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Thursday, 08 March 2012 18:22

Commbank shoots for six minute failure

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The Commonwealth Bank is aiming for downtime of less than six minutes of downtime a year on its critical computer systems - but acknowledges that there is a high price to be paid for that level of systems reliability, and it isn't always achieved.

In a wide ranging address at an Australian Information Industry Association event in Sydney today the bank's chief information officer Michael Harte referred to the Eftpos and ATM outage that the bank endured last week, and admitted that every time the bank's systems did go down it was embarrassed.

'There were quite a number of people who were inconvenienced when they couldn't pay for groceries.  That's very inconvenient and very embarrassing,' said Mr Harte.

It was he said very hard to get five nines (99.99999 per cent reliability) on business critical systems, but said that the bank's track record was improving. He said that six years ago the bank endured 80 Sev 1 class systems failures each year, but that had now been cut to eight a year.

He said of the $1.2 billion the bank spent each year on IT '$650 million is spent every year on keeping the systems alive.'

Mr Harte stressed that at the same time as the bank had improved its systems reliability it had also delivered threefold the system capabilities. 'If you do the math, that's pretty good,' he said.

The bank systems' reliability was also challenged by the migration to the new core banking platform. Although this is now expected to complete by the end of the year, Mr Harte acknowledge that switching to a new system was 'inherently risky,' but that when there was a systems failure it was a 'race for recovery in a reasonable timeframe - but we are embarrassed every single time it happens.'


For increasingly tech savvy bank customers the public relations challenge for the banks is that they are increasingly aware of any and all systems failures and telegraph them loudly on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Instead of being occasional visitors to a branch, bank customers now expect 24x7 access to the bank and their accounts.

For the banks the challenge isn't just about keeping the systems up - but making sure they can milk the new relationship that is developing between connected customer and their bank.

In order to reap the benefits of this new level of connection Mr Harte explained it was important for banks to have new platforms which allowed them to price for 'loyalty and risk' and use their more granular understanding of customer behaviour to craft products or services for specific individuals.

While the branch remained a mainstay for the Commonwealth Bank, the types of transactions conducted in branches were changing he said, and the advent of more videoconferencing which was currently being trialled in the bank would further alter the branch-customer relationship.

'I think we will see far more videoconferencing from home'¦with direct access to a specialist.' Mr Harte said that in a wired organisation customers should; 'Only be one click away from getting the personal professional service and the solution you are looking for.'

'I don't see why you can't have facetime communication with your bank manager,' he said, adding that wasn't 'too far away'.


Mr Harte said that the bank was keen to hear from customers about the sorts of services and products that they would like, and was interested in the prospect of 'co-development'. He also said that the CBA planned to launch what he described as an 'appstore' where customers could try out beta versions of products and provide feedback to the bank ahead of any formal launch.

For the bank these round the clock interactions with customers are providing a wealth of information which can then be used to more accurately target customers.

Mr Harte said in an era when companies such as Facebook and Google had information about users' behaviour and loyalty, they had the opportunity to become formidable competitors 'not in pure play banking or insurance' but in their ability to direct users to alternative services.

By making CBA the custodian of similar data describing customer behaviour or loyalty it should be possible to 'Use the data to specifically price based on your risk or your loyalty.'

'The future of financial services is about knowing where you are and offering you what's relevant in real time. So we don't treat you as a credit score.'

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