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Managing Under Duress: Q&A With Credit Suisse CIO Karl Landert

Credit Suisse CIO Karl Landert points to a long-standing focus on efficiency and an agile technology organization as major reasons why the firm has fared relatively well during the economic downturn.

WS&T: How has the economic downturn affected technology projects and timelines?

Landert: By and large projects that are on our radar screen as prioritized -- or "platinum" projects, as we name them -- have not been affected. We have gone through the same process we go through every year, which is that the demand and appetite for new things is much higher than we are prepared to fund so we had to make some very tough decisions about postponing some of the projects we wanted to start. But we didn't want to cut or delay projects that were in flight, so they have had not been impacted at all -- unless they were in some areas I mentioned before, where the business is not being continued anymore.

The way we do that is through our portfolio management approach. We have very good transparency about the projects that are in flight, about where we want to set priorities. And by having this level of transparency, we could make the right decisions on what to fund, what not to fund, what not to start.

WS&T: What are some of the projects that currently are in flight?

Landert: One huge program is in the derivatives area, where we built a whole new infrastructure for our derivatives processing, front to back. ... We coped very well with the volume increase and the volatility last year. So we continued with our capacity programs to build out the capacity of our whole infrastructure; we are reengineering some of our cash operations systems, and we have increased funding in our operations areas. These are some of the examples in the investment bank.

In the private bank we are continuing to roll out portals for our advisory process globally so we have a consistent advisory process. We are conducting some consolidation efforts in Europe and reduced a number of systems we have in different jurisdictions and put them in single-hub systems. These are some of the most important projects we continue to fund, and they are basically the enablers of business growth and profitability -- we even think about accelerating some of these projects, but then again you need to divert the funds.

WS&T: Are there projects that you delayed but plan to pick up again?

Landert: Yes. For example, we wanted to finish our HR consolidation project, going onto one HR system for the firm globally. But we needed some funding, so we [delayed] another project in supply management until a later point in time.

WS&T: Has Credit Suisse had to lay off workers?

Landert: Yes, we had some staffing cuts; they were publicly announced in December. But it was in proportion -- around 1,000 people [both permanent employees and contractors] versus where we were in December. But by now we have gone through these cuts and have rebalanced in other areas of the organization and have rehired people. So when I look on average at how many resources we had in the IT organization in 2008 and the forecast I have for 2009, I think we have regained the number of people in the areas where we had to hire people. In some of the finance areas, control-related areas, derivative programs, we have increased our staffing significantly.

WS&T: How do you accomplish the same amount of work with fewer people?

Landert: That doesn't apply to the Credit Suisse IT organization. But it's not about managing the same work -- it's about always managing more work. The book of work is always growing, so you constantly have to work on improving productivity.

WS&T: How do you do that?

Landert: I don't have the silver bullet, but certainly you can do a few things. If you have a contingent work force -- if you do outsourcing, managed services -- you can optimize the output you get for your dollar. You can invest in architecture and start reusing components, which we've done very successfully in some parts of the bank where we introduced service-oriented architecture. We wrapped parts of our existing system, built them out as components and could reuse them as services in our infrastructure. We work on harmonization and the use of tools and new development techniques, such as model-driven development, which has quite a good promise to also develop productivity increases.

And then finally you also do some process streamlining and process harmonization. By becoming better, producing less waste, you again increase productivity. And last but not least, you work on your structure; you start pooling resources, you start offering what we call "horizontal shared services" within IT.

Melanie Rodier has worked as a print and broadcast journalist for over 10 years, covering business and finance, general news, and film trade news. Prior to joining Wall Street & Technology in April 2007, Melanie lived in Paris, where she worked for the International Herald ... View Full Bio

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