Banking on Glenn

Banking on Glenn

Westpac's Glenn Patrick shares his insights on managing the challenges of a job straddling strategy and operations, in an ultra-competitive sector.

New Zealand's banks are always in the news. There are the regular rantings by customers, grumbles about their Australian ownership, the raft of fees and profit announcements. Nonetheless, banking is a very competitive business - one where information technology plays a huge and differentiating role.

Glenn Patrick is very much aware of all this as general manager, business and technology solutions and services (BTSS) of Westpac.

"The job is more than IT," he explains. "Under BTSS, we have an IT department, operations department, internal operations, procurement and project management. Out of the bank's 6000 staff, we have 1500. We are responsible for the servicing aspects internal to our company, plus some external, and we do a little sales."

Patrick reports to CEO Anne Sherry and is a member of the Sydney-based executive team. He also sits on the leadership team of his Australian equivalent Michael Coomer.

With an office towering above central Wellington, Patrick has come a long way from working as a batching clerk at ANZ Bank in the "gumboot capital" of New Zealand, Taihape, where he grew up.

After leaving seventh-form, Glenn held various positions at the ANZ, where he also learned "the basics of banking".

Next, he ran Trust Bank's data processing centre in Wellington and helped deliver the bank's electronic banking strategy. The Bank of New Zealand followed, where he set up a customer response team and headed its IT department before running the global application development and production support operations of BNZ's parent company, the National Australia Bank.

Since starting his current role in August 2002, Patrick has been involved in technology rollouts such as a new branch platform, called Assist, made up of Unisys banking software and a number of "home grown functions that sit on the top". A new credit card processing engine has also been delivered and the bank has just started a new five-year communication strategy.<p/>Patrick says his role is 60 per cent strategic and 40 per cent operational. He is developing the strategy for the five-year plan, which will undergo an annual refresh.

"Technology has the ability to help us lower the cost of service. As we invest in new technology platforms, we look to improve costs to serve customers better, offer more services," he says.

For instance, unlike its Australian offices, Westpac New Zealand has not deployed voice over IP technology across the enterprise yet, but may as the technology matures. Patrick sees growing mobility, with a single device for voice calls, email and messaging eventually replacing laptops and fixed landlines.

"We look at the deeper technological trends, see how we can apply it and give what the customer wants. As a bank, we want to build a sustainable culture and reputation around delivering superior customer service. IT is the key to help us achieve that mission.

"Error-free processing has to be the mantra of the organisation - remove failure through automation. We are constantly looking to remove these points of failure,"he says.

Value for money

Removing cost is another top role for Patrick, particularly as his department represents a third of the bank's cost base.

We look at every one of our unit costs. Are they still in line with our strategic plan? Do we need to provide the service? Are we working to ensure they are providing the best price and value for money?" he explains.

Westpac, which last September reported annual net profits of $617 million for New Zealand, has outsourced its IT operations to IBM. It is now renegotiating the four year-old 10-year deal to account for higher than expected security costs caused by changing technologies.

The bank's chief information officer Ross Hughson handles the day-to-day negotiations and issues around the deal, working under targets set by Patrick.

Hughson says his boss has passion and focus in setting goals; he sets standards high and is driven in making Westpac succeed.

"He's also a strong advocate for IT at the executive table. He has a good understanding of operating large trans-Tasman operations and understanding that clearly has great benefits in terms of optimisation, says Hughson.

IBM Southern Area manager Geoff Beynon has worked with Patrick for the past few years. "He's hard but fair," he says.

"He gives you time to express your side of the argument. I find him reasonable and approachable and dedicated to doing what's right for his business. He appreciates us coming to him with innovative ideas and he will be quick to tell us whether they have merit or not."

On managing vendors, Patrick warns companies never win by beating up their suppliers. If they don't make a margin, they go out of business, he says.

"Putting them up against the wall doesn't build a long-term relationship. It's about your strategy and objectives with them and asking them to partner to the bank's strategic objectives. They will innovate and come up with new solutions."

The trans-Tasman IBM relationship started before Patrick joined Westpac. Other outsourcing deals include EDS running Westpac's core processing systems and FDI card processing. But despite outsourcing these operations, Patrick says no work goes to India. "Code cutters in Bangalore can wait," he states.

