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Valuable IT Lessons That Can Be Learned From RBSs' Experience - The best investment in your computer systems that you'll ever make


Full credit to RBS for (fairly) quickly sorting out their latest computer glitch that saw more than half a million payments go AWOL temporarily - and while customers affected were irate, I did feel some sympathy for them and also gratitude for some valuable IT lessons that we can all learn - here I'll address two of them.

First a little background, the latest IT breakdown to hit RBS left 600,000 of its customers without payments due into their bank accounts - i.e. no wages, no tax credits and no disability allowance - no money for those affected.

The latest glitch followed an incident in 2012 that saw 6.5 million customers locked out of their accounts for days and the bank fined £56m - regulators said RBS had failed to keep its computer systems up to date, this despite spending £1bn a year on technology.

Ironically, scheduled a few days after the latest problem, a seminar about the bank’s IT strategy gave us all an insight into actually how hard the bank is working and how much it is investing into its IT infrastructure. But the bank’s Chief Administrative Officer, Simon McNamara, said he could not make the system failsafe and this is the problem facing CIOs the world over.

As companies and organisations merge, expand and takeover their competitors, IT departments are presiding over forced marriages of IT systems and back office functions - the resilience of IT is being tested to extraordinary new levels.

Now, in banking, IT is a rather troublesome area for many, but particularly for RBS, which has had a number of IT systems following its takeover of NatWest a decade and a half ago. Like many organisations that have patched new systems into legacy IT estates, RBS now has a complicated spaghetti nest of IT on top of a base that pretty much dates back to the earliest computer banking systems.

Many other organisations in a diverse range of industry sectors are suffering similar, if not identical growing pains.

The answer increasingly may be to outsource or multisource the very process of change - you have embraced Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Project Management as a Service - it seems highly logical to procure "Change Management as a Service". Indeed, the business case benefit of having an external pair of eyes and safe pair of hands bridging the gap between how your business IT will deliver for your organisation before and after a takeover or growth spurt makes itself.

A partner who has first taken the time to fully understand your IT estate and then access best in class, state of the art systems that will complement it, will lead to a reduction in such complicated nests of IT in the future. Furthermore, having an external partner design your IT estate mitigates the risk of internal talent moving on and taking vital information about what makes it tick with them in their head.

The second lesson that we all must learn from recurring banking IT problems is how best to reduce impact of outages on customers.

As previously mentioned, in this latest event, payments to 600,000 customers went missing. RBS was first to hold its hands up and admit this was unacceptable - but what about your business?

If your IT system failed would customer orders be processed? Would building materials make it construction sites? Would your customer leave with a warm glow of satisfaction or a bitter taste in their mouth? These days there is little excuse.

Almost every IT service failure presents early signs and indications of imminent trouble.

If acted upon these early symptoms can be treated and bigger problems can be averted. Of course, either the right people need to see the flashing lights on the dashboard or automated remediation efforts need to be built in to your systems that kick in as soon as early issues are detected and risks identified.

The Royal Bank of Scotland cannot rule out suffering another meltdown in its computer systems, Simon McNamara admitted that at the seminar - despite pledging to spend £150m a year making them more resilient. While that's true there are measures that can be put in place to reduce the impact on your customers and end users - indeed in many cases there's no need for your customer to even know there's a problem. These measures and monitoring systems are evolving all the time so again, make sure your partner has access to the full market and is not beholden to one vendor.

I started by saying that I felt sympathy for RBS - I really do and I will for you should your IT ever cause you sleepless nights - but it's not me that pays your bills - so will your customers be as understanding? You don't have to spend the billions that the banks are investing in their IT infrastructure but you do, proportionately, have to take it as seriously.

Get a great partner who really gets what your business needs its IT to deliver and take action to reduce the impact that a negative IT event has on your customer.

It will be the best investment in your computer systems that you ever make.

Contact us to learn more about how Stoneseed's IT Advisory Services can help you to ensure best value and align IT to business goals.

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