“No risk also means that innovation takes a backseat”

My WOW moment…

Technology plays a vital role in human lives. It is not only an essential need today at an individual level but also at the social and corporate level. It is difficult to think of any modern enterprise, not integrated using technology and devices. With innovations, such as “Internet of things” started taking shape, more WOW moments shall be created for human kind at venerating pace.

As we know, change is the only constant and banking is no exception to this rule. All over the world, banks have been early adapters of technology to create new servicing and acquisition models for customers and internal efficiencies.

I still recall my involvement and experience in rolling out ‘Total Branch Automation’ project during the period 1989-1994. The launch was done by the then Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh and I had the privilege of explaining the automation project to him. That was really a “WOW’ moment for me. In retrospect, that was the foundation stone for today’s automation, which has progressed to centralised core banking implementation across banks. This transformation has enabled creation of plethora of service channels for anywhere, anytime functionality. To me, this was also a first step to make our country a cynosure of IT world and stimulate country’s economic growth.

The journey to convert branch based automation to core banking implementation has been equally challenging as it required huge confidence and reliance on the connectivity front. This also paved way to use technology as a differentiator and ATM, internet banking (www.icicibank.com), call centre etc. were launched for Indian customers and change is there for everyone to see. The change to centralised working has become the norm for the industry and being enabler of this phenomenal change has really been morale boosting for me.

The unique proposition provided by ICICI Direct through online linkage with the bank and Demat account (www.icicidirect.com) contributed to enhanced convenience and penetration for retail customers. Being a part of this initiative is something I always cherish.

All this was possible due to an open minded approach which ensured IT usage is kept simple, easy & convenient. Early spotting of trend and adapting to them has been a key attribute in the working of IT professionals. This all has helped us in setting trends and benchmark for the entire industry.

With the advent of mobiles, PDA’s and cellular technology, we made ourselves present in entire gamut of mobility through WAP (http://m.icicibank.com), mobile application (iMobile) and later with the launch of other Ipad & Android applications. These solutions are revolutionizing the way we and our customers work. Apart from the mobile options, launch of 24×7 electronic branches, tab banking, cash acceptors, ATM loaded with value added services shall go long way ahead in creating new touch points for seamless, trustworthy and intuitive services for customers.

With 800 million users on Facebook and with a view to be present near the customer even electronically, ICICI Bank launched first of its kind application on Facebook where a customer can access selected banking options through Facebook. Also, ICICI Bank is one of the first banks to be on Twitter. Our handle @ICICIBank_Care signifies our commitment to provide service to the customer.

 

This change is backed up by substantial engineering capabilities to handle growing customer base and transactions volume. Along this path, there was a need to technically integrate Bank of Madura due to a merger announcement.

The integration was completed successfully in a record time and the capabilities developed during this process helped us integrate two more institutions upon their merger with us.

This achievement has special memories in my mind as a complex technical integration of this scale was not tried earlier. This hard work paid off when IBA adjudged us as the “Best Technology Bank of the Year – 2011”. This indeed was a proud moment for me and ICICI Group.

Certainly, every WOW moment is cherished because it addresses a challenge and results in a lot of learning. In every project, there are moments of success and introspection, but the first and immediate result of achieving success is an elated feeling. It is important, however, that experience is used for improving future work, and presented to team for their knowledge and growth.

Specific cases are worth sharing:-

During the formative days of ICICI Bank, I had the task of setting up the general ledger in the core banking application. While, this job would generally be done by the accounting team, my prior experience on the system and accounting education helped me do this easily. The structure created around 18 years back has stood test of time and we continue with the same framework in core banking despite number of mergers, introduction of new products and huge growth. One always feels great if base work done has stood test of time.

In the initial period of ATM rollout, significant challenges were faced in managing the uptime of machines. The device, which was more suitable for western world in terms of quality of currency, electricity, usage patterns had its share of challenges for continuous working. While the average number of notes dispensed in developed world would be in the range of 6-10, we had to deal with 40-50 notes per transaction as the withdrawal amount would generally be Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000. Thus, a single transaction here was five to ten times of a single transaction abroad in terms of load on the mechanical parts. This was causing machines to fail often and moving to higher denomination during that period had its own challenges. We sorted out all these issues along with vendors and one is not required to worry about any of these today. Problem solving mindset was key and experience gained was applied in number of other areas of strategic importance for first mover advantage.

Few of my learning’s are as under: 

  • To strike right balance between efficiency and scalability and ensure hardware is not used as cover up for software deficiencies
  • Developing or acquiring the right technology, deploying it optimally and then leveraging it to the maximum extent is essential to achieve and maintain high efficiency standards while remaining cost effective. Ensure software is used as an infrastructure
  • Delivering sustainable return to various stakeholders is a key objective behind every project. Early adopters of technology do acquire significant competitive advances but if you do not continuously evolve, it can go against you too.

So, apart from everything else that includes alignment, business understanding etc., I feel one of the qualities that a CIO should imbibe is “the risk-taking ability which has direct correlation to how often one is able to create a ‘WOW!’ moment”. Everything safe equals no risk; and no risk also means that innovation takes a backseat”. “Every coin has 2 sides; on one side was to maintain agility and other side was the mission to drive the innovation”. It’s always difficult to manage this paradox. But continued focus and team work can help you achieve the objectives fast.

I end with a very famous saying of Theodore Levitt said “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” We always identify long term objective before undertaking any project.

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