Cultural focus helped shape Westpac NZ's digital transformation

In the space of 18 months, Westpac New Zealand had more than upped its development game thanks to a cultural shift within the organisation.

Less than two years ago, Westpac New Zealand was operating on a waterfall model. With slow release cycles, about five major releases each year, lots of handovers, and a low level of customer engagement, the bank often ran the risk that new releases would be useless by the time they finally reached the hands of customers.

Westpac NZ realised things needed to change as that practice was far from what its employees, customers, and shareholders were expecting.

In April 2015, change came in the form of Dawie Olivier, who took on the role of CIO after leading the Technology Build group at the Standard Bank in South Africa.

Speaking with ZDNet, Richard Jarrett, head of Infrastructure and Operations at Westpac NZ, explained that Olivier took the organisation on a cultural transformation.

"To transform the business and find better and new ways of doing things it's better that change comes from the ground up, rather than from the top down," Jarrett said. "We asked one simple question of the people in the technology shop and that was: 'What would a great day at work feel like?'"

Westpac NZ formed a culture group that staff had to pass a cultural assessment to participate in, and worked on themes that were then brought up by the staff.

One major theme the cultural group focused on was how the bank could form a technology organisation and not have so many handoffs.

Of key importance, Jarrett said, was how the bank could advance from five release cycles a year to a far more frequent release cycle.

"Five release cycles a year caused a large number of incidents after they were put in because it was just a huge ball of complexity," he said, adding that Westpac NZ is now in a position to release weekly or fortnightly out of most of its teams.

"Particularly in our digital customer self-serve centre we're accelerating our ability to release far more frequently than five times a year, that's for sure."

With more customers touching the bank via mobile devices than ever before, Jarrett said making a customer's interaction online seamless and easy was a critical priority.

Looking back, Jarrett explained the importance of separating organisational strategy from the intended method of operation and said it is best to avoid lining an organisation up behind internal layers.

"At the end of the day, customers just want to give or receive money to or from their bank account, they want to protect and enhance their wealth, they want to protect what they've worked hard in life to create," he said. "We're looking at lining ourselves up under: 'What is most important to customers is what is most important internally' -- and that's helping the transformation in the way we think."

With the cultural journey laying the foundations for accelerating the bank's digital transformation, it decided it needed visibility across its applications to determine the weak points.

Working with New Zealand telecommunications provider Spark, Westpac NZ was introduced to application performance management software company Dynatrace.

Before Dynatrace, the bank's ability to look into the root cause of technology incidents was limited to people manually looking through different applications and infrastructure systems to find abnormalities, Jarrett explained.

"We were flying in the dark somewhat on our incident management process," he said.

"So rather than waiting for social media to spark up or waiting for one of our frontline employees at the service desk to say something's wrong with an application, I wanted the ability to see in real time what the performance was, so when it starts to degrade we have alerts set up that we can get in and have it remediated long before it becomes a bigger issue."

Last week, Westpac NZ experienced a major incident on its mobile platform. Although it didn't last long, it impacted customers quite significantly.

"By having the monitoring tool in place we could very quickly see what the impact was so everyone [internally] was very clear on what was going on from a customer point of view and we could see immediately that our actions were having a positive impact on restoring usage," Jarrett said. "That's powerful in itself."

Although Westpac NZ is in a far better place than it was 18 months ago from both a cultural and technological standpoint, Jarrett said there is still a lot the bank wants to learn and do.

"People are loving it in technology because they feel like they have a direct link to the external customer experience," he said.

"We've still got a way to go before the technology and the business fuse together, because I don't believe in the future there should be a separate business and a separate technology division -- we should be lined up.

"We share cross functional things focused on nothing but growing the net promoter score, retaining customers, and growing their wealth. That's all that matters, the rest is consequential from that."