An Interview with Jeff Jacobs

Jeff Jacobs

Pollack: What are your top IT priorities over the next 12 to 18 months?


Jacobs: As is always the case, our first priority will continue to be our technology refresh and reliability program. This is in addition to the delivery of our Strategic Investment Priorities and the build of our multi-brand technology platforms.


Other priorities include a focus on business process optimisation and of course, our innovation agenda. As my team provides the strategy, architecture, engineering and security expertise for Westpac Group, we are involved in all of these areas.


From a personal perspective, one of my top priorities will be about surrounding myself with great people and building the best CTO team in the industry.


Pollack: What IT trends are you keeping an eye on at the moment?


Jacobs: I like to keep my ear to the ground on both current and emerging trends; staying across innovative ideas that could result in business value is a big part of my role. Some of the areas I am watching include the continued evolution of smartphone and tablet computing, mobile payments, the future of connectivity in Australia, big data analytics and video in a business context.


This is in addition to staying in touch with some of the new and innovative technologies being offered by our strategic partners. It’s also important to appreciate that our customers often rely on us to set the standards for rolling out innovative new capabilities while maintaining the level of trust and security they expect from their bank.

In many ways we are setting these levels for emerging capabilities, such as mobile payments, that other industries will follow.


Pollack: What do you expect will be the biggest challenges during your first 18 months as Westpac CTO?


Jacobs: A major challenge for me in this role will be finding the balance between setting strategic direction for Westpac Group Technology and still being pragmatic for the times. This is a common experience for most CTOs in Australia working in the current economic climate.


Pollack: To what extent does technological innovation drive the overall business strategy at Westpac?


Jacobs: Westpac Group has an exceptional track record of innovation in launching key banking innovations for both Australia and the world. The group is a true multi-brand organisation so developing innovative technical solutions that work across this perspective is critical in driving business outcomes.

We leverage from the benefit of being able to develop a solution once, and then utilise the same solution across multiple brands.


We have been particularly effective with this method with mobile banking development in both Westpac and St George, and also in extending our BTFG Super for Life capabilities across our retail banking brands.

Pollack: How do you encourage technological innovation from within the organisation; and how do you determine which ideas will be pursued?


Jacobs: Technological innovation at Westpac Group is about leveraging the creativity and skills that our people already possess and selecting the right capabilities to lead with.


We’re working on creating a culture of innovation through a number of channels and we’re already seeing positive outcomes. This includes using internal social media tools to create a community of innovation that complements our existing channels and builds recognition of innovators throughout the group.


We also hold regular innovation workshops that are intensive problem solving sessions. These can be tackling specific hurdles in a particular situation, or as a foundation for developing an all-new solution.


In addition to this, we have our existing continuous improvement programs across the group, where the business provides their own ideas to increase the effectiveness of our technology capabilities and improve productivity. We are also actively working on co-innovation opportunities with our strategic partners to bring world-class innovations into the Australian market.


Pollack: How are your key strategic projects tracking and what is next on the agenda?


Jacobs: We’ve made significant progress in the execution of our strategic agenda with a number of Strategic Investment Priorities now complete and transitioned into business-as-usual. In the Group Customer Master (GCM) program, we built a ‘fit for purpose’ solution that is a single source of customer information with standard enterprise access.


Our programs to provide frontline staff with world-class, customer centric tools have also progressed well. Our contact centre desktop, Unity, is now being used by over 1000 Westpac bankers across five states, and integrates over 39 systems into the one application.


We’ve received great feedback from bankers and customers alike, particularly with regard to the streamlined processes that are facilitating more quality conversations with customers.


One of our largest and most important pieces of work, the BankSMART program, is nearing completion. This program has delivered significant capabilities such as IP telephones in retail branches, digital signatures and slipless deposits for cash transactions.


The final piece of the BankSMART puzzle is the rollout of our new teller software, Spider. This solution is another great multi-brand story: Spider has been used successfully in St George for a number of years and has been redefined with enhancements to the technology to cater for the Westpac operating environment.


As with all of our customer-centric solutions, Spider has been designed to delight customers and employees with efficient, intuitive and streamlined processes. Following on from a highly successful pilot, the full rollout of Spider to Westpac branches will commence in March 2012 across our Westpac retail sites.


Pollack: How will Westpac’s new data centre in Western Sydney enhance the organisation’s business intelligence capabilities?


Jacobs: Our new data centre employs highly available and scalable infrastructure needed to support the growing demand for business intelligence and analytic capabilities. We continue to standardise and increase the robustness of our BI platforms to support increasing customer analytic demands for business and compliance reporting requirements across our operations.


Our new data centre provides the infrastructure necessary to allow us to scale up to support this constantly demanding requirement of our business.


Pollack: What do you see as the future for bricks and mortar branches, given many every day retail banking functions can now be performed via portable devices?


Jacobs: For us, the branch will always have a major role to play, particularly with regard to major financial transactions. We certainly expect there will be changes in the branch environment and how we relate to customers face to face, but there is no suggestion that portable devices will completely replace branches.


What we’re finding is that mobile and online banking are actually increasing the total number of interactions that customers make with the bank, rather than replacing a face-to-face branch conversation.


Our customers want to perform simple transactions at a time convenient for them. Our busiest mobile banking times are outside of branch opening hours: 6:30am – 8:30am. At the same time, we know that when it comes to making major financial decisions, we need to provide the right people and tools in the branch to help our customers prosper and grow.


Increasingly mobile access to our services is augmenting our branch experience. We are working to ‘mobile enable’ our bankers and ensure they can share the mobile banking experience our customers are participating in.


Pollack: What customer channels are proving to be the most effective for Westpac and which channels are growing the fastest?


Jacobs: Mobile banking is a rapidly emerging channel for all the brands in Westpac Group. Our experience has shown that mobile has grown twice as fast as Internet banking and considerably faster than other traditional channels.


Having said that, our strategy is based on a multi-channel, customer centric approach and we will continue to focus on the branch and call centres as key channels for our customers.  Going forward, I expect to see more differentiation between and within channels. The mobile channel is fragmenting with tablet and mobile each being used in different ways.


Our view is that different channels are required for different activities and for different types of customers. My goal as CTO is to ensure that we have technology that supports the needs of both channels and customers.

Pollack: Your experience as an IT executive is vast and well respected, including a period as CIO of AMP Bank’s Indonesian operations. How do you anticipate the experience as a CIO will impact your vision and decisions as CTO?


Jacobs: I’ve been fortunate enough to have held a number of different roles in my career. I believe that being an effective IT leader means that you need have the perspectives of both strategy and delivery.

My time as a CIO in Jakarta was a great learning curve for me and it was there that I truly understood the need of a CIO to balance small and large decisions. Most importantly, I recognised the importance of building relationships with the business.


I will be looking to use this delivery experience to make more pragmatic decisions as CTO. It’s a key differentiator for me as I look to avoid ivory tower or academic decisions that you can often see coming out of CTO areas in other organisations.


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


Jacobs: I would like to be remembered as a technology leader who was able to bridge the gap between IT and the business. More specifically, someone who was able to deeply understand technology capability and be able to clearly communicate its usefulness in a business context.


From a people perspective, my legacy would be that I was able to build a great team and inspire others to be the best that they can be.


Related link:


An Interview with Nicholle Lindner, Head of Cards, Westpac