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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: Can you explain "horizontal shared services"?

Landert: Our infrastructure group is not aligned to the client division but is a shared service that is being offered to all application development groups. If you look at quality assurance -- or, as I prefer, "validation and verification" -- you can start building a service inside your organization that is being offered to the development groups. So you pool these capabilities together into one service organization, which becomes more professional -- you've got more flexibility and agility because you can rebalance people much more easily than if they are in their silos, and you can drive automation as well this way much better than you would if everybody and every group was reinventing the wheel.

WS&T: What technology or technologies can help Credit Suisse emerge from the current down business cycle?

Landert: One of the most-used buzzwords right now is "cloud computing." What we are certainly looking at at Credit Suisse -- based on a concept we developed a couple of years ago -- is having technology, process, organization and structure together and offering what we call "application platforms" to our development groups so they don't have to deal with the underlying technology with setting up processes. This increases our productivity significantly. You can bring it to the next level: You can build an internal cloud for your own development groups that provides the environment in a kind of self-service mode. So we are investigating these kinds of concepts, which are an evolution of what we did in the past.

Coupled with virtualization, these are the things that we look at as the most promising in terms of delivering some value. But it's not only a technology game: You need a line between structure, processes, technology. And processes need the development phase, the promotion into production phases and all that, so you want to standardize on that as well.

WS&T: Were those things you had already been doing before the financial crisis hit?

Landert: The strategy has not been influenced [by the crisis]. The strategy is a forward-looking plan you have for the next couple of years, and it should weather a crisis. The things we have in place have not been influenced by the crisis; maybe we had to tweak a few things, which you always have to do. But it's been a long-term strategy, and we continue to follow the strategy.

WS&T: So were you well prepared for the crisis?

Landert: I don't think anyone was able to foresee what has happened. But I think we were able to react well to it. With the way Credit Suisse has fared through the crisis right now, the impact was not as brutal and severe as it was with some of our competitors.

WS&T: When the economy and the industry emerge from the crisis, what are some of the changes in terms of the technology organization that will remain?

Landert: The crisis also has an element of opportunity. And some of the things we are doing right now are building up our capabilities for transformation by increasing our bench strengths, by adding new capabilities to our team, by developing some structural concepts around the organization that we couldn't have done if the business was booming. So it gave us some breathing space to also catch up. We will get out of the crisis with a stronger team.

What will certainly stay is a team that works together. I hope that the discipline and the governance we implement during this type of crisis will stay. It's always difficult to have discipline when you're making tons of money -- people tend to forget all the professional things you have to introduce. But this was the opportunity to introduce some more rigor in what we're doing. We will be more standardized, more harmonized than before. We will be reusing more of the technologies and capabilities we have within the different business and IT units that are reporting to me. That will make us an even better place to work, and the IT division will be even stronger.

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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