Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wake Up Call for the Banking Industry

In a discussion thread on the LinkedIn group Simpler IT, Marc Lankhorst mentioned that the Dutch Bank (The Dutch banking regulatory board) recently came out with a new report that discussed the stability of Dutch banks. The report is titled Naar een Dienstbaar en Stabiel Bankwezen or To a Serviceable and Stable Banking System (as translated by Bing.)

Appendix 7 of the report discussed the critical relationship between banking IT systems, Enterprise Architecture, and complexity management. The report is in Dutch. I ran it through Google translate. The translation was very rough, but even in the Google translation, it was obvious that the report was nothing short of a wake up call to the banking industry.

One of the members of the Simpler IT group arranged for a group of humans to translate Appendix 7. This group did a great job and kindly gave me permission to reprint their translation here. The primary translator was Sasja McCann with help by Andi McCann and Peter Mcelwaine-Johnn.

The original (in Dutch) is by the Dutch Ministry of Finance and is here.

If you would like to discuss this report, I recommend discussing this on the appropriate thread at Simpler IT.

Appendix 7: Resolution and Recovery of IT systems in Banking

Information Technology (IT) is critical for many businesses and non-profit organisations. Business processes are so dependent on automated information systems that, in many cases, the performance of those systems are for a large part responsible for the success of an organisation. Many business procedures cannot operate anymore without the need for information systems. 

This is no different in the financial sector, and particularly the banking sector. Banks are sometimes referred to as glorified IT companies. IT plays a critical role in nearly all banking processes and has done so for a long time. Already in the 1960s, bulk processes were automated on a large scale, such as the automated payment system for instance. Over the years, most banks have created a variety of information systems, most of them geared towards automating administrative processes, but in the meantime, many other forms of information processing have been created.

Information systems in the Dutch banking sector, and the IT function that is responsible for those systems, have the following characteristics:

Information systems are an integral part of business, more so than in other sectors;

  • The budgets for their development and maintenance, and budgets for the IT function in general, are therefore correspondingly higher;
  • The proportion of older systems (legacy) is still relatively high, with relatively high additional maintenance costs;
  • The complexity of systems is relatively high, partly due to their relative old age and the dependency of banking processes on those systems. “Everything is dependent on everything else.”
  • The diversity of systems is relatively high, and also the number of systems is high;
  • IT functions are generally quite mature. A lot of investments have been made in processes and personnel;
  • Personnel working in the IT function are well-educated and have a high experience level;
  • The management and maintenance of information systems is often outsourced to specialized IT companies (e.g. IBM, Accenture, Cognizant) and is often operated from India or Eastern Europe;
  • Information systems extend to the customers, both business and retail customers. Much use is made of “electronic banking”
  • The customer is an extension of the information systems of the bank, and partly for this reason IT in the banking sector needs to comply with strict security regulations / conditions. This aspect is an important component of the trust customers have in a bank
Information technology is, in general, characterised by big changes and fast dynamics. For the purpose of this report it would be too much to discuss social media, cloud computing and big data in detail, but obviously banks will continue to invest in these areas, not only to be able to offer an attractive proposition to their customers and shareholders, but also to continue to comply with laws and regulations. At the same time all these IT developments offer the chance to reduce the complexity of information systems and to enhance their effectiveness. However, these developments do all need to comply with the relevant IT Governance.

In the remainder of this text we discuss the resolution and recovery of IT systems in the context of M&A activity. We describe some principles (the preconditions which we discussed in the previous paragraph) to which information systems must comply in order to be capable of resolution and recovery (i.e. splitting IT systems). We start with a brief introduction to the discipline to which these principles belong, called Enterprise Architecture. Enterprise Architecture is a tool for the governance, including IT Governance, of an organisation.

Enterprise Architecture

An Enterprise Architecture (EA) is a coherent set of principles, models and patterns focused on the design, development and management of an organisation. An Enterprise Architecture is like a blueprint (or map) of an organisation and its information systems. Strictly speaking EA is not a specific IT tool – in practice, however, it is a key tool to assure IT Governance. It describes the business functions and processes, their relationships and their information needs, and it outlines the information systems that meet that need.

An Enterprise Architecture structures the IT landscape, makes it possible to describe the current and necessary information systems in an orderly and consistent manner, and to take decisions based on these descriptions. These decisions are aimed generally at the new development, modification or replacement of information systems.

The discipline that deals with EA has developed in recent years in response to the increasing complexity of existing information systems, and the associated problems of large, unmanageable IT projects and dilemmas that many organisations face as a consequence of the fast dynamics and speed of information technology.

