Reflections: Ching Wei Hong, OCBC Bank

"I believe there is one unshakeable area that the technology group at OCBC will always have to work on, and that is continuing to make sure we add value to the business." -- Ching Wei Hong, head of Group Operations and Technology, OCBC Bank

Q. What has been the biggest lesson learnt or the most memorable experience in 2005?
Moving into this new role in 2005 has provided me with many fresh insights. There are, however, a couple of things that stay with me. The first is that in IT we really need to be doing more to engage with the business, and going further even, to actually manage ourselves from a business perspective. We have to become a strategic partner working with the business teams to deliver the right products and services with the right pricing for our customers. The second insight is the fact that technology remains very expensive, be it license fees, maintenance costs or professional services fees. This is something which is a genuine struggle, particularly when we want to invest in or grow our business.

Ching Wei Hong, OCBC Bank's head of Group Operations & Technology, shares some of the most valuable lessons learnt in 2005

Q. What will be the top security issue of 2006, and why?
Being a bank, security is something we obviously take very seriously. We do this not only for pure financial considerations, but we recognize that our reputation, which is one of our strongest assets, is also at stake. We have to make sure then that we stay at least one step ahead of the bad guys. Looking beyond Singapore, we can see that these bad guys are no longer the amateur script kiddies of yesteryear, but increasingly, organized professional syndicates, cybercriminals so to speak. Therefore, while continuing to strengthen the protection around internal information assets with a typical multi-layered approach, we will also need to pay particular attention to how we further secure our internet facing products and services. The challenge, however, then becomes one of balancing this need for enhanced security, with ensuring that customers are not so inconvenienced that they are reluctant to use the Internet as a viable service channel.

Q. Excluding security, what will be the top 3 technology trends or issues in 2006?
I believe there is one unshakeable area that the technology group at OCBC will always have to work on, and that is continuing to make sure we add value to the business. Starting from the purely business angle, to continue to be successful as a bank we need to be able to differentiate ourselves through a combination of product, service and process innovation. The challenge for us in the technology group is then to make sure that we have the right infrastructure, integration tools and applications in place that can support this differentiation. Simply put, without the right technology you cannot provide the product innovation. However, we need to do this correctly, that is, target our investments wisely to maximize our returns. So from a purely technological perspective, then we will look to invest in those technologies like SOA (service oriented architecture), Web services and business intelligence which will give us the flexibility and agility to support business innovation.

I believe there is one unshakeable area that the technology group at OCBC will always have to work on, and that is continuing to make sure we add value to the business.

The issue of staff retention and development is again one of those which provides a perennial challenge to technology managers. After all, our people are a key asset and we need to keep investing in these people. We have seen the economy pick up these last 18 months or so, and not surprisingly there has also been an upturn in the labor market. Salaries are consequently moving up, and while we need to keep abreast of market rates, there is the recognition that salary alone will not necessarily either hold or attract talented individuals. As an employer, we need to be offering staff exciting and rewarding opportunities, and continue to enhance their skills to meet the challenges we pose them. For those staff working on projects this can be less of an issue as typically we tend to drift towards highlighting and rewarding project based people. The challenge is to not lose sight of those people who are providing the 'lights on' service, that is those who are effectively keeping the bank running day to day, and to make sure that they are also looked after and suitably motivated.

Again, maybe nothing revolutionary in this, but I think we have to be careful not to lose focus on cost management, or the cost of doing business if you like. If we think like a business, we can clearly see that banking is a volume game where our customers continue to demand ever better pricing. This in turn internally translates in a need for unit cost reductions. However, we do need to be smart about how we address this. Firstly, we have to be investing in those areas which give us as a business, the ability to build the capacity to handle the volume. Secondly, we need to be standardizing across our complete architecture and avoid unnecessary duplication. For this, we will use our new architecture blueprints and roadmaps currently under development as our framework. Thirdly we have to build quality into the DNA of our teams thereby improving our process and service levels. Fourthly, we align with key strategic service providers and partners and then leverage off these relationships both in terms of knowledge capital and cost effectiveness. In many ways it is about managing IT as a business and not just as some back-end operation. We get all this working well and the cost savings and unit cost reductions will be there for us, which will of course then translate in to better pricing and services for our customers.

Q. If there is one thing you'd like to see from tech vendors in 2006, what will it be?
A word we often hear from vendors is partnership. Too often we see vendors primarily concerned with how to get the big upfront payment for the initial sale, and then secure the guaranteed annuity from annual maintenance. This makes for unhealthy relationships. Instead vendors need to show that they are prepared to understand our business, the constraints we face and the challenges we need to overcome, and then be prepared to commit with us for the long haul. Vendors must also embrace the concept of quality. If we as an organization are committed to providing a quality service to our customers, then the very least we can expect is for our vendors to demonstrate a similar quality commitment to us. We also need vendors to provide a clear commitment on longer term maintenance and enhancement costs such that it is transparent to us and our business users.