In much the way a weary traveller can step across the threshold of a Holiday Inn in even the most exotic corners of the world and feel at home, so any ANZ bank manager can walk into the comms closet in any branch and know exactly which buttons to press.
Just like those geographically neutral motel chains, which scatter identical hotel rooms throughout the cities of the globe, the ANZ has come to value standardisation as a goal unto itself. Each and every communications closet in every ANZ branch from Kiribati to East Timor is an exact replica of those in its worldwide Melbourne headquarters. The equipment is racked in exactly the same way, cabled together in an identical manner, and marked consistently. The lights flashing in one cupboard mirror exactly those flashing in any other. But while motel chains value standardisation and replication for the sake of guest comfort and convenience, for ANZ chief operations officer David Boyles the issue is all about simplicity, future-proofing and cost.
Open systems, interchangeable plug-and-play components and standardisation have been ANZ watchwords since Boyles joined the bank in 1998. His radical plan to migrate the bank from traditional core applications based on proprietary systems - with their limited interoperability and integration potential - to standardised, open systems, has been under way ever since. And he says the stance is paying big dividends.
Standardising communications closets alone is saving the bank a few million dollars a year in repair costs. That is because now when something goes wrong, instead of sending a technician out to resolve the problem the IT group can talk the branch manager through the fix via mobile phone.
Historically, financial institutions have built a myriad of fragmented proprietary point solutions that are difficult to integrate. The ANZ sees the route to fully open systems as the way to simplify its environment, and is putting its faith in componentisation and reuse of solutions to achieve lower costs, improved cycle times and advanced business functionality.
"We got into this a long time ago," Boyles says. "The situation when I came aboard in January 1998 was we had many disparate platforms, and that was true on the desktop, at the server level, at the data centre level and at the network level. It was really quite a hodge-podge of all sorts of different things. So we put out an architectural road map in March 98 that said that the future as we saw it was primarily around MVS, which is the mainframe-based operating system, around Unix and around Windows, and that we would either gradually or rapidly exit platforms along the way. That was a three-year plan.
"We've sort of been grinding away at some of these things for several years now, and I think we are pretty well positioned as a company to take advantage of it. Again, there is still a lot to do, but a lot of what has been done around standardising, componentising and moving to open platforms has really been quite helpful."
The underlying philosophy is to give the bank maximum flexibility into the future and to reduce costs by vastly simplifying the IT environment. "If you think about it, for every proprietary platform you have, you have to have a group of specialists to run it," Boyles says. "So if you could move to one platform, it would be absolutely ideal. If you can't move to one, then move to two or three rather than the eight or 10 platforms now existing in most organisations."
And when Boyles talks about open systems he means much more than just open source software. Open source is just one aspect of open systems, he says. "The other piece is how you manage things without being physically present somewhere, and this cannot be done with proprietary platforms. With every proprietary platform you have to have the people physically present to load the disk up and to monitor it and run it, and you have specialists for that platform.
"And yes, you can keep running that way, but I think it's fairly short-sighted because it becomes tougher and tougher to run this stuff."
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