Teachers Mutual Bank is by no means the biggest spender on IT in Australia’s financial services sector, but that doesn’t stop it from forking out millions of dollars each year on IT infrastructure projects as it works to stay on the leading edge with innovative technology.
To this end, Teachers Mutual Bank CIO and CISO Dave Chapman, frequently finds himself employing the services of external partners to undertake tricky tech projects and to supplement the skill-set of the company’s roughly 70-strong internal tech team.
Like most successful financial services enterprises in Australia however, Teachers Mutual Bank is a picky customer when it comes to outsourcing IT project work to external providers.
And partners don’t stand a chance unless they first make an effort to really understand what Chapman and his team actually want and need.
“The people I never talk to are the ones whose first line is not, ‘what do you need?’ Chapman said.
“It drives me to distraction when vendors send me an email or they drop in via a cold call and say, ‘hi, we’ve got the best product for you’... and they haven’t even asked me about what we’ve got or what our strategy is.”
However, if a potential partner shows promise, Chapman and co. are usually ready and willing to work towards a long-term relationship built on trust, transparency, awareness of the bank’s bigger picture goals, a long-term viewpoint, and, of course, innovative capability.
“If they make those connections, if they put those links together so that we get a better outcome at the end of the day for what we’re doing in a holistic sense... we’ll engage [them] for the long-term,” Chapman said.
While the bank takes the usual tender process route to engaging an outside partner for tech projects, the deciding factor has less to do with dollars and more to do with sense — that is, the sense that both parties can get real value out of an engagement.
“I never look at just the cost,” Chapman said. “I used to do a lot of work with other companies... where you’d just push for the cheapest price.
“And you really do get what you pay for. And if you shoot for the cheapest price and cut the vendor to the bone, no one wins, because they can’t give you the right service.”
Instead, Chapman takes a broader view when settling on a potential partner — he will check out what Gartner reports about a potential supplier, look at the organisation’s performance in the industry and work out how they stack up against others, in terms of capability and reputation.
Chapman also takes the time to talk with his colleagues and peers in the industry to get a sense of different providers’ reputations across the sector.
Naturally, a large portion of reputation comes from a partner’s ability to foster a good relationship with its client. This is why Chapman places such value in relationship skills among suppliers.
“Relationship management, it’s so important, yet many vendors don’t get it,” he said.
Mirroring the importance Chapman places on reputation and the relationships underpinning it is capability or, more specifically, the capability of a partner to be on the cutting edge of innovation.
“Their ability to embrace innovation is really important to me,” Chapman said. “This mutual industry, we do embrace innovation a little more aggressively than others might.
“We’re smaller, but that makes us more agile. So, if a vendor comes into me and says ‘I know where you want to get you, and I’ve got a really unique way to get you there’ that will almost certainly get my interest.”