Consultative IT: Reaching Beyond Technology

Stacy Cox, SVP & COO, Croghan Colonial Bank
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Stacy Cox, SVP & COO, Croghan Colonial Bank

The increasing need to manage big data is driving executive IT leaders to the forefront of bank leadership. This is a tremendous opportunity for IT leaders to contribute to and lead strategic initiatives for their organizations.

"The consultative IT leader will be the change agent that will initiate conversations with business line executives to raise awareness of the pattern and determine the bank’s next steps"

Bank-Wide Insight

It is common for IT departments in banks to support customer products across all business lines from within one centralized team. This is a traditional model, which is followed industry wide, for the efficiencies and cross training capabilities it provides. There is, however, another benefit that is often overlooked with this support structure: A centralized support structure provides IT leaders with a unique opportunity to build relationships with business leaders across the entire organization. In many cases, those relationships outnumber the relationships maintained by their peers in more specific parts of the bank. For example, a trust executive may not interact with the retail banking executive on a regular basis. However, both the trust executive and the retail executive, as well as all of their peers, work with the IT executive and their team for strategic planning and daily support. This gives the IT executive and their team insight into the business practices and strategic plans of literally all divisions of the bank. When this benefit is leveraged, it becomes a valuable competitive advantage for the organization.

The expansive insight into all business lines throughout the bank can provide opportunities to contribute well beyond the traditional IT support model. In recent years, savvy IT leaders have been able to use this global bank knowledge to contribute to product development and process initiatives across the organization. Partnering with business line leaders and bridging the gap between business jargon and IT jargon have been heralded as some of the best qualities of dynamic IT leaders.

The value of the CIO role has increased over time as successful IT leaders have contributed to their banks in this manner. The next challenge that is upon our IT leaders is to move into truly consultative roles. To position themselves as not only supporting all areas of the bank and bridging communication gaps, but also beginning to initiate product development and process changes before others see the need.

External and Internal Customers Need IT Leadership

The need for proactive IT leadership is present with both external customers who use bank products and internal customers such as business line managers who rely upon IT teams for daily support. IT teams supporting external customers often provide passive service, fulfilling requests and answering questions as they are received. Helpdesk metrics and performance reports often focus on calls per agent and fulfillment times. At the same time, many centralized IT Helpdesks become the face of the bank for IT centric customers who seldom visit a branch or even connect by phone to a call center. Often, these centers gather and become aware of customer behaviors and preferences long before the respective business line managers. While studying customer behavior is becoming more common, there is still a unique insight that only occurs with people who are part of the centralized IT customer support team.

Likewise, IT teams supporting internal customers may fall into the same pattern of passive support. It is easy for divisions within the same organization to lose their competitive edge and become merely order takers for other leaders who are setting the tone for the company. IT leaders who permit this approach are missing an opportunity to challenge their teams and their business partners to make the bank stronger and more agile. As with external customers signaling industry needs, the daily support of internal customers provides a wealth of information about needs and opportunities within the organization. Valuable information can be compiled regarding topics such as associate performance management and procedural delays which impede service delivery to customers. In many cases, these patterns are only identified in centralized settings where teams support business partners throughout the bank. Active leadership in a centralized IT setting will interpret and act upon these patterns, then share that valuable data with key stakeholders in the organization to drive change. These changes can provide improved performance and responsiveness to customers. Leading this type of collaboration in the bank can produce transformational processes that result in increased efficiencies, reduced costs and enhanced customer experiences.

The Consultative IT Leader

Adept IT leaders will actively gather insights regarding external and internal customers’ behaviors and industry trends, as well as the technological options to support these insights. These insights help to determine the extent to which external and internal customers are responding favorably to the banks products and services. But, it shouldn’t stop there. Consultative IT leaders will ask the next questions about what the response patterns mean: What drives the customers’ responses? Are there service gaps between customer expectations and the products being delivered? What does the industry offer that the bank can acquire to fill those gaps? What is the competition offering and how are they responding to customer demands? Then, the consultative IT leader will be the change agent that will initiate conversations with business line executives to raise awareness of the pattern and determine the bank’s next steps. The value of this engagement becomes clear to the organization in that setting: Both the business line executive and the bank benefit from the collaboration and initiative of a consultative IT business partner.

The benefit of a consultative IT leader is particularly valuable in today’s environment where increasing competition and continual pressure for profitability can be high. The budgets for product managers and process designers can be challenged at times. When budgets tighten, these positions can be reduced, left unfilled or the responsibilities assigned to business line managers closest to the products. As staff members and managers juggle increasing responsibilities and goals, critical steps in product development or support can be overlooked or go unaddressed, causing service impacts and delays.

IT leaders have a priceless opportunity to initiate contact with their business partners to share the customer behaviors they see in their centralized teams. At the same time, information regarding industry trends and available technology products can be shared. Together, this information can be a powerfully proactive message to a busy business partner who may otherwise be unaware of either the customer trends or the opportunity to address them. The proactive delivery of this valuable message builds respect and partnership between the business line executives and the executive leadership in IT. This respect and partnership can be transformational to the role of the IT leader, their relationship with business partners and most importantly, to the organization as a whole.

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