6 ways financial services leaders can enable innovation

How can IT and business leaders work better together to innovate? Former financial services IT pros share insights
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Innovation is key to any organization’s future success, but it’s especially true for financial services organizations. So why isn’t innovation happening faster? Is your firm at risk of being left behind?

In the mid-2000s, I sat at a lunch-and-learn with an executive from a major social platform, who was asked about an up-and-coming competitor. The response was, in my opinion, short-sighted; it went something like this: “We aren’t concerned about them; it’s for college kids and people have profiles, photos, and big networks of friends on our site. They won’t want to start over somewhere else.”

The executive was wrong about this – very, very wrong. The financial services industry is at a similar tipping point and technology-based innovation will lead the way.

What advice would you give to business leaders in working with their technical leaders?

What can you do about it? Ask yourself: Are your business leaders and technical leaders slowing you down? Is collaboration too hard? Is alignment out of sync? We often hear frustrations from Red Hat clients about just getting things done and hear statements such as “Why can’t IT just get me what I need?” or “The business team doesn’t listen.”

We asked former financial services IT pros who now work for Red Hat for tips on how business leaders in financial services can work better with IT leaders – and get their needs met more quickly.

[ Read Part One of this article series: How to ward off the Great Resignation in financial services IT. ]

The starting question was simple: “What advice would you give to business leaders in working with their technical leaders?” Consider these insights:

1. Stop talking about what you need the system to do

Technical teams want to deliver the best results for their customers, so telling them what the systems need to do can limit the potential and may provide you with a less impactful result. Tell IT teams what you need the experience of the customer to be and let them explore the best options. This sets you and your customers up for success.

“Treat the relationship as a partnership versus a supplier. Ask questions, be engaged, and establish shared goals.” -Eric Marts, Industry Principal: Banking, Red Hat

2. Change your perception of IT's strategic role

IT is not a sunk cost, it’s a critical component of your competitive environment. Taking that slight change in perception can change the way you interact with your technical teams. Viewing them as part of the business strategy can open conversations about goals, bringing new ideas and better results. Ask yourself: Without the technology your teams deliver, what would be the customer and employee experience? Would you even be in business?

“Realize you are all working to solve business challenges, and everyone brings different knowledge to the conversation – and that collaboration, where everyone can contribute, will result in the best solution.” -Emery Freeman, Solutions Architect, FSI, Red Hat

3. Be IT's true partner

If you’ve answered the question above, I’d pose the following: Is it ridiculous to think of the IT organization as your partner? If you can truly partner with your technical leaders and be transparent with short- and long-term priorities of the business, they can help you define the strategy. This sets IT leaders up to help determine what needs to be built today and how to build it, so it helps you in the future when business needs change.

“There are a variety of collaboration opportunities with external partners, but IT needs to be a close partner. Add them to early strategy meetings so they can develop solutions for consistency, security, and scalability while meeting compliance and regulatory requirements.” -Alessandro Petroni, Director, Head of Global FSI Strategy

4. Provide help by clearing roadblocks

Ask your technical teams what they need and what is making the job harder. Often, past ways of doing things are inefficient. The model of “this worked in the past” may still hold true, but is that the only way to do it? New methods of working may allow a faster, more innovative result. Listen to their needs and help solve it together. Get the roadblocks out of the way so they can do their jobs.

“Take time to understand the current workload of the people supporting your efforts. The transparency of knowledge will allow for realistic planning and expectations.” -Mark Dlugokencky, North America FSI Consulting Practice Head, Red Hat

5. Understand tech basics

Your IT teams do not expect you to understand the bits and bytes of technology, but learning the basics will allow you to share a common language. Put in the effort to understand at a high level how major technologies such as hybrid cloudautomation, and containers work, and the benefits they can bring to the business. It can save time, frustration, and delays in meetings and project timelines.

"Approaching conversations with 'help me understand' allows IT leaders to speak to systems that improve the speed, scalability, and alignment of organization’s goals."

“Approaching conversations with ‘help me understand’ allows IT leaders to speak to systems that improve the speed, scalability, and alignment of organization’s goals.” -Jamil Mina, Chief Architect Financial Services, Red Hat

6. Include IT in your business strategy from the start

There isn’t a banking business today that functions without technology. Technology is critical to your business design and your new offerings. IT needs to be included in the business design up front, or your possibilities have been limited from the start.

“Structure your team to be able to run the entire bank and build this whole business strategy around how technology is built into the model. The way to do that is to include technology in the strategy from day one.” -Vincent Caldeira, Chief Technologist APAC, FSI, Red Hat

How to create better alignment

Do your teams already practice these best practices? If so, great. You are on the right path. But are you sure they are really experts on these tips? If not, now is a good time to reach out. Consider these tips for improvement:

1. Collect feedback

Ask an employee – whom others trust – to set up a way to submit truly anonymous feedback. Then share the results and collect input on ways to improve. This might involve an online form, a shared document, or even a jar with pieces of paper. Challenge them – if you get to 50 suggestions, for example, the team gets a prize. It might sound silly, but it works. People want to share, but your best employees may not want to “cause trouble” or feel like they are complaining. An anonymous approach allows teams to openly share.

2. Reach out to your technical teams directly

Technical teams have likely done this before. When development teams and operations teams have to begin working more closely together due to technology advancements and new methods of working (such as DevOps,) they learn lessons that can be shared.

3. Celebrate the wins

During programs, ask for submissions across the groups on something that went really well. As a CIO or business leader, you can not only learn new things but also see who the standout team members are. (That includes both the person submitting and the recipient of the “nice job.”) This helps you identify future leaders while building camaraderie.

Our former financial services industry IT pros say they have now learned how to collaborate in new ways – and consistently stated they wish they had learned those skills earlier. Let your teams be your strongest asset, not what’s slowing your innovation down.

[ Want to learn more from the financial services professionals interviewed for this article? Get the ebook: Meet the Bankers. ]

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Emily Curley
Emily Curley is the director of financial services programs at Red Hat. Emily has spent over 10 years helping launch cloud technologies, building the Red Hat Developer program, and growing the financial services vertical. Emily is known for creating innovative programs, pushing the status quo, and piloting new ideas to benefit customers and stakeholders.

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