Santander's IT lesson: simplify and standardise

Once upon a time, the IT integration involved in merging two major banks would have given Computer Weekly something to write about for years.

The integration of Lloyds Bank and TSB was a bit of an epic, as was Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest. There were once even rumours that a big banking acquisition had to be scrapped because due diligence showed the technology integration overshadowed the wider corporate gain.

So the fact that customers of Bradford & Bingley and Abbey National can now go into any branch of the newly-renamed Santander and be treated the same using the same systems demonstrates how far the thinking and the technology of integration has come in the last 10 years.

For Santander, the core principle is one that increasing numbers of multinationals take for their global IT strategy – ruthless standardisation.

The bank’s Partenon platform has been the key to the rapid integration of the companies it snapped up during the 2008 banking crisis – Alliance & Leicester goes live later this year.

HSBC replaced 55 separate banking systems and 41 internet banking systems with a single platform, bringing enormous financial and operational benefits. For other global organisations it might be standardising on SAP or Oracle.

The thinking that underpins all these initiatives is simplification. Nearly every organisation has a legacy of complexity in its IT infrastructure, systems built up and bolted on as new technologies have emerged. The situation is a result of the “next big thing” attitude of the IT industry, where sales were driven by new tech trends more than by customer need. Those days are increasingly behind us.

If the recession has taught us anything it is the need to be able to respond rapidly to change – whether good or bad. Complexity is the enemy of change, and those organisations hampered by inflexible IT have suffered most.

The lessons from Santander should resonate with every IT manager – simplicity and standardisation must be the basis of every IT strategy.