“One of the things that the BoE does is it runs the banks intra-day payment clearing – when bank A pays bank B, it comes through the BoE to be cleared. It's part of the critical infrastructure for the whole of Europe. We are going to do no experimentation at all on that system – in the two-speed world we are going to manage it in a very conservative way, in a secure way, with a very controlled release schedule.”

He added: “But you can imagine a situation where we are going to innovate with this social digital enterprise. You might get in a tool, get in a bit of data in a sandbox, see if it's going to work, send it to someone's handset, and if it doesn't work try a different technology. You can have this two-speed world.”

Challenges for SMEs

Finally, CIO sister title Computerworld UK asked Finch where he expects to find the skills and resources to experiment with new digital technologies. He said that he doesn't believe, in most cases, that the traditional IT suppliers are agile enough to deliver the desired services effectively and that the BoE will aim to work with SMEs to achieve these.

However, Finch also warned that there is a significant procurement challenge in allowing SMEs to work with an organisation like the BoE.

“I don't think we have yet worked out how to square the circle on this. In my world there is quite a lot of quite correct legislation that makes us go down value-for-money purchasing decisions. In fact when you think about business moments in the digital world, by the time we have gone through the purchasing phase, the business moment could be over. I think there are some real challenges now for CIOs,” he said.

“I firmly believe these bigger vendors aren't able to innovate at the speed that we need to in most cases. But these smaller firms can come with a whole set of new opportunities.”

He added: “But you put them through our purchasing process – where you are asking companies to guarantee that they have got a certain supply chain, that they can guarantee that they will be trading in 10 years etc. I don't think CIOs in all cases have conquered that challenge, because we have to go in front of boards and say why we are changing a contract from a famous brand to people you have never heard of. They immediately get into a risk conversation.”