Capital One reaps benefits of IT-business fusion
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Capital One reaps benefits of IT-business fusion

Sooraj Shah — March 2019

The blending of operations and technology roles has proven effective in driving digital strategy at one of the global bank’s key regions. Rob Harding, its European CIO and chief operations and technology officer in the UK, explains how.

Within the financial services sector, Capital One has long been seen as running ahead of the digital curve. As long ago as 2010, its senior executives fully grasped the need for a “new digital model for banking,” and took bold action. The $28 billion US-headquartered bank enthusiastically embraced new Agile and DevOps practices; it reversed years of outsourcing core software development by building vital digital capabilities within its own ranks, and it laid solid foundations for the enterprise-wide exploitation of cloud, big data analytics and open source.

Almost a decade on, there is no checking the ambition to pursue disruptive models. Indeed, it’s a tech-led opportunity that its global CTO George Brady characterized as “a once-in-a-generation technological transformation to become an entirely innovation-driven digital company.” And the goal — to be regarded as much as a technology company as a financial services company — is being chased globally.

As a mark of that in Europe, it has prompted what some may see as a natural synthesis of leadership roles. As well as being Capital One Europe’s head of IT, for nearly the past two years Rob Harding has also been running the day-to-day business at Capital One UK, as chief operations and technology officer.
Fusing operations and tech

The wider new role has opened up some fresh perspectives. “The most powerful aspect [of the dual role] for me has been learning more about customers and their end-to-end customer journeys,” he says.

Harding freely admits that — like many senior executives — he thought he knew as much as he needed to in that area. “But when you’re able to work more closely with colleagues such as contact center agents, for example, you realize that there are all sorts of cases related to our digital transformation when some of our investments have turned out differently than we expected,” he says.

Rob Harding, Capital One
Features implemented on the bank’s app and web platform were successful in reducing telephone calls into its service centers, he highlights, but these, in turn, created a trail of additional back-office work and queries. “With that closer understanding, we can now go in and address those issues,” Harding explains. “The new role gives me the opportunity to spot weak signals within the business which I might not be able to if I were only on the tech side.”

He believes that the combined role is, in many cases, a natural fit for a CIO and the increasingly digital nature of the business.

“There is a huge amount of synergy between the operations role and the tech role, particularly when you’re trying to engage your customers across a range of channels — be it digital or agent-assisted. Combining the roles has removed barriers and siloes, and we’re now better able to see what we need to do,” he says.

That added transparency has informed some big tech investment decisions, going forwards, as well as opening up avenues for new cost savings, increased automation and experimentation with enhancing customer services. The combination of the CIO and COO roles has also led to a greater focus on fraud protection and cybersecurity, enabling Harding to determine where key cyber investments should be targeted.

Despite the benefits that Capital One UK has seen as a result of his new position, Harding emphasizes that the role is not for all organizations. “It works for companies that are trying to achieve something specific, such as [our goal] of becoming a real-time intelligent business,” he says. However, he believes that even if businesses are not ready to entertain that combination of roles, it is imperative that technology and operations teams work more closely together to deliver seamless interaction for customers and improve customer experience.
Cross-pollination of skills

While he feels that the dual roles do eat into his ability to be hands-on with technology projects, it has allowed him to make appointments that bring the skillsets closer together. “On the operations side, I’ve tried to introduce analytical and technology thinking, while on the tech side I’ve tried to introduce people who have more of a lens on what the customer might want: so there has been some cross-pollination across the teams, which has been great,” he states.

“One of the biggest things we’ve learnt is to encourage the whole of the business to think about how it solves problems in a more balanced way. Previously, we had pockets of our business that would solve issues with a process, workforce or structure change; and we had pockets that were looking for a technology solution to an issue. Now that we’ve built more skills, more capacity around technology products, what I’m encouraging people to do is explore all options when they’re solving problems — including a combination of all those things,” he says.

Often, this has meant applying technology to areas of the business that were perhaps underserved by technology solutions. “It’s enabled more of the business to understand how technology can support our customers, while also starting to automate more of what we do, and getting more of what we do right first time,” Harding says.

While there have been benefits of being an early mover in digital transformation, there are challenges too, including acknowledging the fact that there will always be other businesses doing things that are more cutting edge. “One of the complexities of digital transformation is working out that you can’t win on all fronts; you can’t necessarily be the best at everything. It’s about understanding what makes sense for your business,” Harding says.

First published March 2019
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