profile In today's highly dynamic banking world, top-ranking technology tsars tend to change roles or company every few years. But some have more longevity. Long-time AMP chief information officer Lee Barnett fills ZDNet.com.au in on her priorities, seven years after she first won her role.
Lee Barnett (Credit: AMP)
Barnett first joined the finance giant back in 1996 and was appointed CIO in 2002. Four years later in 2006, she received a promotion of sorts, which allowed her to report directly to the chief executive officer. At the time, then-AMP CEO Andrew Mohl said it was a token of how important information technology was to the company.
This importance was the reason that Barnett gave ZDNet.com.au in an interview this week in response to a question on why she continued to toil in the financial services industry. Although the CIO has no immediate plans to leave AMP, she says that if she did leave, as a CIO that sector was the place to be.
"The industry is so critically dependent on and based on their IT and that's ever growing," Barnett says.
Yet AMP is not only dependent on its own IT function, but in some cases even on that of other companies within the industry. The largest project on the CIO's plate at the moment requires Barnett to carry out a technology upgrade in sync with European banking and finance giant BNP Paribas.
AMP's back office is outsourced to BNP for custodian services. "In the middle of our businesses were a set of shared systems. So in re-platforming our business, BNP have been platforming their business," Barnett says.
It's just an operating system. It's not as if it's got any great business benefit.
On AMP's side the project involves implementing new products for the front and middle offices of the AMP Capital Investors investment management business. Barnett is putting in a Charles River system, BlackRock's Aladdin for the fixed interest part of the portfolio, a third smaller trading platform for structured products, StatPro for performance and attribution, and Eagle Pace for warehousing.
"In terms of challenge, that would be my most challenging project," Barnett says, adding that it was the largest project she has ever done. "We've got two companies that are sort of linked that have to keep two very significant projects in sync."
The project is a three-year operation and this is its last year. Barnett expects it to be finished by the beginning of next year.
Although another project AMP is currently involved in is upgrading the front end of its online banking platform, it has no plans of embarking on a big scale project like Commonwealth Bank and National Australia Bank's core banking systems renewal.
"We've got a sort of multi-line business, so banking is one business line, but like most companies in wealth management with our sort of heritage we've also got a mature or legacy book of business," says Barnett. "Those products are quite unique."
The company runs many different businesses, such as managed fund trusts, corporate and retail superannuation, and allocated pension. "Nobody runs all of those products on a single platform," the CIO adds.
The part of the company's IT that is running the banking business, NTBS, is not old in any case, according to Barnett, meaning that its upgrade wasn't the next priority.
Another technology upgrade that Barnett won't be starting soon is a move to Windows 7, which is due out later this year. The CIO hasn't yet started looking at Microsoft's latest opus. "We don't typically stay right at the forefront at keeping up with those sort of upgrades," Barnett says. "I can't really see too much mileage in it. We like to sit back and let people see how it lands. Usually you can learn a lot from what the frontrunners experience."
I think in any sort of vendor or business relationship it is very important that you pick your partners very carefully.
"It's just an operating system. It's not as if it's got any great business benefit," she continued. Even if she had wanted to carry out such an upgrade, this year's funding for projects was going to be much smaller than in past years, according to Barnett.
As the economic crisis sunk in its claws last year, the CIO knew she'd have to pare down cost. She says she tried to keep a 50/50 mix of contract staff to permanent so that she could ramp up or ramp down as the situation required. At the lowest ebb, the number of IT contractors AMP was employing was down by 20 per cent although it has risen again since then.
AMP had also lost some permanent staff in June 2008 as it moved early in response to the economic downturn. Despite some firms beginning their hiring again, Barnett said AMP's doors hadn't yet been flung open. "The main flex for us is contract resource in relation to projects," she says.
Barnett likes to have strong relationships with AMP's contract partners. The finance giant has worked with IT services firm CSC for 16 years and was very cautious before choosing outsourcing buddy Infosys.
This caution has stood AMP in good stead, with other companies such as NAB getting stung by their choice of outsourcing partner, Satyam, which underwent an accounting scandal earlier this year. Satyam hadn't been on AMP's list of preferred vendors, according to Barnett.
"I think in any sort of vendor or business relationship it is very important that you pick your partners very carefully," she says. "We had sort of a very long relationship with Infosys, it hasn't been based on any material contract. We have been quite prudent and quite careful in terms of jumping into that."