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ABN AMRO and IBM have been close partners for many years. The collaboration broadly centers on two company-wide focus areas — workstation management and IT infrastructure.

“Our collaboration is more driven by the business than by the IT,” explains Frans Woelders, ABN AMRO’s CIO. “We are looking first of all at where the business needs to find value, and then at what IT solutions might generate that value. IBM then comes up with appropriate initiatives. That requires close personal cooperation, with both parties aiming for the same goals. To ensure this, ABN AMRO requires all of its IT partners, of which IBM is the largest, to commit themselves to the partnership from the outset by applying the same set of KPIs (business satisfaction; IT availability; IT capacity; and project excellence). It means that, with IBM, we were able to kick off our collaboration based on firm foundations. That kind of mutual clarity is vital for us, because IT has become such a cornerstone of our business in all areas, from financial transactions to customer service.”

Learning lessons
Some significant lessons have been learnt from this intensive collaboration. “Mutual trust is very important,” says Woelders. “You need to be able to rely on each other, in order to get the most out of your IT capabilities.” That is why ABN AMRO and IBM share in-depth insights and confidential knowledge not just with each other but with the other IT partners involved as well. “The way we work together is also very personal,” adds Raoul Van Engelshoven, Managing Director ABN AMRO Account at IBM. “We have to be able to talk straight to one another at all times, to ensure that we get the priorities right each day. So we involve ABN AMRO in all facets of the IT revolution that we are implementing.”

As an additional lesson, Woelders mentions being made aware of the bigger picture in which ABN AMRO operates. “Every day, I realize the impact of our IT work on the effectiveness of the whole company in Holland. Just think of how many financial transactions are handled every day through our digital systems — and the consequences a breakdown in, say, internet banking would have for businesses and individual, not to mention our image.”

Influence of business developments
What business developments are currently front and center in the collaboration? “The merger between ABN AMRO and Fortis Bank Nederland initially meant a lot of organizational changes behind the scenes, not least in IT, so recent years have been all about IT integration,” says Woelders. “The second part of our focus recently has been the arrival of the digital service model: Our customers expect us to give them outstanding service at all times, everywhere – including via the internet and mobile.”

The introduction of Big Data is a third development that is taking up a lot of ABN AMRO and IBM’s attention. Van Engelshoven: “Big Data opens up amazing opportunities. Financial institutions are now able to filter valuable information out of a huge mass of data and, with the insights gained from that analysis, improve service to their customers. To do that, you need really powerful and smooth-running IT systems, with strong data management capabilities and the watertight security required if you are using privacy-sensitive data — so all of that is also keeping us busy at the moment.”

Looking to the future
ABN AMRO and IBM are both forward-looking companies, constantly focused on the future. Woelders sees a great number of opportunities for real-time analysis based on Big Data. “Real-time data analysis is becoming an increasingly important component in our operational management. Our aim is to integrate it into all our customer channels. We will also be improving our user interfaces further by enhancing ease-of-use and making them suitable for other forms of communication.”

Van Engelshoven points to the continued telescoping of public and private as a key upcoming development in the industry. “In the near future, we will be working more and more with cloud environments. Both customers and staff are using these environments more frequently now for both business and private use, and that raises security challenges. So we are supporting ABN AMRO in these developments, so that the bank is properly prepared and flexible enough to capitalize quickly on any opportunities.”

Spearheads for the future
“Connectivity and security will be important spearheads for the years ahead,” says Woelders. “If you increase connectivity, you create opportunities. Our customers want to be able to bank at all hours and wherever they happen to be – and we want to facilitate that for them. At the same time, the growth in connectivity leads to security challenges. So, in parallel with our efforts to improve the service to customers, we are constantly working to keep our security top-notch.”

According to Van Engelshoven, other focuses for ABN AMRO and IBM include reducing paper flow and man hours by automating processes further, particularly at the product level. In terms of transactions, virtually everything at ABN AMRO is already done digitally.

Woelders and van Engelshoven agree about the effects of these new developments on their partnership. “They will result in even more intensive collaboration between IBM and ABN

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