by Edward Qualtrough

BMO Financial Group’s ‘smart core’ fuelling innovation with Agile and DevOps culture

Sep 25, 2018
Financial Services IndustryMobile Apps

BMO Financial Group Chief Technology & Operations Officer Jean-Michel Arès believes the bank’s ‘smart core’ and new ways of working based around cloud, Agile and DevOps have combined to give the organisation a platform for innovation.

Previously CIO at Coca-Cola and GE Power Systems, Arès was speaking to CIO UK at the Tibco Now user conference in Las Vegas about the CIO role and the technology innovations having the biggest impact on the organisation known previously as the Bank of Montreal. He also discussed during a keynote address how the bank’s technology-enabled transformation based on a smart core of data and analytics capabilities was realising BMO’s objectives to “improve customer experience, support growth and productivity, enhance risk management and fulfil regulatory requirements”.

With more than 12 million customers, $765 billion in assets and annual revenue of around $27 billion, BMO Financial Group is the eighth largest bank in North America and has presence in London and mainland Europe through its wealth management division.

Chief Technology & Operations Officer Arès has a team of 9,000 and said that while the company’s transformation initiatives started in 2010, it was really the release of the iPhone in 2007 and the global financial crisis from 2008 onwards which formed the genesis of the programme for having “a profound impact on the business of banking”.

“A combination of Moore’s Law and Nielsen’s Law fuelled the innovation we saw,” Arès said, referring to the doubling of internet bandwidth speeds complementing increases in compute power.

“Customer expectations changed profoundly.”

Arès said that the organisation needed to “identify a vector for change and stay on that course” and plot a strategy encompassing the mobile customer experience, and the integration of systems and software providing the advanced analytics capabilities.

Working with Tibco, Arès described the BMO Financial Group “smart core” of data and analytics capabilities as the “central nervous system of the enterprise” – and not just the brain and spine but the sensors feeding into that also.

Alongside the bank’s IT transformation was a move to the cloud and new methodologies of working which Arès said provided the fuel for innovation.

“When we had the smart core and moved to cloud, Agile and DevOps, we built the platform for innovation,” he said.

Selling the vision

Arès said that Tibco founder and then CEO, Vivek Ranadive, along with former Delta Airlines CIO Charlie Feld, spoke to the BMO executive committee and were an important part of selling the vision and securing executive buy-in for the transformation initiatives.

“Vivek cam to speak to the executive committee; he was terrific,” Arès said. “To have someone of that calibre come and speak to the operating committee, and bring to life what was happening in other industries, was a very important step.”

As well as securing executive buy-in, Arès and his team sought to underline the initiatives with proof points to keep momentum for the programme.

“If you can’t get the proof points within a reasonable amount of time it’s problematic,” Arès said.

“We wanted to make sure that we pointed the ship in the right direction. But once we had the buy-in after that, and it was quickly to get the proof-points which we did with our first project with lease management. It was the perfect proof-point and it worked beautifully.

“I think that really solidified the view that this new way of implementing things was a good step forward. And the business – they were jazzed about it.”

Future innovation

Arès expects to see further innovation and disruption in the financial services sector, and believes the incoming wave is going to be even more significant than the massive changes which have taken place in the previous decade.

“There are many things on the horizon,” Arès said. “What happened in the last 10 years is profound change, and probably more change than the industry had seen in several decades. And my humble opinion is that the next 5-10 years is going to be even faster, and more profound. And it’s a function of the evolution of technology and just the number of bright, talented people working on this thing. I think it’s inevitable.”

That change would be primarily driven by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation, Arès foresees.

“Banks are information companies. Financial services are all about information. So the obvious one is data analytics, which is going to continue to fundamentally transform the way these businesses work in multiple ways and will continue to have a profound impact.

“And the acceleration of machine learning, libraries of machine learning algorithms, will be one element of it, and I think it will transform the way many of the processes work. It will transform the interface with the client. It will transform different practices in operationally and risk and regulatory.

“The second part is robotic process automation that will be used to digitise specifically operations in banks. And I think the possibilities in terms of yield and productivity are quite significant. I would say that the form factor at the edge also are going to continue to evolve, so the mobile devices, the form factors are going to continue to evolve, and voice will become increasingly important as that technology continues to advance and there are fewer and fewer keyboards out there.

“If you’re typing in five years time, I’d be shocked. How people are going to interact with computers is going to fundamentally change.”

CIO role

Arès has seen the Chief Information Officer position change along with the technologies which are having the biggest impacts on the enterprise, and expects this trend to carry on.

“The CIO role has evolved considerably over the last decade, and it will continue to evolve,” he said. “My two roles prior to joining the bank were pure CIO roles. I was CIO at Coca-Cola, before that I was CIO at GE Power Systems, and the focal point was clearly technology information leadership.

“When taking the role at the bank, I was given responsibilities for both technology and operations, as well as, over time, data and analytics. The combination of those roles I think gave me and my team the opportunity to actually work with our business partners to drive change across the bank.”

As a CIO who took on broader responsibilities as Chief Technology & Operations Officer, Arès said that moving beyond IT leadership wasn’t for every technology leader and that there had never been a better time for technologists to shape their organisations.

“It depends on a few factors,” he said. “Some people are really core technologists, and that’s what they enjoy, and that’s just fine. I think for those who have a broader aperture on the business and have an interest in leading transformation and repositioning companies, I think it’s an extraordinary time to do that.

“I would highly recommend it if that’s an interest, because there’s never been a time where technologists, data scientists, engineers have such an ability to actually shape the success of companies.”