Rarely has the financial industry faced as many challenges at once as it is battling today. As shell-shocked banks continue to crawl out of the financial crisis into a very different-looking landscape, they are bracing themselves for stringent new regulations that are certain to impact the way they communicate, the way they do business and, as they develop and update applications to comply with new legislation, their entire IT organizations. At the same time, banks are trying to get a grip on ever-soaring data volumes and increasingly tech-savvy and demanding clients.
As the new CIO of BNY Mellon - which has a $1 billion IT budget and a global team of 7,000 IT employees - John Fiore is used to dealing with the daily complexities involved in running a huge financial organization. Yet Fiore's motto for both managers and employees is refreshingly simple: "Just do the right thing" - do what's right for the organization, he explains.
"It entails using a heavy dose of common sense," Fiore notes. "Don't try to engineer something; just do what you think is right for the organization. Sometimes we try to overthink things as opposed to acting on what you feel is the right thing to do. But facts typically support the thing that feels like the right thing to do."
Never Stop Communicating
Communication is an equally vital part of successfully navigating an organization through good and bad times, adds Fiore, who was promoted early in 2010 to CIO when his boss, Kurt Woetzel, was promoted to head of global operations and technology. "There is no way to overcommunicate, especially with an organization as large and complex as ours," Fiore insists. "You're better off communicating more and having people say, 'I didn't really need to know that,' rather than have people not know something."
This was particularly important during BNY Mellon's integration, a huge two-and-a-half-year endeavor that was completed only recently, and which Fiore says was so successful that Harvard published a business study on the merger. Within one month of announcing the Bank of New York-Mellon Financial merger, IT was able to propose to the businesses what platforms it should ultimately use, Fiore recalls. "And the vast majority of what we suggested is what we have in place today," he relates. "Coming up with that initial recommendation gave everyone something to rally around. It gave the entire organization a way to get off to a fast start."
As if the challenges of managing the integration while extremely high transaction volumes flowed through its systems day in and day out were not enough, BNY Mellon pursued the integration work throughout the economic downturn. This posed its own significant challenges, Fiore admits, including having a number of employees lose their jobs. But here, too, Fiore suggests, communication and "doing the right thing" played a critical role in seeing people and the company through the tough times.
"We were very open about [the status of the integration], what was going on," he asserts. "Anytime you do something like that, there are some jobs that are affected on both the business and technology sides. We showed people tremendous amounts of respect, giving them a lot of notice if their jobs were going to be affected. There was a tremendous amount of attention to the human side of the process."
Today, BNY Mellon is looking at collaboration technologies to improve internal communications further, including blogs and an internal Facebook-type tool, according to Fiore. "We are constantly thinking: How do we elevate our communications ability enough to capitalize on things out there? How do you know you can't reuse something or use the knowledge or experience gained somewhere else?"
Leading Through Innovation
In the meantime, Fiore's IT department remains focused on innovation, he says, providing thought leadership on new products and services, ensuring faster time to market, improving the user experience, and providing more support to research and development efforts. As part of its innovation focus, according to Fiore, BNY Mellon recently launched an "IT Transformation" initiative.
"It's about becoming better at what we do, how we do it and the cost of what we do," he explains. "We're looking at more financial transparency in terms of our costs [and] how they're consumed by lines of business. We're giving the business more information about whether they want to decommission something or not."
Simplification is definitely a priority, Fiore adds. "We're looking at how we can drive a higher level of standardization in terms of middleware and hardware," he relates. "And we're trying to simplify some of the technologies, with a limited number of exceptions as to why you wouldn't use a standard. We're not talking about major reengineering and retrofitting - it's more like drawing a line in the sand in terms of going forward."
Meanwhile, BNY Mellon is intent on focusing on IT as a business and looking at how technology can enable the business side to provide more innovative products and services. "We're looking at what business applications we need and what our business architecture looks like that will allow us to run the business of IT better. It's about managing resources and portfolios and capturing usage so there's more transparency on reporting, and understanding what infrastructure supports what applications," Fiore says.
"We have a lot of folks who know the business pretty well, and applications as well," he continues. "But how could they be used in a different way? We're challenging them to think that way and to have interaction with the business. We're trying to change the mind-set and to provide more thought leadership."
And ultimately, to do the right thing.