Q&A with Paul Cobban, Managing Director, COO, Technology and Operations, DBS Bank

In advance of Forrester's Summit for CIOs in Singapore on August 30, I had an opportunity to speak with Paul Cobban about his successful transformations at DBS Bank over the past few years. Based in Singapore, Paul oversees business transformation, operational excellence, customer experience, IT project office, procurement, real eastate, operational risk and business continuity management.  I've had a sneak peak at his event presentation and it is excellent.  Paul is a progressive CIO at the forefront of BT innovation and business engagement with a lot of valuable insight to share. 

1. What do you think IT departments are doing right and wrong these days?

In banking the IT departments have had to change enormously in recent years.  On top of the usual relentless advances in technology, security challenges have escalated, the war for talent has accelerated and regulation continues to evolve with the challenges. I believe that IT departments have had to adapt well to these changes. 

However, in most companies there is a lack of a truly customer centric design. Although there is some hype in the industry around service-oriented architecture (SOA), I believe that until budgets are allocated around customer processes rather than by functional units, systems will continue to be designed as applications for the department users rather than with the customer in mind. In addition, most companies fail to take usability seriously and have little concept of cross touchpoint consistency.

2. How do you measure ROI for IT? 

In my opinion, IT should be considered as part of an overall solution and not in isolation. Hence, what is important is to measure the ROI of the overall investment as opposed to solely IT.  At DBS we have recently introduced a very structured way of linking delivery of the various components of a solution of which one may be an IT deliverable to measureable operational indicators which can be linked to financial business outcomes.

3. What were the first steps that DBS took in achieving its successes? Why did you choose to start that way?

Using lean principles, DBS has been running a successful operational excellence program across many of our key operational processes. We then started to apply a slightly modified version of the same Lean principles to our IT processes. By learning how to identify waste in our IT processes, we could then work on reducing this waste. We ran a series of experiments to give our IT people a feel for the approach, focusing on project set up, requirements definition and testing as these areas were where most of our challenges and opportunities for improvement were.  Based on the findings, we created a set of "current best ways" to be applied to all new projects.

4. When considering IT investment today, what would your one most critical piece of advice to other CIOs be? 

Make sure that you are defining projects and initiatives in terms of solving a well defined and clearly sponsored business problem as opposed to implementing a piece of technology.  Failure to do this will inevitably result in a division forming between IT and business teams, projects being viewed as career suicide and measured purely in terms of on time / on budget.

Paul's keynote will be delivered to leading regional CIOs at the Marina Mandarin next Friday.  I highly recommend CIOs looking to drive successful BT transformation in Asia Pacific attend. We're running out of space, but there are still some spots available for registration.