"It's one thing to get an award from a banking industry body, but quite another to get one from the computer industry," he tells MIS. "It's particularly gratifying.
"It came out of the blue and it's wonderful recognition. What we're doing at the bank is unique not only in Australia but among the world's banking and finance."
Harte collected his gong at an awards dinner hosted in Melbourne by the Australian Computer Society, the Australian Information Industry Association and the Pearcey Foundation in early August.
It was fitting recognition for an executive who has done more than most to raise the CIO profile and challenge the misconception that investment in technology is a necessary evil. He manages an annual operations and technology budget of $2 billion and another $1 billion spent each year on projects such as mobile innovations.
His team of 8000, including 3500 IT staff, serve the bank's 52,000 employees as well as its millions of customers.
ACS president Anthony Wong describes Harte as an "inspirational leader" who has successfully shifted how the CBA views technology from providing a support role to being a key driver of business strategy.
"Michael leads his team to improve customer experience through the use of IT and has set a new benchmark for the Australian banking and ICT industries to aim at," Wong says. "He has delivered the largest technology upgrade in the history of Australian banking.
"Highly regarded by his peers, Michael has clearly demonstrated vision and thought leadership in his work through professional implementation of the latest banking and technology services to meet the changing demands of a new generation of tech savvy consumers."
Wong says it is important to recognise the achievements of leading IT professionals to highlight the ways in which ICT is a significant driver of economic prosperity.
"Lifting the profile of our industry and the perceived value of the technology professional within the Australian business community will also increase the appeal of the sector to potential employees, lifting the remuneration and rewards on offer for these professionals."
When he joined the CBA five years ago as its chief information officer, Harte was given the task of implementing a new IT strategy. He quickly established himself as a vital cog in the bank's efforts to improve customer service levels and by late 2008 he was heading up a newly-formed Enterprise Services division as its group executive.
This was the same year the CBA began a core banking modernisation program, initially booked in with a price tag of $580 million.
The cost of this transformation has increased as an escalating technology war waged between the major retail banks saw greater functionality added.
When announcing its half-year results in February, the CBA informed the market that the program was expected to cost $1.1 billion.
Scheduled for completion in early 2013, there have already been a number of landmark achievements. These have included the largest migration of customer records in Australian banking history – 18 million customers and 53 million records – followed by the migration of 11 million accounts and the introduction of real-time banking.
Work is now under way to migrate business deposit and transaction accounts, with lending accounts next on the to-do list. At some stage beyond 2013, Bankwest will be moved across to the CBA's new core banking platform.
Despite the undoubted scale and ambition of this technology overhaul, it is difficult not to think that Harte must bring something else to the table in order to justify the $4.2 million he earned in the year ended June 2010. (The bank's remuneration report for the latest financial year was not available at the time of writing).
Harte describes fostering a culture of innovation as his most critical objective.
"The most important thing is to build the capabilities of our staff, making them more engaged and aware of the value their work provides for customers," he says.
"It's all very well having platforms and differentiating them for competitive advantage, but it's quite another to improve the abilities of staff and have them deliver services in a way that is sustainably different from the competition."
For other technologists looking to raise their profile, Harte says it is vital to earn recognition as a key player in the strategy process, understand markets and customers, know which investments make sense for the business and to execute projects well.
"It's no longer sufficient to run a reliable and resilient IT infrastructure," he says. "You have to be in the strategy, and in the relationship with the business to ensure customers are getting the services they need.
"You have to be able to do that in an increasingly agile and flexible way."
Harte has carved out a position of thought leadership not just among the technologists in Australian banking but more broadly within the information technology industry, which he attributes partly to a background that has seen him on both sides of the fence.
He cut his business teeth in New Zealand working on strategy and policy for diary giant Fonterra before heading to London and working for Citibank, which saw him travelling the world and gaining exposure to increasingly large projects and investment decisions. That took him to P&C Global Securities, where he built technologies for other banks and financial services companies.
"Being in an organisation where you're building and deploying technologies gives you a real understanding of the value of investments and the requirements of customers," he says.
"Working in an enterprise that consumes technology to make it grow as well as in a company that makes and sells technology gives you a fantastic 360-degree view of how valuable technology can be.
"My relationship with MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Harte undertakes ongoing work in enterprise architecture and leveraging information technology for business value] helps with understanding competitive advantage."
Away from work, Harte is an art lover and architecture nut who loves nothing better than to learn about a new country through these passions when he is travelling. He says Europe has a wonderful blend of old and new but is looking forward to getting off the beaten track in Africa and South America.
He is also a big All Blacks fan and is planning to be in New Zealand for the latter stages of this year's Rugby World Cup. "They're looking pretty strong so let's hope they can get it done this year," he says. MIS Australia
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