NAB and Bankwest face off over Agile

NAB and Bankwest face off over Agile

Summary: National Australia Bank's UBank and direct banking business engagement partner Susan Kidd today debated on the benefits of Agile methodology with Bankwest CIO Andy Weir; Kidd believed Agile was only suitable to be used in some parts of the business while Weir claimed it should be implemented across the board.

TOPICS: Banking

National Australia Bank's UBank and direct banking business engagement partner Susan Kidd today debated on the benefits of Agile methodology with Bankwest CIO Andy Weir; Kidd believed Agile was only suitable to be used in some parts of the business while Weir claimed it should be implemented across the board.

Speaking on a panel at the FST Media Future of Banking and Financial Services forum in Sydney this morning, Kidd said that while the Agile method of accelerating the development of IT projects by partnering IT and business was great for customer-facing aspects of banking, it wouldn't work in all areas.

"It's fair to say Agile isn't the answer to everything. You've got your top layer which is your web; Agile works extremely well there, but I don't think you'll ever get Agile into core banking, hard transaction processing or batch processing," she said. "Well you might, but I won't be around to see it.

"You've got to understand where you can get the benefits from it and its not a be all and end for an entire bank development."

Weir, who has long been a supporter of the methodology, said it was necessary to put Agile in the parts of the business where it didn't fit well in order to drive cultural change.

"It's very easy to apply Agile methodologies to certain components of the IT world, and certainly in the online space is an obvious one, but if you truly want to drive cultural change and drive the whole of IT to the business customer and the delivery of the strategy you do have to push it into those areas where you don't think there is a natural fit," he said. "Because if you don't do that, you're really not going to drive the cultural outcomes that I think are absolutely critical for the modern technology environment."

Bankwest has been on the road to Agile since 2008.

Kidd said Agile was working very well for NAB, but that it was a culture shift for the company.

"It certainly blends that hard line we used to have between our business and our technology," she said.

Standard Chartered Singapore's group head of remote banking Aman Narain, who was also on the panel, said that his organisation was about three months into an Agile project, and echoed the sentiment that it came down to cultural change.

"People are used to having a nice wall where there's business on one side and development on the other and it's quite easy to say 'oh business got it wrong, oh development got it wrong'," he said. "Agile brings a lot more accountability and that's not always easy."

The Twitter effect

Twitter also weighed heavily on the minds of the panellists, with discussion turning to how best to use social media in a banking environment.

Kidd said that UBank viewed itself as an internet company that happened to be a bank, and said that social media was a part of that model.

"[Banking is] actually about having a relationship rather than a transactional engagement. Social media is very important to our strategic future," she said.

Standard Chartered's Narain said there was a danger in banks not having a social media presence, but fellow panellist Peter Dalton, group general manager for innovation at ANZ, said that banks must be realistic about the social aspect of social media.

"We have to take it in balance for what it is. There's a lot of people who will follow Justin Bieber on Twitter, but they're not going to really follow one of the panellists up here quite as enthusiastically," he said.

Topic: Banking


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Agree that Agile is better suited to applications closer to the front. Problem with most existing banking/ERP systems is that they were designed by accountants.
  • I think it a null debate if you change the whole approach - that is move to an environment where human programming is eliminated. I was involved in the construction of a B2B application where not one line of code was cut by human programmers. The whole system (real time, single code base, multi tenanted, designed to scale, etc) was machine generated from a 'engineering design' so all you end up maintaining is a single properties file rather than millions of lines of code - changing the application as a change to the design and a re-generation of the application. It is not just that ERP's were designed by accountants they were also designed to operate in silos when the Internet and the notion of collaborative information exchange did not exist and this is reflected by their architecture - I guess all the banks will be doing is replacing one set of legacy systems with a new set of legacy systems.
  • Bank systems are HUGE and have accounting practices firmly at their core. So, of course, they will be heavily influenced by accountants. Would you want your money managed by systems designed by Twitterati?

    Banks have an awful lot of interacting systems, making integration testing quite onerous. While Agile can be used to do design and up to system testing, the other phases of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) are not so amenable, especially integration testing and release management.

    Banks are going through a lot of systems updating at this time, with many still viable, legacy systems at their core. Many of these are unlikely to see Agile biting at their heels for a while yet.

    Many rapid development methodologies, like Agile and Extreme Programming, seem to have an air of 'winging it', but in fact require a lot more discipline and cooperation (and stress) than the traditional waterfall approach. The trick is really to know what the advantages and limitations of each methodology are and manage the cultural change properly.

    I am not sure whether relying on a methodology to spur cultural change is enough. Ideally, cultural changes should be starting before even thinking of a methodology. Cultural change is a business activity that may use methodologies or technologies to implement it - like any other business activity. Just not use methodologies or technology as an excuse to drive business change.
  • The three questions I see needing to be answered before being able to attempt a successful change are:
    1. What's the vision?
    2. Is it technically feasable?
    3. Will it 'fly' in the organisation?

    Each places more restrictions on its predecessors. What I often see in IT implementation practice is the ignoring or the post-design 'winging it' of 3, leaving systems and applications that fail or inadequately fulfill user needs.

    The rapid development methodologies are meant to mitigate against faultly designs, but perhaps some other processes are needed to prevent faulty ideas from getting out the starting block and eventually to frustrated users.