Sainsbury: What are your top IT priorities for the next 12-18 months?
McCarthy: One of our top priorities is to look at physical consolidation and cost reduction. RBS has refined its strategic priorities in Asia and the IT infrastructure needs to adjust to the new business requirements. We see this as an opportunity to introduce a more physically consolidated and virtualized environment. This will allow us to maintain the critical mass required for economies of scale, but still support a distributed network of locations throughout Asia.
Another top priority is to continue to respond to changing regulatory requirements. Financial services regulators are more sophisticated than ever and have introduced new requirements in a number of areas. So our consolidation strategy, for example, will be influenced by onshoring requirements for certain key systems, as well as the need to provide robust governance around Service Level Agreements (SLAs) where services are delivered remotely.
Sainsbury: What have you found to be the most effective strategies in maintaining consistent levels of service across the disparate markets in Asia-Pacific?
McCarthy: Perhaps foremost is to develop a set of repeatable processes, supported by a well documented product and service catalogue with specific SLAs. These are useful first steps to take towards consistent delivery, but frankly at the end of the day it is all about the people on the ground delivering services. Maintaining a strong and motivated team is the real key, and arguably the biggest challenge, for any IT leadership team.
I should also mention there is no substitute for maintaining strong relationships with key stakeholders. An effective IT organisation must keep stakeholder requirements firmly in mind, and continually engage in a process of assessment and feedback. The feedback needs to be a dialogue, so key topics will include updates on IT capabilities for given levels of investment, as well as stakeholder satisfaction. If service levels were to drift into inconsistency, this engagement process would serve as a mechanism for early detection.
Sainsbury: What benefits have been realised from RBS’ mobile Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) strategy as the initiative has matured?
McCarthy: We are now introducing BYOD in Asia, so while our experience is limited, I can comment on expectations. The BYOD model comes with some challenges that are perhaps unique to financial services. These challenges include requirements for data security and application access control versus ease of use and convenience, not to mention user expectations.
We have developed our policies to afford a limited introduction of BYOD, and for the initial users we expect to see a richer, more convenient user experience; higher productivity; and of course a lower cost when compared to company provided solutions. This is a great example of how increasing capability in the consumer space can drive change at the enterprise level.
Sainsbury: What opportunities do you see for banks to develop competitive advantage as Apple, Google and telecommunications companies develop financial services?
McCarthy: I don’t see technology companies developing financial services per se. What they are doing is developing channels such as digital wallets, which is really no different to an RFID chip in a credit card. Technology for mass consumption will drive more and more innovation, in order to spur convenience and a better user experience, but deriving a true competitive advantage from such technology would likely be fleeting at best. For a financial services organization to enjoy a true competitive advantage from technology there must be a culture of innovation and a commitment to ongoing research.
Sainsbury: What technologies outside of financial services do you believe could play a role in the future in banking?
McCarthy: I think the possibilities are endless. There are major breakthroughs still to be had data storage and data management for example, the so called ‘big data’ issue. Storage technologies are getting increasingly dense, and data capture capabilities are growing apace. However, the processing and database technologies currently available are struggling to keep up. I believe these challenges will drive a fundamental shift in architecture, with as far reaching consequences as the shift from centralized to distributed computing was in its day.
Another area worth watching is biometrics. In today’s security conscious world, I believe it is inevitable we will see more widely deployed unobtrusive biometric authentication. These technologies would be deployed to facilitate rapid transaction processing, and in a ‘know your customer’ (KYC) context. I believe banks would be interested in the fraud prevention possibilities, and governments and regulators equally interested in such technologies in order to counter illegal activities. Of course, the lack of social acceptance due to legitimate privacy concerns may limit the uptake on biometrics for some time.
Sainsbury: How do you encourage innovation within your team?
McCarthy: This is a great question. My department has a two year strategic roadmap which highlights ten key themes for areas we want to focus on. These themes are bucketed as either core, operational, or aspirational and arranged as a sort of technical equivalent to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
At the top of the hierarchy is innovation, and in an attempt to facilitate true innovation we have an innovation forum supervised by an innovation board who are charged with reviewing ideas and suggestions. Certainly you cannot regiment innovation, but we do try to sustain a pipeline of ideas and suggestions for review through an active recognition and reward scheme. Every once in a while a great idea surfaces and makes an impact somewhere in the organization. Once of my favourites is our weekly ‘Tech Tips’ email to employees. These tips use animated content which conveys a tip on some aspect of desktop technology, for example a useful feature or how to a solve common problem. The animation is great, and user feedback has been off the charts – the regional CEO loves them. Perhaps most satisfying though has been the adoption of the technique globally at RBS, proving again the old maxim that imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery!
Sainsbury: Every IT leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?
McCarthy: Truthfully, I don’t think in terms of a legacy and would not flatter myself that I might be remembered at all! My focus is on helping my team deliver the best IT services possible, and helping to build as capable a team as I can. For me, if I can honestly say we’ve achieved these goals I will derive tremendous personal satisfaction from that. As for legacy, well, ultimately we all leave that to posterity I think.