IMPT CORRECTION: An interview with David Whiteing, Group Executive, Enterprise Services and CIO, CBA


CBA’s Group Executive of Enterprise Services and Chief Information Officer speaks with FST Media about his key priorities for the next 12 to 18 months.

Please note, FST Media included an incorrectly attributed quote in the print magazine interview for David Whiteing, Group Executive, Enterprise Services and CIO, CBA that appears on page 52 of the magazine.

ERRATUM: If an institution is to out disrupt the disruptor, we need to ensure we have the right elements of great people, amazing culture that fosters bright ideas and collaboration, and simplified and standardised technology platforms and this is what we’re doing at CBA.

FST Media apologises for this error. The full unedited interview is published below.

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David Whiteing: Key to what we’re trying to achieve at Commonwealth Bank is looking at how we can make greater use of platforms, simplifying and standardising what we do, and use more open source as well as digitising our processes.

Platform-based thinking gives us the foundation to adapt quickly and provide richer customer experiences through a simpler approach that is multi-use and multi-featured.

An important element of this strategy is the simplification and standardisation of not just our systems, but also our processes. Everything we do on top of those platforms must be simplified and standardised and we’re relentless about reducing duplicate functions and ensuring that we digitise processes where possible. We’re working hard to identify and remove duplication from other parts of the business and ensure consistency.

Consider how you interact with your bank today. More and more we are seeing our customers choose to log into our banking services using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. We want to make more products and services available via the channels our customers are choosing to interact with us. Whether it is looking at a product online, beginning the order in NetBank, or coming into a branch, our systems should be smart enough to recognise our customer and complete the order without duplication or manual processing.

This is a driver for our business and it is why, in my role as CIO, I am ensuring at Commonwealth Bank we move to having simple and standard systems with as much digitisation in our processes as possible.

Another area we’re looking closely at is opening up parts of our systems to outside developers. We want to create a culture of openness for our systems which allows other organisations to develop services and features which may be relevant to our customers and their customers. We’re looking to develop as many of our products as possible in a way they can be enhanced and customised. The recent release of our new EFTPOS tablet for businesses, Albert, for which other organisations are able to develop apps via our Pi Business network, is a great example of this in practice.

Similarly ASB, our New Zealand operations, has made its Application Programming Interface (API) available to developers who can use the bank’s real time data such as foreign exchange rates, interest rates, as well as ASB branch and ATM location information, to develop apps.

Of course key to achieving all this is having the right people working on the right things. We are very focused on attracting, developing and maintaining talented individuals, particularly those who have a problem solving instinct – those who can look at an issue clouded by ambiguity and still move forward. These types of people allow your organisation to stay one step ahead. And it is another reason our standardisation strategy is so important – we want these people focused on solving problems we’re going to encounter in the future rather than being ground down in the day-to-day activities which should be automated.

Across all of our technology and operations, we have committed to ensuring all our people are skilled in five core areas that will best enable us to deliver the best technology for our customers. That is working in an agile way, understanding the important role of analytics, making use of experimentation and Design Thinking, and finally taking a lean productivity approach to everything we do. These core capabilities, coupled with an amazing culture driven by the best people, sets our technology and operations people apart in the industry. People want to join CBA technology teams not just because of the projects we work on, but also because it is a great working environment to be a part of.

Now that we’ve completed our core banking modernisation, we’ve really set up our organisation to be agile and equipped to move quickly. Innovation doesn’t come about by sitting on your hands – we want to be able to conceive and develop ideas quickly, and get products to market as quickly as possible. We now have the core technology behind us to make these changes and developments, and not be hamstrung by legacy technology.

Important in fostering this approach however is fostering a culture where failure is not just acceptable, but embraced. This is a big change for large corporations, but to me if organisations aren’t failing they’re probably not being innovative enough. This culture allows us to move much faster and come out with some awesome products like our cardless cash and our recent smartwatch app.

This goes to the heart of why we built our new Innovation Lab in the heart of our operations in the Sydney CBD. This is a space where our people, customers, technology partners and businesses can come together to collaborate and work on ideas that can better help people, businesses and communities. The real value we expect from the Innovation Lab is twofold in being able to explore new ideas and make quicker decisions on which ones will work best for our customers, and being able to scale those ideas across CBA so all customers and employees can take advantage of the innovation. That’s why the Lab is located close to our people and close to our customers.

These days anybody can be a digital disruptor; all you need is a great idea for an application. You don’t need to be able to code, you can have coders build you the app, and then you can host it online quite cheaply. This low cost, mass market approach challenges large incumbent organisations to be more nimble. For this reason, if an institution is to out disrupt the disruptor, we need to ensure we have the right elements of great people, amazing culture that fosters bright ideas and collaboration, and simplified and standardised technology platforms and this is what we’re doing at CBA.