ROI metrics retard IT innovation: Harte

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ROI metrics retard IT innovation: Harte

CBA tech chief appeals to young innovators.

Commonwealth Bank chief information officer Michael Harte has urged ICT professionals to develop “a bit of an attitude problem” when gaining support for their ideas.

Harte, one of Australia’s best-paid CIOs, urged the Australian Computer Society’s Young IT Conference this week to push for more openness, availability and inclusion through IT.

“We do this [IT] to improve the interface between the human and the machine and in so doing, we free up the human endeavour from drudgery,” he said, quoting US inventor Douglas Engelbart.

Highlighting advancements in genome sequencing technology, Harte said he found it “somewhat mundane that we go out to the newspapers … and say that we can do real-time banking”.

“It’s not what we should be about; we should be about making people wiser in their spending decisions,” he said.

“The parallels between the improvements in people’s lives and the improvements in people’s financial lives is exactly the same. That’s what the financial endeavour is all about.”

Harte said banking was not about fees per transaction, but about knowing customers more intimately and working with them on their goals.

Earlier this year, iTnews revealed that CommBank had invested in big data analytics to potentially allow it to offer custom loans.

Harte said this week that an organisation’s business model should underpin IT architecture and investments.

But traditional return on investment (ROI) models were “broken”, he said, and IT workers should have the courage and ingenuity to challenge the status quo.

“There’s always someone on the other side that’s going to say no, or what about this, or when am I going to get the money back,” he said. “That can retard innovation.

“Many great ideas don’t get investment because the timeframe in which people expect return on investment is broken.”

“Whether it’s the government guys, the corporate guys, the regulators, the guys inside the research institutions … there will always be the man trying to stop you from getting things done,” he said.

“Information wants to be free; we want net neutrality and we don’t work for the man.”

Unlike innovation programs run by the likes of the ING Group, Harte described CommBank’s IT research and development (R&D) as “highly unstructured and multifaceted”.

“You can be as innovative as you like; you can put all sorts of money into R&D, but if you can’t translate all of that endeavour into rapid insight and turn that into market value, it’s wasted,” he said.

“We’ll try all sorts of things, but the quest is to be first and to create value.”

Harte speculated that the ICT profession had been marketed poorly in previous years, with university programs tending to highlight database administration or systems engineering roles.

“But the career opportunity is to be at the forefront in any industry, creating value through data and logic,” he said, highlighting the finance and biomedical industries as those likely to invest most heavily in IT in the coming years.

Harte’s comments resounded with those made separately by Westpac CIO Clive Whincup and Suncorp’s business services chief Jeff Smith earlier this year.

Smith in February ruled out technology outsourcing, explaining: “Financial services companies are, in a lot of cases, IT companies masquerading as banks.”

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