CBA is forging ahead with its first internet of things experiments as it tries to find ways to apply the technology in a digital banking context.
The bank this week released a white paper [pdf] on the “machine-to-machine economy”, floating a range of options for how connectivity and data growth might play out on a nationwide basis.
The paper’s purpose “was not strictly speaking about financial services” applications, CBA’s head of emerging technology, Dilan Rajasingham, told iTnews.
However, Rajasingham indicated it was a call to arms for Australia’s IoT community to “come and learn and experiment with us”.
He confirmed IoT was “a key focus area” for the bank's emerging technology team.
“We have an experiment in play at the moment showing off some of these concepts,” Rajasingham said.
“That will be a proof point [for how the bank can use IoT]”.
He declined to reveal which part of the bank was experimenting with IoT but indicated the results of the test could be revealed in around three months’ time.
“The purpose of [our] paper was to engage the community,” he said.
“On that journey we will have multiple proof points.
“Given it’s a focus area for us we have a number of experiments at play, some of which we will share as part of this learning experience.
“I don’t want to talk about them until they’ve concluded and we have something more concrete to share.”
Finance has traditionally been looked upon as a tricky vertical for the internet of things, since there is little within its core business that is tangible and can be tracked using sensors.
Deloitte last year raised the possibility that banks may look to gather data from customers that can be used to support, for example, lending decisions or the condition of assets under lease.
That kind of thesis is supported by the likes of Infosys: the outsourcer also said there could be applications around some of the physical assets a bank has, such as an ATM network.
As CBA progresses with its “live experiment” - and its industry callout - it is likely to become clearer how IoT might find its place in finance.
“Digital experiences are constantly changing through the adoption of newer technologies,” Rajasingham said.
“In order to figure out how we can be relevant in the broader ecosystem and how we can continue to be relevant to our customers we need to experiment with those technologies and discover what those new experiences are and be proactive about it.”
Rajasingham said the bank was keen to explore the future possibility of its “customers” being machines and what that might mean from a banking services perspective.
“If automation continues the way it’s going and machines do become autonomous, then what are the financial products and services we can offer machines if they do in fact become ‘customers’ as we like to define it,” he said.
“That is a legitimate question we have to ask ourselves in the next 10-20 years. But more importantly in the short term, come and learn with us.”
Inside CBA's emerging technology team
Rajasingham has led emerging technology for the past 3.5 years. The team currently has “about a dozen” direct staff, and looks to partners for deeper skills in areas of focus.
Many of the technology areas his team is focused on - such as deep learning, blockchain and now IoT - are mature enough to be suitable for proof-of-concepts or pilots.
The test as to whether or not his team get involved in a particular technology is the horizon at which they believe it will be “commonplace”.
“When we define that horizon we use the term commonplace,” he said.
“We do lots of PoCs and pilots, and we’ll take some of those technologies into production and we have, but they’re not commonplace yet. We wouldn’t use them across the bank and they wouldn’t be used across financial services.
“A classic example is blockchain: we’ve done dozens of blockchain experiments, for example, across different business units solving different problems using common platforms. So lots of PoCs and pilots, but no-one as far as I know has deployed it at scale.
“It’s not about when you can utilise the technology, it’s about when you can deploy it at scale.”
Emerging technology sits in enterprise services - essentially within the four walls of CBA IT.
“It’s unusual because it is often counterintuitive to the way people think about innovation [where they think that] the way to get things done is with a separate innovation cell,” Rajasingham said.
“We don’t believe that.
“Our model is collaborative and distributed. That requires collaboration to work. It also gives us a great opportunity to experiment at scale.”
Rajasingham said emerging technology relied on “deep relationships” with CBA’s various business units and teams to seed innovative thinking and find ways to apply technology to banking problems.
Those relationships “required time and effort to set up, but [have allowed] a real two-way flow between the business and IT”, he said.
“Because of the collaborative atmosphere that we’ve created, the bank has enabled, its allowed free flowing information,” Rajasingham said.
“We use common platforms to gather ideas such as ‘unleashing innovation’, where ideas are voted on by the [CBA] community and the best of those ideas we experiment with.
“But there are multiple ways [we collect a pipeline of ideas] and we have to try each of those ways because different people react differently.”
Rajasingham also said business units often committed to “co-invest” resources and capabilities into projects run in tandem with emerging technology.
“The key is we - IT and the business - are solving these problems together.”