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22 октября 2014

End-to-End Bank IT Management: From Business to Hardware

If earlier building interfaces between the divisions responsible for the development of IT services, their operation and infrastructure support seemed enough, it now becomes apparent that end-to-end management starting from business problems and collaborative development planning are necessary. Such opinion was expressed to NBJ by Deputy CEO of CUSTIS Group Sergei TIKHOMIROV and Deputy CEO for IT Infrastructure of CUSTIS Group Alexander GABIDULIN.

NBJ: What has changed in recent years, why are we speaking about the need to change the approach to IT management in banks? Are the current working patterns becoming less effective?

S. TIKHOMIROV: The speed of development of the modern banks is many times greater than that of the 10–15 years past. The problems are becoming more complex: whereas until recently the Russian financial and credit organizations used to be in a "catching up" position and were mainly using the western experience and examples from the related areas that could be adapted to their given situation, now the competition is increasing, and banks are increasingly developing brand new products and technologies having no market analogs. In this situation, IT can become a significant competitive advantage and a tool for improving the efficiency of the financial and credit organizations, but only on condition that the entire IT profile of a bank, from business intelligence to IT infrastructure, will be conceived and managed as an integrated framework.

NBJ: What do we have now?

A. GABIDULIN: Most of the large and medium-sized banks now have several separate IT divisions, which can be "sliced" and named differently - for example, the divisions of development, operation and IT infrastructure -but the essence remains the same. Despite the seeming effectiveness of the interaction established between them, each division is solving their own problems and hardly has an idea of the others' goals and capabilities.

Traditionally, the most "detached" division is the infrastructure division. Whereas specialists engaged in the design, development and operation of IT services at the business and application level stay in close contact and regularly work as a team, the IT infrastructure is most often treated as a support stratum to which the tasks "go down" while already having no business filling in their terms.

"Such-and-such number of servers and such and such database are required." In other words, there is no joint planning of development and changes affecting the infrastructure profile.

Of course, there are fundamental reasons for such isolation of IT departments. They are simply integrated in different markets - software market and hardware market - with their weakly agreed goals and development cycles, different languages, and training traditions.

NBJ: But maybe the isolation is natural to a certain degree? In the end, the subjects and objects of their activity are really different.

S. TIKHOMIROV: The problem is that with this sort of approach neither business nor even the division responsible for the development of IT services view IT infrastructure as a tool for development, and changes in the IT infrastructure are devised by people with a kitchen-sink understanding of its capabilities.

Of course, there are exceptions, for example, the banks engaged in the highly competitive retail business indeed understand the importance of IT infrastructure in the face of constant changes and growing requirements to IT. But in general, many financial and credit institutions are still far from that.

The IT infrastructure division that is always the last to learn about the latest business plans becomes either "overinflated" with capabilities so that it may fit any business requirement, or simply unprepared for the necessary changes. The conclusions about the effectiveness of the IT infrastructure in both cases are obvious.

A. GABIDULIN: The loss of efficiency is not the only drawback, as the bank misses opportunities that can be offered by the current trends in the field of IT infrastructure, and hence loses potential competitive advantages.

NBJ: For example?

A. GABIDULIN: An example of a trend that has already manifested itself and has been evaluated is virtualization, which reduced the time for allocation of infrastructure resources for business tasks many times. And those banks that were able to quickly find their bearings and implement this technology, gained a competitive advantage. Now there is a new trend - network virtualization, which could allow, for example, swift deployment of branches for the banks with a branched structure.

S. TIKHOMIROV: A common example of the IT vectors' mismatch and missed infrastructure opportunities is the excessive unification of infrastructure approaches without regard to business sense. For example, in its infrastructure policy  the  bank  prescribes  using a widespread technology from the database market leader. But in the case of a specific business request, a better solution could be another technology that would give significant gains in efficiency and provide opportunities not provided by said leader. However, the policy in this case literally protects the infrastructure division from immersing into business senses, thereby aggravating its isolation even further.

NBJ: In your opinion, how can this situation be reversed? How do we reconcile divergent vectors? At first glance, seems quite a challenge.

S. TIKHOMIROV: Surely, it's a very complex problem, and simple administrative influence won't be enough to solve it. Building end-to-end design and change implementation processes, which will involve all experts from all fields, from business to infrastructure, might be a very good move. But for this structure to be viable, it is important to create a common object of activity for both business and IT both at the "application" and the infrastructure level, to establish a process of joint conceptual design and development of the bank's IT field.

Of course, for such changes to take place, the business should be interested in them. The growth of the business' interest in the infrastructure stratum and launch of collaborative design processes promotes the emergence of market technologies, such as the one intended to work with Big Data, in which the application level and infrastructure level are inseparable, or the infrastructure component is leading. These may include remote banking periphery (ATMs, payment and POS-terminals), which, in fact, is the direct "performer" of the business objectives and determines how services will be provided to the clients.

A. GABIDULIN: The overall market trends are such that the IT infrastructure, at least in those places where it can be a tool for development, is increasingly perceived as a rightful business partner, and not as a providing unit. This might be the first step to building end-to-end management, which I am sure, can give a multiple increase in the bank's IT. 

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