Scrimshaw foreshadows CBA network

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) is considering implementing a virtual private network encompassing up to 100,000 devices nationwide, according to the bank's top information technology executive.

The head of technology, operations and property, Russell Scrimshaw, said the CBA was engaged in preliminary scoping work for a total re-engineering of its telecommunications network, which would allow the bank to "fully exploit deregulation of telecommunications and use some of the newer technologies available to advantage".

At present the CBA operates a hybrid network structure, with Optus, Telstra and Vodafone each involved in areas of supply. Scrimshaw said the CBA's existing networks "didn't cut it" in terms of delivering leading-edge performance.

The CBA's information technology operations were -- as was the case with all such operations within large enterprises -- coming under intense pressure from the business units, which were under serious competitive pressure to deliver new products to the marketplace as quickly as possible.

Scrimshaw said that whilst the CBA had made no decisions yet on crucial issues such as what technologies would be employed or how many suppliers would be involved, he personally favoured the option of a virtual private network. He declined to be specific about a target date for completion of the network, other than to state that it was "well within" the CBA's five-year strategic planning horizon. He stipulated that one supplier -- possibly EDS -- would coordinate the project. The bank has outsourced its information technology operations, desktop, communications and application development functions to EDS in a 10-year, $5 billion deal He said the project would encompass extension of the CBA's frame relay over asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) backbone to the desktop and local area network (LAN), as well as enhanced exploitation of Internet Protocol (IP) technologies. The network could potentially extend across 28,000 desktops as well as mobile telephones and distribution channels such as automatic teller and Eftpos machines.

Scrimshaw also revealed that the CBA was piloting a knowledge management solution -- developed by information technology outsourcing partner EDS -- across less than 100 staff in the group technology and the banking and financial services areas. The pilot is, according to Scrimshaw, a possible prelude to enterprise-wide deployment. The product "keeps people in a community of interest, which allows them to exchange knowledge", he said. The trial, "in its early days, was open-ended as it was encompassing fairly new ground".

Scrimshaw told guests at an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) breakfast meeting in Sydney last week that a plethora of vendors were dictating today's enterprise-level information technology future -- a far cry from the mid-1980s, when IBM generated more than 50 per cent of revenues for the information technology industry. This, Scrimshaw said, was now down to 14 per cent and continuing to decline.

He said there was a range of technologies available now, including IP and Java, on which large enterprises would base their information systems if they had the option of "starting again".

The technology head noted that more than 80 per cent of CBA transactions were now undertaken online, through mechanisms such as Eftpos, automatic teller machines, interactive voice response systems, Internet banking and bill-payment over the phone. Commonwealth Securities transactions regularly constituted well over 5 per cent of trades on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) online.

However, despite the demands of the increasingly competitive liberalised banking environment, some of the CBA's systems remain, if anything, an impediment to smooth operations. Scrimshaw notes that across one system, data has to be rekeyed eight times across different platforms.

He also foreshadowed the end of "Big Bang" implementations at the CBA. "We won't see large projects in the way we've seen them in the past," he said. Rather, "chunking" -- or delivering projects in bite-sized pieces -- would become much more important.

Speaking generally, Scrimshaw said that if business units were not able to understand technology and engage in the right sorts of conversations with the technology groups, then they were not able to get the right results.

He said information technology was no longer a cost saving or productivity enhancement function -- it was intrinsically linked to the direction and success of companies.

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