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Computing: Banking on Innovation

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This week's UK Computing magazine has an interesting interview with Barclays retail COO Shaygan Kheradpir.  In a pure scrape of the entire article, I thought it worth reproducing here:


Enabling customer-facing staff to access bespoke financial services apps using tablet computers is just one of several ways in which COO Shaygan Kheradpir is transforming the retail banking experience at Barclays, writes Stuart Sumner.

Banks are traditionally thought of as risk-averse companies rather than agile innovators, but Barclays Retail COO Shaygan Kheradpir is drawing on his knowledge and experience as a former CIO to try to change that.

His vision of the banking business is one in which end users and developers freely mingle, sharing ideas and feedback. He wants to increase staff mobility and flexibility by enabling tablet use in the office, with a Barclays app cloud providing everything staff need to work and communicate.

According to Kheradpir, this vision will become reality later this year.

Enabling mobility

“We have a saying; crawl, walk, run. We did the crawl last year until we were all comfortable, working out where tablets will work and where they are less appropriate. Now we’re in the walk mode.

“Eventually you will see these devices in the customer-facing front line at Barclays.”

To illustrate how tablet devices could benefit staff, Kheradpir cites the camera on the iPad 2.

“In the old way of doing things you scan a written form or meeting notes and upload them to the network.

“But why do it that way? The camera on the iPad 2 is better than most scanners. It can upload the file directly to the internal cloud. You can secure it and tag it and off it goes. Why have paper and a scanner?”

In Kheradpir’s view, tablet devices are more secure than PCs, partly because their software requires less regular patching, but also because the IT department can restrict how and where the device is allowed to connect to networks.

“Tablets have context, they know who and where you are. You can leverage that information to build a more secure ecosystem.

“My iPad is fully secure. We deployed with Mobile Iron and there is heavy mobile device management on it. It knows where it is, and what networks it is allowed to attach to.

“We also use encryption from Good Technology, which we deploy as an app.”

Creating an internal app store

Enabling the deployment of this app and others will be the Barclays app store, which staff will use to download software that will let them carry out core business functions and network with one another.

“It’s for business-focused apps that employees need for their daily activities, but also for internal social networking and collaboration,” he says.

The app store will also be used by various layers of the organisation, including customer-facing staff.

“Many of the tasks that happen in the front line of the bank are app-oriented. They are specialised tasks like applying for a mortgage or a credit card,” he says.

“And what are apps? They are deep and narrow. They’re not like PC applications, which are broad and shallow. You want apps to do one, often complex, task.”

Kheradpir says the bank will not upload the apps to Google’s or Apple’s existing app stores due to security concerns.

“Obviously, you can’t stick it into Google’s store or Apple’s store, so you have to be able to deploy it where you want it, very securely. That’s the basis for an internal app store,” he explains.
The app store project will be deployed this year, following trials in 2011.

Fostering innovation

He says that these innovations are possible because of the structure of the teams he oversees; the operational and technical support teams need to be closely integrated.

“You need the front-line operational and the technical groups to be one team. Breakthrough delivery happens when you have mini start-ups fused with the reality of the marketplace and what customers want. You have to involve the end users at every level,” he says.

“Look at Twitter or Face­book, their teams don’t work in a segregated way. You have cohesive teams, some more operational, some more technical, but they’re together and they make interesting trick shots by working that way.”

He adds that this integration of teams means that problem solving and troubleshooting happen in real time, rather than over weeks as disparate teams slowly respond to emails and get through a backlog of tickets.

“What if you develop some­thing that doesn’t work well? You can only change it quickly if you are tightly fused with your customers. Because who really knows what isn’t work­ing? The customer knows, and your front-line colleague knows. They know it in real time.”

This also helps with understanding the nature of any issues – misunderstandings are less likely to occur when the development teams, and their customers who use their products each day, sit and work closely together.

“To the extent you can have technical teams in real-time fusion with operational teams, there’s no translation required. They see what’s going on and quickly jump on it and improve it.

“But when it’s segregated it becomes like a batch-oriented process where a bucket brigade has to hand off stuff. Then it’s slow, clunky and the delivery timescales are not commensurate with breakthrough technology.”

He argues that this is a vast improvement over more trad­itional organisational set-ups, with development teams kept separate from their end users.

“This is very different from the old model where you write a big fat requirements docu­ment then hand it over to some coder who has no context for what you’re trying to do.

“This was fine for the 20th century because typically you were taking something manual and automating it. But you’re not going to delight a customer with efficiency alone.”

He explains that the way his team is organised, everything is focused on the customer experience.
“In our way the team has context and has the tools and authority to implement their ideas. We focus them around customer experience because if you get that right, efficiency comes by default.”

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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