CIO profile: Tony Clasquin of Bankwest

If you think your job is stressful, just consider what Tony Clasquin used to do for a living: a pilot who used to work as an air traffic controller (ATC), he learned early on to manage "this very complicated 3D chessboard".
Written by David Braue, Contributor

profile If you think your job is stressful, just consider what Tony Clasquin used to do for a living: a pilot who used to work as an air traffic controller (ATC), he learned early on to manage "this very complicated 3D chessboard".

Tony Clasquin (Credit: Bankwest)

It was an environment characterised by ever-present stress, juggling of ever-changing priorities, and the need to overcome conflicts to solve problems quickly and effectively — not to mention the ever-present danger of 180-tonne planes at constant risk of collision.

Now, as CIO of fast-expanding financial services provider Bankwest — which was bought by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for $2.1 billion last year and is in the process of being assimilated — Clasquin is no longer pushing tin. However, he's finding that the management skills he picked up in that high-stress environment are proving useful for managing the bank's IT team. One major change since he took the helm at Bankwest, for example, has been his efforts to improve mutual understanding between business and IT staff. Formal tours of business operations have proved to be an eye-opener for heads-down IT workers, reflecting a problem Clasquin had seen before when training young ATCs.

Because they had often no formal pilot training, controllers often conflicted with pilots who would take time to respond to repeated tower calls because they were busy with all manner of in-flight procedures and needed to not be disturbed.

ATCs gained valuable perspective after Clasquin forced them to spend time in the cockpit watching what pilots actually do and how busy they are. A similar realisation hit IT staff once they appreciated just how much employees in Bankwest's various business divisions actually do. Business staff have also been walked through the bank's datacentre operations and briefed on how the IT team works.

"One of my passions is making sure the IT team gets very close to the business," says Clasquin. "People walk away quite impressed, not having realised exactly how big the departments are or how complicated things are. It provides an appreciation that brings the areas close: they realise they can do something together, and get excited about ownership of the company's mission."

Banking on online
That mission has maintained some common characteristics over the years. Pointing out that the top three priorities in banking IT are "security, security and security", Clasquin says the company has made a habit of building its robust infrastructure on open standards rather than the conventional monolithic mainframes of the Big Four banks.

Over the years, there has been a very conscious effort to avoid legacy systems

Tony Clasquin

New applications are typically installed in web-based configurations thanks to "a massive bias towards" online applications and services. For example, a major roll-out of web-based email and collaboration built on IBM's Lotus iNotes is underway, while back-end administrative systems and even Bankwest's teller system are installed as server-side applications with web-based front ends.

"Over the years, there has been a very conscious effort to avoid legacy systems," Clasquin explains. "[Web delivery] provides us a path to the future, and liberates us from traditional business models. If everything is on the web and you've got people using VoIP, you can in the future consider a very nomadic workforce who can log in from home or anywhere."

This strategy means less that Bankwest is dramatically changing its workforce, than that it needs to have an IT environment that lets today's students — who will become tomorrow's business leaders — work the way they're used to.

"Our children are starting to connect with each other as second nature," he explains, "and when they come into a commercial company, all of a sudden it's a very restrictive environment they work in. We need to move with the times and provide them with the same opportunities they're used to.

Liberating ourselves from traditional business models allows us to release really neat functionality to the desktop really quickly, and there are some real smarts in the way collaboration on the web occurs."

It is understandable, then, that Clasquin is contemplating opportunities to streamline the bank's operations using cloud computing. Early evaluations of cloud-based functional solutions, such as human resources and general ledger modules, "seem to be working really, really well," he says.

Although Clasquin's early career meant he's quite comfortable with his head in the clouds, ever-present requirements for security impose limits on which types of applications may be shifted to the cloud. Any system that processes customer data must be kept in-house, but general administrative applications could be shifted to third-party providers — as long as those providers can deliver bank-grade availability.

"The services we provide to our customers are of such a nature that we can't gamble on reliability, so we need to make sure there can be guarantees," he says. "You wouldn't put your critical and sensitive processing in the cloud, but you would put generic computing that doesn't differentiate you as a bank or company."

Clasquin shies away from the term "cloud computing" during everyday strategic discussions: "we do ourselves a disservice in IT mentioning the cloud because it alienates our non-IT colleagues," he explains. "But the underlying guts of it is quite important: it's all about convenience computing and computing on demand, and that is definitely something that we will be looking at."

Leaner, greener, nicer
Even as Clasquin works to capitalise on the value of changing application paradigms, he's also overseeing a hardware consolidation practice that's targeting — "and will exceed" — a 50 per cent reduction in server numbers, power and air conditioning requirements.

Staff are also embarking on a range of grassroots green initiatives, ranging from improved recycling programs to education programs that encourage switching PCs off at night. Such equipment and procedural improvements will not only improve Bankwest's operating efficiencies, but will pave the way for whatever integration is necessary as the CBA acquisition is completed over time.

Despite the hype over its release, Windows 7 isn't anywhere on Bankwest's short-term radar — and, if things continue the way they are now, it may never be. "There is no compelling reason for me to be a fast adopter of any of the Microsoft operating systems," Clasquin explains. "XP is solid, it works, and it does everything we need it to do. We will look at Windows 7 eventually, but it is less relevant if we're genuinely trying to push everything to the browser."

As he continues to steer Bankwest's IT through a major acquisition, Clasquin is continuing to refine his skills as a CIO — and continues to draw on his air-traffic experience for inspiration.

"There's a similarity there," he explains. "With air traffic control, things are continuously in motion and trying to hit each other. It's the same in IT, but with a longer lead time. You can't just walk in and become a useful, insightful CIO; it takes a while before you build up that 3D chessboard in your mind."

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