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Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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Pride And Prejudice And Core Systems

The course to a successful core systems modernization effort does not always run smooth. But this may have more to do with culture and communications than with technology.

To paraphrase the opening sentence of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a bank in possession of legacy systems, must be in want of a modern core solution.

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Austen's 1813 novel related the many missteps and misunderstandings on the way to matrimony. The same is, of course, true of banking core systems initiatives. There's universal acknowledgement that banks of all sizes need modern core systems to be competitive and in compliance. However, the road to that ideal state isn't easy and is littered with spurned suitors … er, vendors, embarrassed CIOs, frustrated knowledge workers and most of all dissatisfied customers who take their love … er, business elsewhere.

For all the talk about business cases, technology platforms and pricing, the success or failure of a bank's effort to successfully replace or modernize its core systems often comes down to the essentials of project management. Unfortunately, even the best project management disciplines can be stymied by intangible elements such as culture and communications. There is a still-very-real disconnect between IT (which has to implement the system and get the project done on time and within budget) and the lines of business (which may have romantic and unrealistic expectations about the project and what the new system can deliver). Too often what should be a collaborative and productive partnership degenerates to irritation, finger-pointing and confrontation.

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Frank Wander, a former insurance industry CIO who now heads the IT Excellence Institute, offers an interesting point of view on the complexities of project management. Wander recently published Transforming IT Culture: How to Use Social Intelligence, Human Factors and Collaboration to Create an IT Department That Outperforms, in which he argues that culture and attitudes are the critical factors in the success or failure of IT initiatives.

Effective project management is typically hindered by "the challenges [IT] professionals face when the overarching culture is in conflict with the intense cross-functional collaboration needed to create a true success," he noted in a recent exchange about his book. "IT failure, in my experience, is a failure of management, not IT (in most cases). Our management beliefs and practices are inadequate to the task. ... Success stems from building a highly productive, cross-functional culture, where every area of IT that touches the project, including the business and product areas, share true joint ownership of the outcome. Nothing else works."

Wander's observations underscore the reality that it clearly takes more than a project plan, determination and a budget to achieve a pleasing outcome on a core systems initiative. It requires a true and long-term partnership -- not just with a vendor but also among colleagues. There's no happy ending without it.

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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