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Banking on the Partnership

Banking on the Partnership

Profile: Russell Scrimshaw. Group Head, Technology Operations and Procurement, Commonwealth Bank of Australia

Even US CIO magazine's Web site had the story. Keynote speaker David Murray, managing director of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), had told the World IT Congress that the US IT industry had "single-handedly wrecked the world economy". The banker had complained about the IT industry's habit of promising the world and delivering, well, a system that crashes, leaving customers high, dry and angry, the magazine reported.

"Murray had spared his particular disdain for Microsoft, challenging the company's marketing threat that those companies that failed to get down with IT would go down on the competitive corporate battlefield. But the biggest problem, the banker told the congress, the one that single-handedly wrecked the world economy, is that the IT industry didn't only mislead customers; it misled investors, who ended up making investments that Â'were entirely unrealistic'," US CIO recounted.

That in itself was sensational enough, but other reporters went further, drawing a long bow connecting Murray's expressed concerns to alleged dissatisfaction with the CBA's outsourcing partners. Wrong, wrong, wrong, says CBA group head, Technology Operations and Procurement, Russell Scrimshaw. Those journalists who had linked Murray's remarks to persistent industry gossip about the souring of the relationship between the CBA and EDS - to which it outsourced its entire IT function in 1997 - were guilty of a huge and faulty leap of logic.

For instance the Australian Financial Review claimed Murray's call for companies to avoid the temptation of making IT a strategy in itself was a thinly veiled jab at the bank's own service providers, EDS and Telecom NZ. The article based the claims on the reported service difficulties suffered by the bank's Internet and telecommunications platform in February, and problems with EDS in late January that left the bank's Internet platform and ATM network "severely disabled" for a few hours.

Likewise, Web journal iTnews reported Murray's remarks in the context of claimed strong and constant industry rumours that the relationship between the CBA and EDS had gone sour.

Nonsense, says Scrimshaw, whose job is to run common services including Technology and Technology Services on behalf of the whole group. In fact, the CBA's relationship with EDS has never been better, its satisfaction with the outsourcing arrangement never higher. Indeed it was precisely because the bank was so impressed with the way the IT outsourcing contract had worked for it that it decided 18 months before to outsource its telecommunications to Telecom New Zealand.

"It was a brave thing to do: to outsource our information technology to EDS," Scrimshaw says. "Everybody at the time said we were making a big mistake. But the reality is we are much better off than we used to be."

Yes, Scrimshaw says, there had been outages earlier in the year, which had been widely documented in the press. Yes, those were regrettable. But all systems have problems on occasion. It is just that when the CBA loses its network some 140,000 EFTPOS terminals, 4000 ATMs, 1100 branches, 600 Woolworths stores and several thousand post offices are affected. That makes even the smallest difficulties impossible to not notice.

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