CBA CIO on keeping the faith

CBA CIO on keeping the faith

Michael Harte talks of the need for tenacity, courage and a high tolerance for risk

In his darkest moments Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) CIO Michael Harte wondered if he made the right career choice.

Talking about the challenges he faced during his five and a half years at the CBA, Harte told delegates at the annual Gartner symposium yesterday, that the journey has been a bumpy ride.

He talked about the need for tenacity, courage and a high tolerance for risk to take the reins of a large IT organisation.

"It's about having the courage to make a large investment in changing the model of the organisation," he said. "Once you have consulted with staff and business and charted the course then stick with it."

Harte said sometimes it is hard to keep the faith.

Also: In-depth: Regulation proves security headache for CBA’s CIO.

"The hardest part is convincing the corporation that the investment is worth it," he said. "Make sure customers and staff can see the value. Our quest is to be seen as drivers of value."

Tasked with transforming the bank's systems and processes, Harte said the toughest part of the job is keeping IT staff motivated and focused on the mission.

"It's been a challenging ride, there have been times when I even wondered if I made the right career choice," Harte said.

When he first took the reins at the CBA, IT staff were stagnant and disillusioned.

In fact they were beyond being disillusioned, Harte said, they were "actively disengaged."

It was an issue that took years to resolve.

"It took three years just to move the needle," he said.

The solution was to form a partnership with MIT and begin promoting staff based on leadership and strategic thinking.

Today he said hundreds of his IT staff have completed the MIT program.

Asked about his biggest achievement and what differentiates the CBA from competitors and Harte is quick to, once again, point to staff.

"The differentiation is in the capabilities of your staff and what they can create; for example their ability to create content for multiple devices and get products to market quickly," he said.

"Let leaders within your team thrive and let them create the magic."

So what are the qualities Harte looks for in staff?

"The ability to be open to new ideas, diverse and flexible ways of thinking, and never afraid to take risks," Harte said.

Surprisingly, they are not the qualities usually applied to people in the risk averse banking industry.

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