We start our ‘opinion’ series on IT leadership by exploring the evolution of IT management in investment banking. Soheel Haque is Head of Fixed Income Business Intelligence & Client Information Systems in BNP Paribas, mixing cutting edge technology and business solutions. With 20 years of IT experience in investment banking, he shares with us his view on the importance of redefining the boundaries between business and IT.
Technology is now at the heart of the business and IT leaders have a new role to play within the industry. IT managers need to step up and get more involved in business decisions.
‘IT has come from an information processing, back office automation background and that still influences the way we approach IT management. Our role was to take operational processes and to automate them. IT used to be viewed as a cost saving strategy outside of the core business. Now IT has moved from being a back office, automation function, to actually being at the heart of the business. Taking the banking industry as an example, electronic trading is the primary way of doing business for many asset classes'.
‘People who understand IT need to be embedded within the business. The skills for IT leaders have evolved and it is key that IT leadership becomes more business focused. IT leaders are really business leaders, we need to understand more than the technology domain, we need to understand business problems and opportunities’.
‘An IT manager's role is to lead the business as well as their IT teams. Throughout my 20-year career in IT, I have learnt that there are many business people who feel uncomfortable making business decisions regarding technology. Our role is to advise and lead them. This means taking charge and telling them: ‘this is what we should do, I’m going to take care of it for you’. This is a very important aspect of our role in IT. One of the mistakes that we often make is to forget to treat our customers as customers, and to start treating them too much as bosses. This prevents you from leading them.’
IT managers must be able to step up in terms of leadership skills, in particular to understand influence, way beyond hierarchical lines: ‘Leadership doesn’t just apply to leading your team, or people you have direct line management responsibility for. The quality that is important in an IT manager is the ability to pull together people from various departments and groups, with different agendas, and get them all to pull in the same direction.’
‘The challenge is how do you balance? And that’s where I talk about leadership and drive. It’s easy to run around and do exactly what the customer wants. But what they want, what they say they want, and what they need, are not necessarily the same.’
‘In the role that I’m currently in, I’m fortunate enough to have a sponsor who has got a background in IT and we tend to be quite aligned. We have a relationship where there is a lot of trust. Often the conflicts between customers and IT are timescale related. IT is focused on costs and they tend to run in a quite strategic way. On the other hand, customers typically want things immediately, in a very tactical way. And, certainly in the banking world, the users are less concerned about costs: only the senior management within the business tend to be. So that’s why conflicts tend to arise.’
Thank you very much to Soheel Haque for opening this ‘opinion’ series on IT leadership. The critical importance that IT is gaining in areas such as business intelligence and electronic trading influences the evolution of IT management in banks. But different banks embrace the transformation in different ways. Future posts in the ‘opinion’ series will revisit this topic and expose different perspectives on the evolving relationships between the business and IT.