NAB's tech boss David Boyle just identified the key problem in big corporate tech plans

Getty/David Hardenberg

Leading Australia’s fourth largest bank’s total technology revamp project, NAB CIO David Boyle pointed out the one problem with big corporates.

Boyle explained while IT is still a relatively young industry, it has had trouble letting go of legacy technology — something which is a big part of the NextGen project he has been leading at the bank.

“We’ve been really good at absorbing new technologies,” he said. “We haven’t always been so good at turning stuff off.”

Speaking at the cloud event at CeBIT in Sydney today, Boyle managed to speak for almost 30 minutes and not use the word cloud or as he calls it, the “c word”, once.

“I don’t want to use that over-marketed and poorly defined word which starts with ‘c’ and ends in ‘loud’ throughout this talk,” he said.

Boyle has been racing to transform his IT department from a cumbersome setup that runs big deployments in one go, to one that is continuously updating, agile and fast. He describes the former as “horse IT” and the latter as “Ferrari IT”.

“That agile development mode is in stark contrast to the horse-speed IT,” he said. “We’re only going to be as fast and as agile as our slowest component.”

Boyle said the aim is to establish an environment where the bank is “always on” and developing quickly.

“The agility that is flowing is taking cycle times from 6 months on the old technologies, on the new operating model with the new technologies down to 6 weeks,” he said.

He explained one of the keys to lifting agility is realising design matters to the customer and technology, with its “fat fingers”, needs to get out of the way.

“Where we’re really getting it right is when these two things are actually working together,” he said, adding that teams are beginning to “think deeply about the deployment models to progressively experiment and do rollout, so you can do fast, fast failure and roll back if the change doesn’t work.”

“You’ve got to have it working from the top to the bottom,” Boyle said.

“What I’m not keen to be doing is uplift previous generations of business applications and plonk them onto infrastructure as a service and expect to get Ferrari IT. What I get is continuous improvement but not agility, and the benefits of agility in our business dramatically outweigh the benefits of cost reduction.”

Giving some tough love to the room, Boyle said too many companies are stuck in the “old world”, addicted to the drug of upfront revenue” and flogging products for the sake of it.

“If you’re still asking for upfront licences, rather than having an ‘as a service’ offering for your software platform than it’s no longer relevant. We’re not going not buy technology that way anymore,” he said.

He said the challenge for the entire IT industry is to simplify and move faster to ensure it stays relevant.

“At NAB we’re finding some teams are really nailing this. Our partnership with Amazon Web Services and with Adobe for our content management spaces are examples where the whole stack is working,” Boyle said.

“It’s insufficient having infrastructure as a service giving you agility at that layer if the whole model is not taking advantage of that and delivering that benefit all the way through.”

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