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Development 7 December 2020

Ensuring the success of IT projects in the time of Covid-19

By Magnus Taljaard, Chief Technology Operating Officer, Standard Bank Group

For large organisations, the Covid-19 crisis has been a stress-test of their digital infrastructures and their ability to quickly adopt new ways of working.

Thanks to deep investments in digital technology in recent years – Standard Bank Group invested R13.9bn in IT over the past two financial years and bolstered its strategic partnerships with global technology organisations – the transition for us has been almost seamless.

Adopting new ways of working in a matter of days is no mean feat for a multinational organisation with more than 50,000 permanent employees. Africa’s largest bank invoked its business continuity plans in March, when national lockdowns were announced across most of its African portfolio, and these ways of working largely remain in place today.

Since the onset of the crisis, we have built on our existing technology capabilities by enhancing our remote-work capacity, further strengthening our cyber resilience, and by developing tools to keep employees informed and connected.

The fact that most of the collaboration tools we use are cloud-based, meant that we were able to scale instantaneously without  the delays associated with extending on-premises infrastructure .

More than 75% of our employees are still working productively from home, leveraging the bank’s digital tools, including a purpose-built Covid-19 Connect App. To enable remote work, the bank has provided about 23,000 mobile broadband devices to its employees in South Africa, up from 6,000 pre-Covid-19.

Standard Bank Group employees are now holding more than half a million remote meetings every month, from less than 1,000 before the pandemic.

All of this, combined with a long-standing commitment to Agile ways of working, has placed us in a strong position to continue implementing major IT projects successfully.  Because we had a set of well-established Agile ceremonies for technology initiatives in place, we were able to convert these into virtual ceremonies with relative ease.

Processes such as daily stand-ups and Programme Increment planning sessions are all done remotely now and continue to be highly effective – in fact in certain instances we have seen an increase in levels of engagement and productivity.

Being agile has also allowed us to develop collaborative teams which draw on strengths from different parts of the business. These teams are critical to the success of major projects as they allow for a diversity of views and create efficiencies when it comes to making decisions about a product. By having a representative from customer service, for example, being part of the team from the start of the project we can ensure that we remain customer centric while still driving innovation from a technology standpoint. 

A second important key to success is creating a welcoming work environment. We have come to believe very strongly that if you create an environment where people can flourish you get the best outcomes for the organisation. An autonomous and empowered team creates a level of dedication, commitment and throughput that contributes to excellence and responsiveness to markets.

This also applies to working remotely. We have found that our teams are using collaboration tools very well. They have a standard set of tools, but they all have the different ways of incorporating them in their ways of work because they are empowered. 

For businesses which still look at productivity in terms of the number of hours people spend in the office, this could prove to be a difficult transition.  In the digital age, however, success is determined by visibility and transparency around the outcomes, being clear on where responsibility sits, effectively tracking the progress of a project, and removing the need to focus only on input measures. By empowering multi-disciplinary teams to deliver these outcomes, you ensure that you produce the best possible solution for your clients and your business.

Success is also deeply dependant on an understanding of the needs of the customer. In an Agile way of working you build in an iterative approach which allows you to validate your product or service with customers at key points throughout the lifecycle. If you have built checkpoints with customers into your Agile process you are more like to build effective solutions.  However, if you focus only on time to market and cost, you run the risk of developing the solution fully only to find out it’s not what the customer needs or wants.

At Standard Bank we ascribe to the Agile manifesto and a set of proven principles about how to go about delivering technology solutions. Today, the strategic nature of technology means that it has a direct impact on the business.  That is why you always start with the business outcome – in our case it is creating value for our customers.  As we move towards become the bank of the future our Agile ways of working will become even more integral to our success.