The big data lesson from Canada’s big banks

I’m sure there’s more than one CIO or IT manager in a small to mid-sized firm that has occasionally wished they had the IT budget and resources the size of, say, a large bank or insurance company. Imagine the possibilities!

Now imagine the headaches.

At an invitation-only roundtable this week, I hosted a handful of CIOs from some well-known local firms to discuss the theme “From Performance To Value: IT Transformation in Canadian Financial Services.” Given the fact we had a few competitors in a room together, I agreed to keep all comments off the record. But I’ll say this: there was a big gap between the technologies and priorities we had identified – cloud computing, big data, social media and mobile – and where they are investing their time and dollars.

In fact, as we moved around the table the challenges and pain points experienced by the banks and insurance companies sound a lot like those of their smaller counterparts. They’re burdened by legacy infrastructure and wondering how much more they can layer on before the whole thing falls apart. They’re grappling with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy requests and they’re constantly trying to explain technology realities to their business department peers. The biggest area, regulatory and compliance requirements, is somewhat more prominent in this vertical, but it’s safe to say most of them aren’t staying up at nights wondering what to do with Facebook or what applications to put on employees’ mobile phones.

If they care about anything trendy, it’s big data, and no wonder. Improved analytics allows them to address other issues, such as how to better enable cross-channel experiences in their customer base, the development of new products and services and possibly even reduced costs. But as part of our discussion we recruited Rob Burbach, a senior analyst with IDC Financial Insights Canada, to present some of the company’s research, and he sounded a warning note about big data that is worth hearing among other IT leaders.

“We’re all in that first flush of excitement around big data, and everybody’s getting their feet wet,” he said, “but I think we’ll soon enter those post-honeymoon blues where you start to realize the all the impacts on financial controls, and the integration issues, which are huge.”

We traditional look to financial services, like the auto industry, to be the early adopters of technologies and techniques that pave the way for best practices to be developed across other sectors. While BYOD, mobile, the cloud and social media may not be areas where the big banks and insurance firms will lead, big data is another matter. This is an important lesson, because as the roles mature we tend to treat CIOs as a group with common goals, common struggles, common points of view. It may be time to re-emphasize the impact of vertical market influence on IT leadership, and what kind of knowledge needs to be cross-pollinated from one CIO to another. Financial services is not about dollars and cents but about relationships between people and institutions. So is the ongoing study of IT management.



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