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Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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The Execution Challenge

It's one thing for banks to encourage innovation and transformation, and it's quite another to execute successfully on these strategies.

As the banking industry debates an array of very compelling and hot topics -- including digital, innovation, omnichannel, agility, and collaboration -- there seems to be less discussion of another word that maybe lacks the same cool factor but is essential to realizing the potential of the other concepts: execution. It's the classic "talk the talk, walk the walk" challenge. Of course, it's critical for a company's leaders to identify and commit to a growth-driving strategy, whether it's a big data initiative, expanding mobile offerings, or replacing a legacy system. Making an effective business case for the necessary investments to support these kinds of initiatives is important, too, as is communicating and educating internally about the value of the effort.

But how many high-priority, high-visibility projects fizzle out or fail due to poor or even just OK execution? How many times does something look great on paper (or a tablet), with widespread buyin and market support, but it just doesn't happen? Execution is the hard process of making something work, and all the vision and passion in the world won't matter if a team can't deliver meaningful results.

I doubt any IT or business leader needs to be persuaded on this. I've recently had my own refresher course on the importance of execution, having been part of the launch of the completely new Bank Systems & Technology website and online community. I had the opportunity to work closely with colleagues in IT and development, and I came away from the successful initiative with a renewed appreciation for all the details, nitty-gritty, and process that go into a project like this. It involved not only technical expertise but also leadership, communication ability, patience, flexibility, and enthusiasm.

In banking, as in a media or any other business, any IT-driven initiative -- including a core systems replacement or a shift to a cloud platform (the focus of the two main features in the most recent digital issue of BS&T) -- is under tremendous internal and often external scrutiny. The longstanding "on time and within budget" benchmark is only a starting point. And with a growing number of technology projects being led by business units, as opposed to IT, execution has become even more complex. According to a recent CEB Research study, "Harnessing Business-Led IT" (registration required), business executives spend an additional 40 cents on technology for every $1 managed in the traditional corporate IT budget, and "more than 70% of executives are now willing to run their own technology projects."

CEB Research advises: "All leaders in the corporate center must review their governance policies to reduce friction and better balance risk, cost, and benefit." That seems like an understatement. It's relatively easy to talk about collaboration and innovation, but not so easy to execute and deliver. It may not be the cool thing, but it's definitely the essential thing.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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Byurcan
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Byurcan,
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9/2/2014 | 2:35:25 PM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
But if someone did reinvent the wheel, they'd probably make trillions of dollars.
Becca L
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Becca L,
User Rank: Author
8/31/2014 | 3:42:05 PM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
I hear about these hires fairly frequently, but perhaps youre right that the number is disporporte to all the talk about hiring from other industries. I agree it's likely we'll be seeing much more of this in the coming years as buzz words like Big Data and BYOD continue to grow across industries.
Becca L
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Becca L,
User Rank: Author
8/31/2014 | 3:26:11 PM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
Good point, Bryan. It's all very eexciting when a company is the first to execute in new areas, especially if they are sucessful, but being a fast follower and not reinventing the wheel has great advantages..
Jonathan_Camhi
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Jonathan_Camhi,
User Rank: Author
8/8/2014 | 2:38:30 PM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
I hear all the time from banks that they're examining lessons learned and examples from other industries, but in terms of hiring high-level executives from those places, there aren't a whole lot of examples yet. Probably something that we will see more of in the next few years.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 2:30:42 PM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
That's a good point, too. I'm thinking of the recent announcement from Delta Dental, which just hired a former Marriott exec to lead their brand marketing strategy. Maybe some outside thinking is what the industry needs. 
KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 1:50:46 PM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
In a way it's probably good if FIs need to look outside the industry for inspiration, best practices, etc., when it comes to innovation (or more accurately, innovating effectively). After all, there is going to be more competition coming from non-traditional sources. Why not look to those not hampered by "that's how we've always done it" thinking?
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 1:46:13 PM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
This seems like a problem that occurs in every business that looks to innovate, but it's true that the stakes are higher in financial services and it's harder to make changes. It also doesn't help that since FS is behind other industries when it comes to innovation, there are fewer companies to serve as models or inspiration for execution strategy. 
KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 10:35:39 AM
No excuses
Yes, good point Bryan. Of course, that also can be used as an excuse NOT to invest in new technologies and capabilities, and that's not good, either. Again, that's why I think execution is so important.
Byurcan
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Byurcan,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 10:27:13 AM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
That is true, it's why I've heard many institutions say they would reather be a "fast follower" than an innovator, as often it's more prudent to let someone else spend the time and money to figure out what works and doesnt work.
KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 9:58:54 AM
Re: Getting past the "cool factor'
I don't think this problem is unique to financial services firms, but certainly the stakes are extremely high for FIs that jump on the bandwagon of the latest hot trend without having a strong business case or effective execution, metrics, deliverables, etc. It's also not a new problem -- how many FIs back in the late 90s had internet "skunk works" and other high-profile internet-related projects only to let them fizzle when the dot.com crash occurred? It's not enough to say, "our competition is doing this, we have to, too,"
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