by Stephanie McDonald

Staying afloat: NAB CIO, Adam Bennett

Jul 12, 20125 mins
Technology Industry

In New Zealand, Adam Bennett says being appointed general manager, banking delivery services, at the Bank of New Zealand was a “big role for me and quite a big stretch” from what he was previously doing, director of Finance Transformation Practice at Cap Gemini. Joining National Australia Bank (NAB) in 2005 was also another stretch for him after a consulting career from 1994 to 2005, primarily with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Now CIO at NAB, Bennett says being thrown in the deep end and learning to stay afloat is a skill he has acquired during his time as a consultant.

He says he likes to tackle each role with a structured approach — learning to understand the current state of the company, developing hypotheses on how the company could be benefited and then getting the right team in place to implement any changes.

“I think using that style approach tends to set you up for success. I don’t tend to bring too many biases to the role… really having an open mind and staying curious for as long as possible,” he says.

“Also, when you’re thrown in the deep end, resisting the temptation to make early changes can be important, and getting the right team around you.”

Other skills have also helped him successfully lead an ICT team at an ASX50 company, he says.

Being a good listener, being inclusive of people and knowing when he doesn’t have all the answers are some examples of his skills. He admits these skills can easily be overlooked by CIOs as they can fall into the trap of focusing purely on technology and IT skills. “[CIOs] really need more business skills and the skills that are transferrable to various businesses.”

He says since NAB has “broken up” with the other banks and doesn’t regularly speak to other financial services CIOs, he tries to catch up with CIOs in other industries as they are often grappling with similar issues and challenges.

Throughout his career, Bennett says he has been fortunate to learn from the mistakes previously made in organisations but also admits he has made mistakes of his own.

“I’ve probably made mistakes around teams… where I’ve not acted on my gut instinct about an individual and probably not moved them out quick [enough]. I can think of a couple of times in my career where that probably created an issue which could have been resolved by faster upfront resolution.”

NAB’s position as a bank and a company which is relied upon 24/7 means consumers have high expectations of reliable and safe services. This has placed challenges on him as a CIO to ensure these expectations are met with reliable technology. “If I contrast that to an industry that is more nine-to-five, certainly that is an added dimension… given that 24/7 nature, we gear ourselves up for that, so we have teams working around the clock, day in, day out to make sure that they all work,” Bennett says.

In the next couple of years, Bennett says the rate of technological changes will have a dramatic impact on the legacy environment. “You’d be familiar with Cloud, Big Data [and] mobility — they’re three forces that really jump to mind [as technology changing businesses] and I think all CIOs around the world, in fact, are grappling with how to respond to that. I think the rate of technology change is clearly something that a lot of people are focused on.”

Companies will also continue to struggle with Big Data and analytics and how to extract value from the available information, he says.

“I think security, and again, that’s probably from our financial services perspective, is one that we pay particular attention to [as well]. We are seeing the threat landscape change. You’ve seen over the last year very high profile cyber-attacks on different organisations, and in some cases, governments and government authorities.”

Bennett says the NAB is treating Cloud cautiously, primarily due to how new it is and the expectation from customers to have safe and secure data.

“Having something out in the Cloud where it’s in a data centre, potentially offshore, certainly challenges people’s thinking, so we’ve really been approaching it in a thoughtful way.”

NAB is currently a member of the Open Data Center Alliance, which was formed in 2010 with a host of members from around the world and is helping companies flesh out the potential challenges of Cloud and some of the solutions.

While NAB is approaching Cloud cautiously, Bennett says it is currently working with IBM to create its own internal private Cloud, which is expected to be implemented in the coming months.

Australia will also continue to grapple with the “war for talent” and retaining staff, he says, with fewer IT graduates emerging having a significant impact on businesses. His best piece of business advice is a famous quote attributed to W Edwards Deming — “in God we trust, everything else needs data”.

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