"When you outsource, you have to be clear about why you outsource. Is it to improve your capability, or cover gaps in credibility, or to lower a unit cost? Or are you saying that's no longer a strategic capability and someone in the market can do it better? If you are looking to outsource strategic capability, something that differentiates you in the market, fundamentally, you are looking to outsource your intellectual property. You will probably not keep that point of differentiation in the market for much longer than that point."

However, Westpac recently faced controversy over plans to relocate its mainframe processing to Australia, a plan scuttled at the last minute by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, which said Westpac did not have "robust" proposals on bank operations in the event of a crisis.

The move reportedly cost Westpac $2 million, though Patrick, who is leading the team on the issue as it is a regulatory matter, denies any financial losses, saying the project remains "on hold".

Such a transfer of work to Australia, he says, will bring "synergies" in risk mitigation, cost savings and access to new technology.

On the other hand, New Zealand, he says, may win work from its Australian parent, if it can do it cheaper. Westpac New Zealand has a "sustainable productivity" department that considers such options, but attracting such work is currently hindered by the high Kiwi dollar.

Patrick says if an issue is "significant", say, outsourcing a functionality, the New Zealand executive team would decide. A changing supplier relationship, a new service or something outside the strategic plan would also go to the executive. But if something fell wholly within BTSS, like a purchase of laptops, then only BTSS would deal with it.

BTSS also has a procurement team that manages relationships with suppliers, plus an area focused on risk and com-pliance for projects.

Colour coding

Patrick says the bank looks at its underlying processes so it understands its own objectives and uses external auditors.

Projects are monitored extensively "with proper governance", he continues, to deliver on budget, on time and to quality. The bank labels projects red [stop], amber [needs attention] and green [go], as they progress, aiming to take action once a project moves to amber.

This is the bank's strategy of avoiding failures for business projects with strong technology components. "Project man-agers and project directors should feel they have the ability to call out if they feel their project is not performing. If we take steps early on, most things are reconcilable," he says.

However, as the market changes, sometimes it is not appropriate to continue a project or it may have to be scaled back, or proceed differently.

"Everyone of our projects has a steering committee and owner's advisory group. We are constantly reviewing the performance of our projects against a milestone of objectives. The reporting comes up to me and I see reports on all our projects. I have the ability to drill into any project and ask questions. If I did not ask these questions, I would be failing," he says.

Patrick claims the bank has no projects on red, but has five on amber. He adds if all projects are reported to be green, this is probably not the case. Thus, he says, you always have to ask the questions and make the decisions.

Patrick stresses the operational needs of delivering service to the internal and external customers of the bank.

"It's about being very clear as to what you want to achieve, constantly testing the plan back on your own people. You have customers making sure you are getting the right outcome. You set plans in concrete but you go through change as sometimes change is outside your control," he says.

As part of Patrick's operational accountability, his role includes troubleshooting, a role he has performed. But he definitely is one strong case study for work/life balance.

"There's nothing that keeps me awake at night. Not right now," he says.

"When not at work, I spend time with my family. I am an avid sports fan. I play golf, rugby and cycle."

Rate your challenges

When interviewing business executives, MIS asks them to rate the most challenging elements of their job.

Here, Glenn Patrick, general manager, business and technology solutions and services, Westpac, gives his rating:

Most challenging

Strategy and planning

Getting support of board and CEO

Getting support of other company stakeholders (including users)

Finding and motivating the right staff

keeping projects on time and on budget

Selecting vendors

Managing emergencies

Managing vendors

Least challenging

" believe IT as an enabler of an organisation's strategic outcomes. Therefore, IT must be involved in the formulation of strategy, understanding what it means, the outcomes to be achieved and planning to deliver the outcomes,"

says Patrick in explaining his topmost challenge.

"Inmost organisations, you will find the strategies across a market do not vary greatly, but what does is how the strategy is delivered.

If the alignment between the delivery arm and the strategic development arm is missing, there is a high degree of likelihood that the wrong results will be delivered leading to non-realisation of benefits."

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