With heightened customer expectations related to bank technology in an increasingly competitive environment, aligning strategic business priorities with IT becomes more important than ever.

In the last two to three years, technological advances coupled with customer demand for new ways to bank have empowered financial institutions to take on many new technology projects. The lack of investment during the recession combined with the economic recovery have permitted banks’ technology budgets to grow and have even allowed many banks to take on major transformational IT projects. In addition, business units have become increasingly savvy in technology systems, increasing their inquiries to IT, or triggering the desire to bypass IT altogether. All of that said, IT team sizes have not necessarily expanded to keep pace with the increase in demand.

Due to these circumstances, many community and regional banks are experiencing IT department overload. Some struggle to balance the day-to-day “keep the lights on” activities with the innovative, forward-looking improvement projects. Others strive to establish a functioning Program Management Office (PMO) to bring a sense of order to their technology teams and projects.

The symptom? A misalignment of IT and the business units. The cause? Unknown priorities or people working on projects they feel are important (“pet projects”) but are not in the best interests of the organization as a whole.
Our banking and technology infrastructure teams partner with clients to overcome IT department strain. Based on our experience, here are the top ten things banks can do to avoid IT overload:

  1. Work with the Executive Committee or Board of Directors to establish the primary strategic objective for the organization.
  2. Use the primary strategic objective to prioritize project requests across the entire portfolio of active and future projects.
  3. Establish long-term strategic IT goals and objectives to guide project decisions, planning at least 24 to 36 months ahead.
  4. Track IT team member time closely and accurately to better understand resource scheduling requirements and determine if they are focusing on the appropriate projects. This will help determine how much capacity the group really has.
  5. Through time tracking, monitor where resources and/or skillsets are constrained most often and hire or change resourcing accordingly. Hire for the right skills, then trust your diverse and varied IT team members to lead successful projects.
  6. Reserve capacity on your IT team to account for unforeseen events.
  7. Maintain consistency in the way all projects are approved and funded. 
  8. Ensure the PMO, or the established project intake process, has the support of business leaders and upper management.
  9. Open the lines of communication and develop trust between IT and the business. Visibility and transparency are key.
  10. Leverage an established process to communicate resource constraints to the business when additional resources are needed. Don’t be afraid to outsource to qualified contractors or outside developers to help your internal team at the appropriate times.
  11. It’s your lucky day. You get a bonus 11th point! Don’t make promises to customers, your manager, or internal partners, you can’t keep. Utilize established tools and processes across the organization to honestly agree on allocation, resource constraints, and capabilities.

Many of the practices above are part of IT Service Management (ITSM) leading practices. ITSM has gained momentum in the past few years as a way to standardize a set of practices for project intake, initiative prioritization, as well as incident/problem/change management. Although ITSM can appear as a daunting undertaking at first (the entire practice includes more than 20 different and separate standardized processes), many organizations can benefit from looking at a couple of key processes that resonate with them. For example, if a bank is suffering from unplanned outages of their online banking application, ATM system, or other core technologies, it would benefit considerably from an improved IT Change Management process.

To effectively combat IT strain, ITSM includes a set of processes for “Service Strategy and Portfolio Management.” The processes of particular interest include:

  • Demand Management: The management of projects and initiatives being requested of IT (e.g. the work being “demanded” of them)
  • Project/Program Management: The development of standardized project/program management practices and the utilization of them across the organization
  • Resource Management: The management of people through tracking of time and determining which projects constrained resources should work on

Additional IT strain can stem from difficulties in managing issues or problems that are requested of IT. Another set of ITSM processes that can assist are in the “Service Operations” area. The priority processes in this area are:

  • Incident Management: The standardization on how users report issues to the IT Services Desk and how those issues are resolved and/or escalated within the organization
  • Request Management: The intake and management of requests for hardware, software, or other items that have a highly-repeatable process applied to them and a service level can be assigned
  • Request Fulfillment: The fulfillment of the standardized requests from procurement through deployment

The Portfolio Management process and the IT Service Desk are two of the primary ways the bank’s lines of business interact with IT. By having an efficient method and standardizing practices in these areas, IT will have better business alignment and more effectively help the business move forward. These tools - a well-established PMO, a well-thought-out project intake and prioritization process, a standardized Service Desk - can assist any organization in raising visibility of resource constraints, monitoring of resource issues, and ensuring all staff is working on the right project, at the right time, and for the good of the entire organization.

For more information on bank IT assessments and reducing IT overload, please contact Todd Cota, Senior Manager in the Technology Infrastructure Practice, at tcota@westmonroepartners.com, or Jordan Sternlieb, Senior Manager in the Banking Practice, at jsternlieb@westmonroepartners.com.