RBS fiasco is a wake-up call to boardrooms of the importance of IT professionals

“Financial services can be thought of as a technology business with a financial domain of expertise.”

That quote came from the CIO at investment banking giant JPMorgan Chase, and it’s one that senior executives at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) would do well to pin on their walls.

After days of conspiracy theories about the software failure that has caused such huge reputational damage to RBS and its NatWest subsidiary, it’s becoming clearer what seems to have happened.

Speculative fingers are starting to point at the bank’s CA7 mainframe batch processing software from CA Technologies, suggesting that what should have been a routine maintenance patch caused a wholesale collapse of an overnight batch run, leaving hundreds of thousands of financial transactions un- reconciled.

The massively complex, massively interconnected nature of banking software systems meant the knock-on effects of rolling back to the previous state and re-applying all those transactions is taking days and days and huge amounts of customer discontent.
It’s not due to offshore outsourcing, or even to non-offshore outsourcing. The biggest failure seems to have come either in testing or through poor contingency planning for how to deal with such a problem.

But it’s difficult to get away from the fact that RBS has laid off thousands of IT professionals in the last few years, and almost impossible to think that wouldn’t have had repercussions.
The RBS problems should be a wake-up call to the boardroom of every major bank, telling them that their operation is entirely dependent on IT and in particular on the IT resources they have to run their systems.

There can be no mistaking the fact that the RBS fiasco shows the company that it cannot scrimp on IT expertise and resources, and those skilled IT professionals are central to its business.

The post mortem on RBS/NatWest will no doubt highlight the importance of testing, of business continuity planning and contingency management. But its biggest lesson should be that IT professionals are now the core of every major organisation, and that boardrooms everywhere need to recognise them as such if they are to avoid the sort of disaster that has hit RBS.

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