Back in the late '90s, the Private Banking IT division of financial services giant Credit Suisse was at a crossroads. Some felt that the organization’s IT infrastructure was beyond repair and would have to be replaced wholesale. Others maintained that everything was fine and could keep going indefinitely.
“Obviously, neither was true,” recalls Stephan Murer, who had just become chief architect. So he beat a middle path that he calls a “managed evolution strategy.” The basic idea is a page ripped from the latest IT playbook: “Whatever we will do will be based on what we have, but we will evolve this in a certain direction and do it piece by piece,” says Murer. And that’s what he and his organization have been doing for the last eight or nine years.
Enterprise architecture was a new concept for the bank, so as the first person to hold the chief architect position, it was Murer’s job to work architectural principles into the fabric of the organization. “There was no strategic governance – what was being built, the tech portfolio, the application portfolio, platform strategy – nothing like this existed,” he says. Year by year, with single-minded determination, Murer has led the effort to put those systems in place. Today, he’s the bank’s CTO.
One element of the managed evolution strategy turned out to be an SOA, which is by nature evolutionary and leverages existing assets. The sheer scale of the initiative puts it in the top tier of SOA implementations. “Today we offer about 1,000 different services,” Murer says. “[The SOA] is being used by every major application we have in the firm. Today you have a couple dozen million messages and about 20 to 30 million service calls a day that go through the central bus.”
Another Murer accomplishment was to reel in the Web efforts that had sprung up across the company and consolidate them on a single Java platform. This year, the fourth major version of the platform was released, with 150 applications running on 300 servers in Zurich and Singapore.
With such massive endeavors underway, Murer could be forgiven for increasing the IT budget. But the efficiencies derived from the new architecture – particularly the unified Java platform – have actually reduced IT spending substantially. “When I started, the Private Banking IT budget was 1.5 billion Swiss francs, which is something like $1.2 billion,” says Murer, “Today it’s at 900 million Swiss francs. This is seven or eight years later, doing more volume-wise, geographical-footprint-wise, and functionality-wise.”
Clearly, Murer takes a long view of IT progress. And he has a message for those who think they can achieve transformational success in a hurry. “You need a lot of patience in this business,” he says. “Architectural change is a combination of cultural changes, technical changes, and very careful implementation. The big pieces always took me about four years from the inception of the idea until it was fully rolled out. So if you have a perspective of one or two years, you can’t do the job.”