Due to the structuring and complexity-reducing character of Enterprise Architecture, this instrument is the means to achieve resolution and recovery of information systems. 

Enterprise Architecture and Dutch banks

Because of the aforementioned characteristics of information systems in the banking sector, Enterprise Architecture is highly relevant to banks. This is the reason why most Dutch banks have invested in the development of Enterprise Architecture functions and departments.

In theory, the banks already have a tool that enables high quality of information systems. One of the aspects of high quality is that resolution and recovery of information can take place in a controlled manner. However, given the quality problems that banking systems face at the moment, the reality is often different: insufficient availability, high security risks and lack of maintainability. This contributes to high cost of maintenance and adjustment costs of banking information systems and also means that successful resolution and recovery is very difficult to achieve.

Why then, given all the promises, is Enterprise Architecture still underutilised? Reasons for this are:

  1. Opportunism of the ‘business’: often driven by circumstances there are often “quick and dirty” information systems developed that do not conform to the EA. These systems usually live a longer life than originally envisaged. It is often these systems that cause the most problems. 
  2. Backlog: we’ve already highlighted the legacy problems of banks. It takes a lot of time and effort to clean up and replace legacy systems. 
  3. Unnecessary complexity: sometimes there is an atmosphere of mystique around Enterprise Architecture that makes it unnecessarily complicated, resulting in lack of understanding by the people that need to understand it. Furthermore, the programmes that are implemented through Enterprise Architecture are often large and complex, which increases the risk of failure. 
  4. Insufficient overview: partly because of the complexity and scale of information systems there is no clear overview to actually develop a clear ‘map’. The result is often a very complex diagram that no one understands anymore. 
  5. Mandate: The staff in the Enterprise Architecture discipline (“architects”) have insufficient mandate from the organisation to achieve effective “compliance” with the architecture. Sometimes architects are not sufficiently able to express (the importance of) EA. 
  6. Contracts and Service Level Agreements: vendors are sometimes unable to comply with EA or do not want to comply, e.g. if cost justifications are introduced. Until recently, there were no standards for suppliers or banks to adhere to. 
  7. Each bank has in the past tried to re-invent the wheel at least once, under the assumption that banking processes differ greatly. Obviously this is not the case. It has, however, led to costly programmes and projects that have resulted in a healthy apathy towards IT at senior levels within the banks. 
The last two reasons led to the realisation that there is a need for EA standards for banks. This standard has recently been developed by the Banking Industry Architecture Network (BIAN), established by a number of major banks, along with several established IT vendors[1]. In the Netherlands, ABN AMRO, ING and Rabobank are members of BIAN. Other members are several European, Asian and American banks and its membership is expanding rapidly. The standard, the so called BIAN model, describes all the services that a bank offers, including IT support required for this. The advantage of such a standard is that banks do not have to reinvent the wheel themselves. This not only reduces costs but also increases the quality of the IT landscape, and facilitates M&A activity amongst banks. Figure 1 shows the complete model (at the highest level)[2].

Figure 1 BIAN Service Landscape 2.5 

Resolution and Recovery Principles

Regarding unbundling, an Enterprise Architecture should give priority to the following three principles. This means that all the information systems of a bank are structured and arranged such that they conform to these principles. Note that the principles can be further “unravelled” - in order to avoid complexity as much as possible, we describe them at an aggregate level in this report.

We have sought to minimize the number of principles. This does not mean that we discourage additions or refinement of the above three principles – in practice, banks often use more principles. A minimal set enables clarity, and also allows for the acceptance and implementation of the EA principles.

Principle 1: Compartmentalisation of information systems.

The background of this principle is that business functions/departments must be able to operate as independently as possible from each other and that the information system of one function does not interfere with that of another function. The bank defines its business functions to be as detailed as possible, and also defines the relationships between business functions as clearly as possible. The information systems of a business function should not support other business functions, but communicate (via so-called “services”) and exchange data with information systems from other business functions – they are compartmentalised. Compartmentalisation is achieved in practice by, inter alia:

  • Virtualisation of information systems, which means that users share hardware and software in a controlled way. Special software (virtualisation software) ensures the compartmentalisation; authorisation and authentication play an important role in this
  • Develop and analyse information systems with a “service-oriented” view. “Service-orientation” refers to ensuring a system is developed with the end-user and the purpose of the service in mind.
  • Developing information systems using components with well-defined functionality. Each component should have a clearly defined service. Components should be standardised and documented and may be reused.
  • Multiple layers of information systems, in which, for example the presentation of data is separated from the processing of data. 

A beneficial side effect of compartmentalisation is the reduction of complexity, which in itself simplifies resolution and recovery. In addition, the number of links (interfaces) between systems is reduced, making maintenance easier. The success of compartmentalisation depends on carefully thought-through and well-documented Enterprise Architecture.

