September 17, 2009

The career of Comerica EVP and CIO John Beran almost went in a very different direction. In 1974 he was set to leave the University of Dayton (Ohio) with undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering disciplines. "I did not have any intent at all of going into the financial services industry," Beran says. "I was all set to build nuclear submarines and already accepted a position to do so."

Just weeks before graduation, though, Dayton-based Winters National Bank (since acquired by Bank One) contacted the college and expressed an interest in engineering students. The school reached out to Beran, who was intrigued by the opportunity to work in the Dayton area. After meeting with executives at the bank, Beran decided to pass on the nuclear submarines and instead enter the world of financial services.

"[Winters] had just a great, incredible view of what they wanted to do in terms of applying engineering techniques to manage their operations," Beran says, recalling that all his other job prospects were traditional engineering positions. "Here was an opportunity to go into an environment, an organization that didn't have anyone else like me."

Over the ensuing three decades, Beran forged an impressive career path through financial services -- starting in operations research before moving to the IT side of the industry. Since May 1995 Beran has served as EVP and CIO at Comerica ($63.6 billion in total assets), and over the past few years he has transformed the bank's technology operations, leading to stronger IT-business alignment, improved decision making and a more-efficient IT operation.

John Beran, Comerica
In the Beginning

The transformation effort began about two years ago, when Comerica recognized a need to standardize and simplify its IT environment, according to Beran. The transformation work concluded this year.

"Comerica Bank is not a small, community bank that can basically buy everything from the outside, nor [is it] a megabank that has the capability, resources and wherewithal to do a lot of things in-house," relates Beran, who splits his time between the bank's Dallas headquarters and its former headquarters in Detroit. "We had to develop the models and the structures that would work best for us given the environment in which we were operating."

Beran says he first set out to restructure the IT organization's infrastructure to align functions end to end. "Previously we were siloed in that we would engineer servers and then manage servers, we would engineer mainframe products and then we would manage mainframe production, we would engineer network and we would manage network," Beran explains. "We never had an end-to-end view of our technology."

After realigning and gaining a better view of the technology operations, Beran and the IT group significantly changed how they thought about vendor technology and in-house development. For the previous decade, he reports, Comerica had sought to purchase vendor solutions whenever possible. But a changing marketplace and competitive pressures forced a change in thinking. "There are fewer suppliers of technology, and our competition is taking more and more development in-house," Beran says. "We knew we couldn't take it all in-house, yet we knew we couldn't be reliant on vendors."

According to Beran, he found that in order to reduce its reliance on vendor technologies, the bank had to restructure its organization rather than just create a new application development and deployment model. "It frankly was not something I anticipated. I thought it would be more about putting in processes and governance around development and then deployment, which would allow us to do more building than buying, or at least integrate the two a little bit more," Beran admits. "In order to be successful in that, though, we had to make some pretty significant structural changes in our application development and maintenance group [known as the business technology services group] as well."