Skills, not technology, the biggest challenge, says Westpac CIO

IT staff will have to get used to constant reskilling, Dave Curran says

Westpac group CIO Dave Curran has flagged skills sourcing as one of the biggest challenges facing banks, and says IT staff will have to get used to constant reskilling.

In a wide-ranging interview with Oracle CIO and SVP Mark Sunday at the Oracle Cloudworld event in Sydney, Curran said: “Somebody asked me what I think the next technology battleground for the banks will be. It is not about technology, it is about resources. I am strongly of the view that the way we develop talent has to change.”

In a small market like Australia he said banks could no longer rely on hiring the skills the need, particularly in IT.

“I think the biggest challenge over the next five years is not how we leverage cloud, it is not about how we leverage big data, it is how we build the skill sets in when we can’t just go to market and get them.

 Curran said technology was bringing to an end the old model of “that skill is now redundant, so that person is now redundant; go and hire a new skill.” But he suggested that IT people were typically not comfortable with frequent change.

“Change is a constant and most human beings, especially those that work in technology who are predominantly introverted, don't like constant change,” the CIO said.

Also, he said IT people could no longer remain largely ignorant of the businesses in which they work, nor could business workers remain ignorant of IT.

“The concept that an IT person does not understand the business they work in in one that has to change very quickly,” he said. “The concept that someone can work in a business and not fundamentally understand the IT that supports their business won’t last either. There are very few industries in this world that are not totally powered by technology.”

The CIO has previously argued that Westpac needs to create a culture of continuous learning.

Cloud the way forward

Curran also indicated a shift to cloud computing for Westpac’s IT saying: “We have data centres. Why? We are a bank. Infrastructure is not something that I see as being core to a bank going forward we need to leverage what is out there.”

He described cloud as “the biggest driver of technology change,” adding: “Everything else sits on top of cloud: AI, analytics, IoT. So cloud enabling a big bank with a number of data centres is a major challenge, particularly when you are a regulated entity.”

From products to services

Meanwhile, Curran said banks in general were struggling with making the transition from selling products to selling services. “How do you transform something where the entire architecture is based around products and channels to something based around services?… That is a massive shift. Seeing that shift is hard and managing that shift in large organisations could be done better.”

Making friends with fintechs

Curran said banks were now looking to fintechs to help them with this transition.

“Four years ago fintech was going to eat the banks’ lunch,” he said. “Now we are sitting down together. The concept of frenemies is something people are talking about.

Read more: Vic DPC looks for new tech chief as CIO prepares to depart

“The banks know they have to work with fintechs because that is how we provide better services to our customers.  Some of the fintechs want to work with the banks because we have the core logic and the data to run financial services.”

A year ago Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer  told the AWS Summit that Westpac was partnering with a range of startup businesses, seeking to combine their agility and creativity with its resources, customer base, experience and risk management skills.

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Tags careersskills shortageWestpacchief information officer (CIO)

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