Investment Bank provides IT testing ground to entrepreneurs

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IT and Business Alignment

Chantal Belzile has to take a broad view when it comes to IT. As senior vice president and CIO of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Canada’s only bank dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurs, she’s charged with helping foster innovation internally so that in turn BDC’s employees can help the bank’s 32,000 small and medium-sized Canadian businesses clients progress technologically. Those client companies represent $200 billion in revenue.

Funded by the government, BDC operates at arms-length as a financially sustainable organization with an independent board of directors. “We don’t do grants, we really invest in companies that have the potential to be successful; we take more risk than the big financial organizations, but we price for that risk,” Chantal says.

In June 2012, BDC re-launched a long-standing efficiency and agility project.  Over a two-year period, IT worked with senior executives and business managers on a function-by-function examination of processes and user frustrations. A key finding was the need to simplify and automate rules governing loan origination, administration and disbursement.

The organization adopted a new application Platform-as-a-Service from Mendix that fosters collaboration between IT and business users. “IT is working with the business side-by-side, rather than throwing requirements over the fence and sending applications back that don’t meet their needs,” she says. “It makes a huge difference in terms of speed because we get it right the first time around when we’re both talking about what is needed.”

Belzile’s organization has since piloted a new mobile lending platform that enables customer-facing account managers to sit side-by-side with clients to process paperless loan applications with funds being disbursed as soon as the next business day. If loan applications are backed up in one regional office, account managers can use any of the other regional offices across Canada to speed up decision-making.

“We’re talking about applying innovation to everything we do, all of our processes as well as how to help client-facing employees to initiate discussions with our clients about technology,” she says. As part of that mandate, Belzile’s IT group is in the process of launching a project called Future Space, that provides a lab for client entrepreneurs to experience technology that may help their companies.

“Entrepreneurs sometimes just think technology is too expensive or they don’t take the time to look into it,” Belzile says. “We can bring them in and demonstrate these technologies and show that it’s affordable and not as complicated as it used to be.”

To determine what should go in the lab, IT worked with representatives of BDC’s venture capital, financing and consulting organizations to review technologies that could be helpful to client companies, winnowing down to a top 10 list to start with, ranging from 3D printers to robotics to an airborne drone. “The way I lead the IT team is to work very closely with our lines of business,” she says. “That’s the only way to do it — not have IT guessing what it is these people can use.”

You need to take risks and you need to be transparent with colleagues about what you are doing,  but at the end of the day you need to make decisions that allow you to drive forward.

Chantal Belzile is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). In this role, she has overall responsibility for developing and implementing the Bank’s information technology strategy and services. This includes corporate project portfolio management, information security and compliance, and information technology management and solutions delivery. Ms. Belzile has over 25 years of experience in technology and project management roles within large companies, and joined BDC in 2007 as Vice President, Information Technology.

Pete Bartolik writes regularly about business technology and IT management issues for IDG. He was news editor of the IT management publication, Computerworld, and a reporter for a daily newspaper. He resides in Naples, Florida.

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