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Banker Sours

It was Australia's equivalent of "IT Doesn't Matter" and a shot heard 'round the world: Commonwealth Bank CEO David Murray's bitter critique of IT at the World Congress on IT in Adelaide. In 2002 debate raged as to whether his tongue-lashing was directed externally at the industry or internally at his own shop. In this exclusive interview with CIO, Murray explains what prompted those strong words.

In early 2002, the then chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), David Murray, set headlines ablaze with a blistering attack on information technology and the IT industry's ability to deliver on its promises.

"Microsoft says information technology is going to lead the growth of the world economy," Murray said at the World Congress on IT in Adelaide. "Well, let me tell you, the IT industry in the US has single-handedly wrecked the world economy because the promises were large and by the time they were turned into investor promises at the casino end of the equity markets, then the investments were entirely unrealistic."

It was a very big call. A very big dummy spit.

Today Murray says that this, his most often quoted comment from Adelaide was "a bit tongue-in-cheek". But he is quick to stress that the pressures the tech bubble and subsequent crash brought to bear on the global economy were real. "At the time I was on the APEC Business Advisory Council and we'd been looking at how Australia should invest," he says. "There was a real deflationary threat and [the] tech-wreck was no help at all. There was monetary tightening and fiscal easing and the US was taking the rap for everything off the back of [the] tech-wreck."

As well as the concerns regarding the economy being set off balance by the tech-wreck, Murray was angered that for years companies had battled arrogant vendor hyperbole and what he saw as a dangerous mismatch between the language of the business and the language of technology. "[In] most organizations, most projects went over time and over budget. Something had to be done," Murray said in a recent interview with CIO magazine as part of its 100th issue anniversary Retrospectives series.

Adelaide presented Murray with the opportunity to make clear that big corporations had had enough. He put the industry and his IT team on notice that from now on IT would be on a much tighter management leash at the bank. To some industry commentators Murray's Adelaide tirade was a rallying call for improved IT governance. Today Murray seems perplexed at the very notion of IT governance, preferring to characterize what he initiated as "much tighter management".

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