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The UK banking group is equipping its staff with a fully digital workplace to address the rapidly changing nature of customer engagement. I-CIO asks Steve Wood, head of RBS Digital Office, about the scope of the ambition.
Each month, the CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Ross McEwan, gathers together the heads of all the financial group’s business divisions for an RBS Innovation Forum. The only topic on the agenda: digital transformation.
In common with banks everywhere, RBS is striving to rebuild its customer engagement model around digital and mobile banking as customer behavior changes. The need for technology innovation is not only being driven from the top; the sense of urgency is felt equally by those at the front line, who are only too aware that the relationship with customers is changing fast and that they need to be equipped with the right tools if they are to serve their needs well.
At RBS that has meant a complete overhaul of the traditional end-user, desktop-centric computing environment and its progressive replacement with the RBS Digital Office.
Meeting new customer expectations
As Steve Wood, who heads the RBS Digital Office program, observes, the strategy is an active response to the changing nature of the relationship between the bank and its most treasured asset: the customer. “Our digital transformation has given us the opportunity to take a fundamental look at the way we provide technology and tools to our employee base” — and the suitability of those tools. “The customer base is changing fast. There are demographic changes and shifts in the way people consume services. They expect to see the same service from a bank that they would get from an Amazon, Facebook or any big technology player. And we need to be as equally good as those organizations at providing customer service.”
That means arming staff with a new generation of technology and delivering it in more agile, dynamic fashion. It means going well beyond the traditional approach of providing them with an intranet-type resource base — no matter how deep. Such information look-up doesn’t foster behavioral change among customer-facing employees, says Wood. Nor does it drive intrinsic value from the underlying knowledge itself, even assuming staff can navigate their way to the information that will help the customer.
As part of the journey to a “fully digital workplace,” RBS has created a digital maturity model for customer engagement that will encourage the kind of collaborative behaviors needed from its employees in the future. “It creates the capability of sharing knowledge in a much more efficient and productive way,” says Woods. “Without such a digital workplace RBS employees won’t be able to serve their customers in the way customers — and employees themselves — are demanding now.”
The business imperative for workplace transformation
The business motivation behind this is unequivocal. “Our strategy is to the number one bank for customer service, advocacy and trust, and to do that we need to be innovative, creative and use technology to drive deep meaningful relationships with our customers.”
By creating a new set of technologies that allow customers and RBS staff to engage in highly valuable ways, RBS believes it can transform that relationship, says Woods.
And the re-tooling is being driven from the top of the organization. “The real shift has been in our leadership and executive pushing the technology agenda as part of the ambition to deliver excellent customer service. That has driven an appreciation [internally] that if you are innovative and you can create solutions and excellent customer journeys, then that is the way to go.”
But the Digital Office has another side. “It is also about ensuring technology makes RBS a great place to work,” says Woods, “[reflecting] the way our values and our culture are progressing.”
As he outlines, the RBS Digital Office is evolving but has some defining characteristics:
• It empowers employees with mobile and cloud services that allow them to work anytime, anywhere and from any device.
• It provides a suite of digital and engineering tools that employees can consume — Jira, FishEye and Bitbucket and others — while fully integrating those with a collaborative foundation, Confluence, from specialist software company Atlassian.
• It leverages DevOps and other agile techniques to ensure a constant flow of applications and updates (for both employees and customers).
• It puts in place true knowledge management capabilities.
• Critically, it takes advantage of the project, content, conferencing and office productivity management inherent in Microsoft Office 365.
• And it makes extensive use of social tools — particularly Workplace by Facebook — to support engagement and information exchange between employees and customers. With 70,000 RBS users, Workplace is already proving “a great tool for gelling the organization in a collaborative way, as well as demonstrating what makes RBS a compelling place to work,” says Wood. “It also provides an understanding of what constitutes best practice in serving customers in a social setting.”
Cloud: enhancing customer engagement, cutting costs
The move of multiple processes into cloud environments is a pillar of the strategy — and is part of a clear trend. “We will undoubtedly move to a much broader acceptance of cloud because that will allow us to effectively blur the lines between a member of staff and customer,” says Wood.
But the shift to the Digital Office is also inseparable from the pressing need to lower the bank’s cost base. “The move to cloud and mobile technologies will allow us to reduce the overall running cost,” he says.
RBS is under no illusion that it can get to this new world on its own. “The way that our digital transformation is evolving requires us to work more closely with partners. There is an ecosystem we need to bring in to help us build this digital journey,” says Wood.
One interesting facet of digital transformation is that it creates more sophisticated conversations between RBS and its supplies, he says, with the debate no simple exchange of requirements and costs. “That to-ing and fro-ing in a traditional supplier-customer model just does not work when you are talking about concepts in the digital space because it is not a hard artefact such as a desktop or a break-fix service that is being supplied.
“The dialog is much more transformational in itself because we need partners to understand RBS and the ambition we have for our customers. Without that I don’t believe they can supply the service or products that we need. So the relationship has changed.”
Co-creating the Digital Office
Equally it requires suppliers to work with each other in a different way. Global ICT company Fujitsu, for example, runs RBS’s desktop platform. And Wood thinks it vital that major suppliers can work hand-in-hand both with their peers and smaller specialists in partnership networks. “We need an ecosystem that adds value not just for RBS and its customers but also for the suppliers themselves. Nobody can do this on their own, whether a bank or a technology provider. So this understanding of partner relationships is really crucial. It’s the only way solutions will be delivered, going forward.”
The transformation of the workplace at RBS is not without its major challenges. The pace of change in the industry is one, says Wood.
“Traditionally, banking has been relatively slow in technology adoption,” he says. One move designed to address that has been RBS’s embracing of a DevOps capability. “Our executives are impatient. They want us to be number one for customer service and they see innovative technology as the solution to that,” he says. The proven ability of DevOps to propel innovation from ideas to live applications is helping to accelerate the change.
The aim is for the Digital Office to be populated and refreshed frequently with tools and features that staff need. “In the consumer space, apps are being continually updated, unlike in the traditional corporate space where functionality might be part of a big, costly annual rollout. We have to find a way of being similarly agile deploying these technologies and move more into this kind of consumerization of software development and delivery.”
Not surprisingly, Wood also points to security as a big challenge. “It is not so much about the security products themselves or the back-end infrastructure but about customer trust. Our customers are trusting us with their financial wellbeing and consequently we have to demonstrate that our technology solutions are robust and safe.”
And while RBS has made significant investments in cybersecurity capabilities in recent years, there is always a tension between providing excellent security and delivering a great user experience, Wood observes. “We have to work through how we build an awesome customer and colleague experience but one that is absolutely safe,” he says.
The last challenge he highlights is the ability of employees to consume a constant flow of new services. “Their job is to serve customers so they don’t have time to go through some mass adoption process,” he says. In the case of Workplace by Facebook, for example, the relatively intuitive nature of the service and user familiarity with the consumer version meant that RBS didn’t have to provide any associated training. Neither does it offer a Facebook helpdesk or any other support. “It is effectively self-policing,” says Wood. He would like many other commercial technologies that require extensive training today to be equally easy to adopt and support.
As that underscores, the concept of the Digital Office aims to overturn traditional notions of end-user computing. “There is still a way to go but some of the older technologies and ways of doing things are starting to disappear. We’ve got to a different costing model and people are excited about technologies that allow us to do what we should be doing: transforming the business digitally.”
• Steve Wood was a speaker at Fujitsu Forum 2017 Munich
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