Commonwealth Bank of Australia's (CBA) executive general manager of core banking Dave Curran said that the bank didn't issue a request for proposal (RFP) when it looked for vendors for its core banking modernisation because it didn't want another version of what it already had.
"Most people believe that what they want is what they need," Curran said at the SAP Australian User Group Summit last week. "That's typically why most projects look like shiny new versions of what they used to have."
He said that steering committees might set the vision, but that in the end it's the technical and business analysts who write RFPs that ask for another version of the current systems.
That was fine in most cases, but when wanting to do a complete transformation, it wasn't good enough, according to Curran.
"If you want to transform what you do, you actually have to push the boundaries of what you want," he said.
Yet if you let people sell you a system, it'll be what they want to sell and not what you need, he said.
The Commonwealth Bank is now over halfway through a core banking modernisation, which involves taking out the bank's ageing central systems and revamping its user interfaces.
What the bank did in the end was to give vendors scenario-based assessment. "We actually asked those looking to bid on those solutions to prove their capabilities in scenarios."
The bank didn't tell them what the answer was supposed to look like, instead seeing what the vendors came up with.
"People came back with answers which were not the answers we would have given. That forced us to think about things differently," he said.
A willing marriage
Another thing the CBA did was to let the vendor it chose decide which integrator it wanted to work with.
Normally, companies like to pick and choose which vendors they think will be the best and tell them to work together, Curran said. This forced marriage wasn't, however, ideal in Curran's view.
"Every time you have a problem, they all start pointing at each other," he said. "They actually forget what it's all about, which is actually your transformation program."
If you let people come to the table together, this problem disappears, he said.
It's been four years since starting the process, but not once have the selected vendors started pointing at each other when faced with a problem, he said.
"Every time you can see that body language start to head that way, I remind them that they came together," he said.
SAP and Accenture are working together on CBA's transformation.
One of the largest challenges of the transformation has been gaining and retaining workers, according to Curran.
He's started up an academy to train people in SAP skills to make sure that he can sustain the numbers needed for the project.
"Skills are thin on the ground," he said. "Once you've got them, everyone else wants them."
He then pleaded with the audience to stop poaching his team.
The bank has had four major software launches and is in the middle of the fifth. It's transferred the data of 18 million customers to the new systems, as well as 1.1 million term deposit accounts. It's about to move 10 million deposit and transaction customers.