An Interview with Bohdan Szymanik

Position: 
Chief Technology Officer, Kiwibank

Jahangiri: Which channel is proving to be most effective for Kiwibank when acquiring and retaining new customers; and why? 

Szymanik: Obviously for Kiwibank, it’s our retail channel. The New Zealand Post retail network reaches into every corner of the country and provides access to our customers that has been vital to our growth.

Jahangiri: From a security perspective, what do you think are the key challenges for organisations seeking to embrace the cloud computing model?

Jahangiri: Which channel is proving to be most effective for Kiwibank when acquiring and retaining new customers; and why? 


Szymanik: Obviously for Kiwibank, it’s our retail channel. The New Zealand Post retail network reaches into every corner of the country and provides access to our customers that has been vital to our growth.


Jahangiri: From a security perspective, what do you think are the key challenges for organisations seeking to embrace the cloud computing model?


Szymanik: Data ownership first and foremost, followed by consistency of approach to moving information in and out. There is too great a diversity of approaches to this at the moment and that is a pain when you are developing. From a developer’s perspective you end up aligning to one of the main providers such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon because you have a set of tools, techniques and specifications to work with. It is difficult crossing boundaries.


Jahangiri: Given Kiwibank develops a large number of products in-house, how do you protect IP in the event of key developers leaving the organisation?


Szymanik: This has been a big question for us ever since we started. Just how much IP do we develop in-house versus buy in, and in what areas? What we are finding is that we can manage the transition from person-to-person by building up capability over a long period and avoiding rapid staff movements. The main technique to do this is to have a preference for permanent versus contract development staff. 


Jahangiri: In late 2009, Kiwibank rolled-out an online personal finance management service called Heaps. What makes this tool so innovative; and what has been the customer response thus far?


Szymanik: There is a lot of interest in Heaps in the market at the moment. It is the first local example of a bank offering personal finance management and it will be an ongoing field of experimentation and development for us. The basic functionality is obvious but what we’re trying to do is leverage off of what the Internet has taught us about social computing to develop the platform in the future.


Jahangiri: A number of global banks have issued contactless payments initiatives. Do you have plans to offer customers contactless payment services for Kiwibank customers; and from a technologist’s standpoint what do you think is the next frontier in payments?


Szymanik: It is bound to happen one day isn’t it. Personally I think the frontier is in small payments. but I’m concerned that collectively the banks may have missed the boat. Again the big Internet players are the ones that are creating the infrastructure to operate these payments and they’re in a position to own a much larger share of the value chain in the future.


Jahangiri: From a broader perspective, what do you think will be the next big technology trend in New Zealand’s wider financial services sector within the next 2 to 3 years?


Szymanik: It is probably seen today as less exciting by many but I think the area of systems management is going to become a much hotter topic in the future. I’ve been exploring the System Centre suite from Microsoft and it is simply amazing what capability there is to dynamically manage and provision your environment you get from a toolset like that (and I’m sure it’s similar with equivalent products from BMC, IBM and HP etc). We’ve just scratched the surface using it primarily as an engineering tool, but it’s much, much more than that. I can create hierarchical models of our bank from components to business systems, display them in business views, drill down to the detail and use the infrastructure to monitor and manage the environment. It’s an area in which expertise will become very valuable.


Jahangiri: What technology priorities are shaping your agenda for the next year?


Szymanik: Systems management is top of the list for me. Secondly, getting an efficient, powerful desktop out to our staff that aligns with the best office productivity tools and the most efficient operating system. Finally, building up our capability to take advantage of our server infrastructure, and in the future taking advantage of external cloud providers. For me this means delivering the best end user experience to IP embedded in systems hosted both locally and remotely via a service infrastructure.


Jahangiri: Kiwibank is enjoying the benefits of a successful core banking modernisation.  Can you share with readers what the most significant challenge was with your core banking project; and how this was overcome?


Szymanik: Well this is an interesting topic. As we announced last year we decided the best approach for the bank was actually to continue with our existing platform and continue to invest in our systems for channel delivery. We have some specific areas of core improvement which we’re working on with our vendor Ultradata but these are around ensuring the core engine can meet our 10 year growth plans. Sometimes you need to go through these things to be sure of what to do.


Jahangiri: What IT skills are most in demand right now; any why?


Szymanik: Obviously communication skills top the list but following on there’s a raft of new areas where experience, or knowledge, or interest, are catching my attention. One of these is analytical skills especially math skills – there’s information everywhere, but not a lot of useful analysis. We need more power analysts. People that have no qualm about one minute communicating at a strategic level and in the next minute performing hands-on data extraction and manipulation to resolve a fundamental question on how the business operates. Let me emphasize this: to do this better than your competitors you have to be prepared to get into the code. I’m a great believer in code and for me the area that’s of most personal interest at the moment is in the functional languages like Microsoft’s F# and Scala for the JVM. These are wonderful tools for data analysis and the creation of very, very smart systems.


Jahangiri: Every IT leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?


Szymanik: I’d like to think we’ve turned out a pragmatic, cost effective IT environment at Kiwibank that has delivered us very well for the last 9 years and is well positioned for the next 10 years.

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