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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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IvySchmerken
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IvySchmerken,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 9:12:03 AM
Getting past the "cool factor'
Buzz words like innovation and collaboration are used a lot today to describe IT projects but they still involve the basics - attention to detail, project management, accuracy, clean code, testing, and buyin from the users. As you point out, firms are paying too much attention to what's cool and not enough to execution. Working with mobile apps and tablets to deliver capabilities is definitely cool but firms also spend a lot of time on the user experience or user interface to get it right.  There have been many projects on Wall Street that have flopped due to poor execution or squabbles betwen partners. Just because there is innovation and collaboration, doesn't mean the project will succeed.
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