Principle 2: Data has one owner who is responsible for the storage, description, sharing and destruction of the data.

This principle should ensure the quality of the data of a bank; for example, it should prevent inconsistencies and data unreliability caused by copying data and then editing the copied data. The data owner is responsible for the quality of the data. Data quality is crucial in any potential split of activity. In the case of a resolution of an information system as a result of M&A activity, two cases can arise:

  • The split entities are no longer part of the same holding. A predetermined copy of the data is made to be used by both entities. Each entity then applies principle 2 in their own entity. 
  • The split entities are part of the same holding. In that case, they can use the same data, and principle 2 still applies, i.e. one data owner.

Principle 3: An information system has one owner, who is responsible for both the quality of the information system and its components, as well as the quality of the services provided by the information system.

The application of Principle 3 ensures clarity of ownership of an information system. In any split this clarity is crucial. Even if there is no split, it is important that an information system has an owner, with a budget to develop the information system to a required level and to keep it there, to ensure business processes are supported optimally and that resolution and recovery is possible. Incidentally, this is also one of the guiding principles of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX).


Earlier in this text we have already stated that many banks already use Enterprise Architecture, including resolution and recovery principles, and that specific roles, disciplines and processes have been defined. We argue that the Enterprise Architecture discipline needs to take a stronger position within the bank. This means that:

  • The staff in the discipline (architects) have excellent content and communication skills. They know the banking business, the information systems of the bank and the relevant information technology for the bank through and through, and can clearly convey that knowledge verbally and in writing. They are able to capture and define an Enterprise Architecture in understandable language and / or models, and can express the importance of Enterprise Architecture effectively.
  • The discipline reports to top management in the bank. Enterprise Architecture comprises the entire bank and the information provision of the whole bank – it is therefore important that this broad scope is reflected in the weight of the discipline within the organisation. The discipline not only has a close relationship with IT in particular, but also with the operation of the bank in general, and with the risk management discipline. A close relationship with the COO and CRO, in addition to the relationship with the CIO, is therefore necessary.
  • The Enterprise Architecture discipline has the mandate to test the current and future information systems against the Enterprise Architecture. The discipline also has the mandate to escalate to the highest level in the case of non-compliance, with the obligation to indicate what action should be taken to eliminate non-compliance. This mandate also extends to suppliers and vendors – it should be contractually specified that suppliers and vendors are to conform to the Enterprise Architecture.
  • It is advisable to rest the accountability for the Enterprise Architecture discipline with one person: the Chief Enterprise Architect.


Following the above, we propose the following steps to ensure successful resolution and recovery of banking information systems:

  1. An important means of ensuring resolution and recovery is to establish Enterprise Architecture disciplines. Establish a number of clear principles, wherein the three principles as described in this document are a minimum. Become a member of an industry body or adhere to a standard in this area – BIAN seems obvious.
  2. Strengthen the Enterprise Architecture discipline in the bank by appointing a Chief Enterprise Architect with knowledge of the banking business and an overview of the IT landscape of the bank. 
  3. Let the Chief Enterprise Architect report to top management. 
  4. Make resolution and recovery the Chief Enterprise Architect’s responsibility, even if only with regard to the IT landscape
  5. Give the Chief Enterprise Architect the mandate and the tools to assess changes and new developments in the IT landscape, to comment on them and, if necessary, to stop them.
  6. Give the Chief Enterprise Architect the mandate and the tools, including a number of enterprise architects with excellent communication skills and experience in the banking industry, to initiate activities that enable successful resolution and recovery of the IT landscape.
  7. Increase EA knowledge and skills of supervisors/senior management. This applies to risk management, the Supervisory Board and DNB (Dutch National Bank). It has been observed that the latter has little to no ability to test an Enterprise Architecture. In addition, currently there is no reference model to benchmark any testing. The aforementioned BIAN model can fulfill the role of this reference model.
Note that these measures are not only beneficial for the ability to successfully resolve and recover, but also increase the quality and maintainability of information systems in general.

[1] For more information, see

[2] Updated to show v2.5 of the BIAN model. Original report showed v2.0.


Frank Harmsen said...


I, as one of the member of the banking committee, am the author of this text. Please let me know if you need more info

Frank Harmsen / EY Advisory & Maastricht University

Roger Sessions said...

Frank, I would like to discuss this report with you. I have sent you a linked in request. My email is roger/ I would also like to invite you to the LinkedIn group Simpler IT. We have a number of architects from the banking industry and we have been discussing the relationship between complexity and risk. The group is at