Barclays: No Linux on desktops for now

The chief technology officer of one of Britain's largest banks talks about how he made it to the top, and how Barclays is facing the challenges of technical innovation and corporate governance legislation

Barclays' chief technology officer Kevin Lloyd admits that he rose through the ranks from working in a branch to running the IT of one of the biggest banks in the world the hard way, through sheer hard work and determination rather than the old boy network. Silicon.com's Andy McCue talked to him to find out what makes him tick.

Kevin Lloyd's path to becoming CTO not only in one of the world's largest banks but for a company that, with an annual IT investment budget -- not including running costs -- of some £325m, is one of the largest IT operators globally, is not exactly typical.

London-born into a blue-collar background, Lloyd left full-time education after his A-levels and started working on the frontline in branch banking for NatWest. "From my background, to get a job that wasn't in the building and construction industry was a result. To have gone to school and got A-levels was an achievement," he tells me in the plush surroundings of a corporate dining room at the bank's headquarters.

But he soon realised that without a degree and management training he wouldn't get very far in financial services and studied for a degree in computer sciences and business studies while working full-time.

"I very quickly worked out you didn't get anywhere in a bank unless you came in on a management development programme, which was graduate intake. I realised you needed post-school qualifications if you were going to make a career in any of these blue-chip companies," he says.

That got him onto his first step on the ladder managing a technical transformation project at NatWest. Following that Lloyd applied for a transfer into the computer services subsidiary of the bank as a business analyst and project manager. "I stayed there for a good many years, which was excellent developmental background," he says.

His first major move in the industry was in 1986 when he was offered three positions, one at Midland Bank (now HSBC), one at Kleinwort Benson (later bought by Dresdner Bank) and one at Barclays. Lloyd joined Barclays to head up its 'end-user computing' division and has been with the organisation ever since.

"We fired up this function in London and it was fantastic and went really well. We did some great stuff in and around the early days of client-server computing."

Lloyd then moved his family north for a while to Knutsford in Cheshire to head up the application development 'Build Services' team. Through that role Lloyd spearheaded the move to client-server computing in the bank away from the 3270 mainframe environment and he has been involved in some of the largest transformation projects undertaken by Barclays. This resulted in being offered the role of IT director back in London for the corporate banking division in 1997 by current CIO David Weymouth. In 1999, at about the same time as the arrival of current CEO Matthew Barrett, the role of CTO was created, which Lloyd took on.

The CIO function at Barclays is a very traditional one and Lloyd says the CTO role was supported by Barrett, who had come from large financial services organisations with a CTO position within the CIO function.

"It is specifically around the policies, the architectures, the application environment, security, governance and technical innovation and leadership for the group," he explains. "It is very much a technical role although increasingly here it is always in the context of the business strategy."

Lloyd also looks after the primary relationships with most of the bank's key IT suppliers -- IBM, Microsoft and SAP -- with other parts of the IT function taking care of Accenture, BT, EDS, HP and Vodafone.

It is the relationship with Accenture that is currently dominating the headlines, with a £450m application development outsourcing deal that will involve the offshoring of some jobs to India in the final stages of negotiation, as revealed by silicon.com last week.

Lloyd admits the reasons for outsourcing to India are becoming increasingly compelling and difficult to ignore for all financial services companies and says there is a "capability and skill that exists globally" that firms have to tap into.

"Certainly if you look at the buoyancy of the outsourcing markets in India, which is where my experience is limited to currently, it's a very interesting and exciting time for them," he says. "They are doing some fantastic things out there. Just about every option I've looked at varies in some way or another in the way in which it is being delivered but what is consistent is the quality of the capability and the service levels."

Barclays has already outsourced desktop services to EDS in a $350m deal earlier this year and the Accenture contract signals its intentions not to go down the 'mega-deal' outsourcing route, throwing all its eggs in one supplier's basket.

"It is difficult for any [supplier] organisation to deal with all capabilities," explains Lloyd. "If you take the whole of Barclays business for IT and ops, to find an organisation that could cover the whole of that panoply of events and be the best in its field at all those things would be difficult. I'm not sure there's very many companies out there that could absorb the whole scale and spectrum of a Barclays total outsource in one go. It would be quite folly to consider outsourcing in that way anyway."

On the technical innovation side, Lloyd says business benefits rather than blue sky projects take priority. "We'll try some things out that have some business relevance and if they stick and look good then we can think about productionalising and putting them on the existing infrastructure on the back of some knowledge about how it's used and performance statistics and things."

A lot of that work is currently being done around mobile, wireless and self-service, particularly around the branch-customer relationship, although Lloyd says there are cultural issues in getting people comfortable with online services, while banks sometimes just have to accept that customers want to come in to the branch.

"In many cases the technology isn't the barrier, it's the process and people implication and just our own social behaviours that tend to make the interaction with a service or customer the way it is done," he says.

With new International Accounting Standards along with Sarbanes-Oxley in the US and the imminent Basel II accord in Europe, regulatory and corporate governance is an area dominating Lloyd's time and resources at the moment -- though he confesses it to be a "stunningly boring" topic.

"For us it's largely about data consistency, data storage, data accuracy and data archiving and there are a few operating controls in the way that you report. These aren't terribly interesting subject areas," he says. "I'm not trying to be dismissive or minimalist about it because it is a big issue and it is taking an inordinate amount of time -- I guess about 40 percent of my resources this year have been consumed on design activity around responses to Basel and Sarbanes and IAS compliance."

With Lloyd in charge of the bank's technical strategy, Linux is obviously something he is keeping a close eye on, although not for the desktop, having recently signed the EDS desktop deal for Microsoft Windows and Office 2003 for Barclays' 41,000 users.

"It's not on the desktop in this organisation. I understand the arguments, I understand the availability of it, but it's not in this organisation and I suspect it would be some time before you would see it at scale and I don't think you'd ever see it, certainly not in my perspective, on the desktop," he says. "If you do a fully absorbed cost analysis my perspective is that there isn't that degree of clear water between one equation and the other, not if you've got a well run environment. Believe me, we've done the numbers."

Lloyd clearly takes great pride in the achievements made by him and his IT team at Barclays.

"We've got a very coherent IT strategy in Barclays. The suppliers we deal with understand and recognise what it is we're trying to achieve and we've been very open with them," he says. "We've taken in 3,500 more staff centrally into the IT and operations area, we process volumes that are exponentially higher than they were, and yet our service availability and performance and staff satisfaction in all of that is higher so that has to be an achievement. Keeping there is important."

Most importantly, Lloyd says, is the need to have some fun. "People think working for a bank is dull. It is anything but," he says. "There is [an informal network of peers], with the exception of one or two companies you find it difficult to exchange views with, and it is non-competitive. The only ones that should be really worried about that are the suppliers. We're hugely collegiate really. I sense the industry likes to have fun and we do have a bit of fun and it is an industry that forces you to keep young because it is going through continual change."
 

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