​Westpac laying the foundation for useful AI

The bank's CIO has revealed the five-platform approach to revamping how Westpac delivers services.

Westpac CIO Dave Curran has revealed his bank's five-platform plan for IT, one that, just like any digital transformation in 2018, places the customer at the centre, followed by platforms for payments, staff, data, and infrastructure.

Speaking at Oracle Cloud World in Sydney on Tuesday, Curran detailed Westpac's approach to simplifying the existing structure it has, setting the scene to allow for artificial intelligence (AI) to take centre stage.

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The first platform is around the customer, with Curran noting that if the customer is going to be the centre of what an organisation does, the first platform must align.

"We're a bank, so we need a payments platform," he added. "We have a very large employee base ... so a platform around our people is also very important; and then a platform around data and a platform around infrastructure to support what we're doing."

According to Curran, the five platforms are integral for allowing everything else to be built on top.

"If you then look at the new technologies coming, clearly cloud is the one of the biggest drivers -- in my mind, the biggest driver for technology change we're seeing is cloud -- everything else sits on top of cloud, analytics, AI, IoT, etc," he explained.

"So cloud enabling a big bank which has a number of datacentres is actually a major challenge particularly when you're a regulated entity like we are."

Revamping the way the bank behaves on a platform level is the easy part, according to the CIO, highlighting instead AI as the biggest challenge.

"People still think of it as a new technology; it's actually not just a new technology, it's a capability that needs to learn," he said.

"It's like hiring a 17-year-old -- a really smart 17-year-old, but a 17-year-old nonetheless -- you're not going to let them loose on day one, you've got to spend a number of years building the skills.

"The big challenge for a business is how do you hire 17-year-olds and give them time to learn, rather than doing what you normally do which is wait until the technology is advanced and then expect to hire someone who has already learned -- you actually have to start that work now."

Curran revealed the bank has around 15 different initiatives where those "17-year-olds" are at work on top of the data.

"They become richer in capability as they learn, but also as we bring more of our platforms online, the services with APIs and other things, those two things coming together I think is where we're going to see a new breakthrough with how we serve our customers ... that doesn't necessarily mean how you sell more to your customers, how you serve them," he continued.

The trouble with finding talent

According to Curran, the next battleground for banks is resourcing, not technology.

"I think the way we develop talent has to change. I think the biggest challenge of the next five years is not how do we leverage cloud ... it is not about how do we leverage big data ... it's actually how do we build the skillsets in our teams when we can't just go to market to get them," he said.

"The concept of IT in the business suggests an ongoing tennis match, new methodologies, new approaches ... the concept that an IT person doesn't understand the business they work in is why that has to end really quickly.

"And similarly, the concept that someone can work in a business and not fundamentally understand the IT that supports their business, again I think is something that won't last as well."

Business and technology skills becoming more blurred breeds the ability to share responsibility outside of just IT. Curran pointed to his own 3,000-plus team as an example of working in an agile way and breaking down such distinctions.

"People are becoming tech-savvy and technology people are becoming business-savvy -- in my mind not fast enough, but I think we are going quickly," he said.

"I'm the CIO of a bank, any downtime the whole Twitterverse goes off, so making sure we have that security and that integrity and resilience becomes paramount, but change is the constant."

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