Standard Bank: The Agile Transformation

Kevin A. Johnston, Grandon Gill
Journal of Information Technology Education: Discussion Cases  •  Volume 6  •  2017  •  pp. 07
South Africa’s largest bank has recently completed a transformation from traditional systems development to the scaled agile framework. The individual leading the transformation is now considering how to keep the momentum going and possible new directions.

Josef Langerman, Head of IT Transformation for Standard Bank, reflected on the extraordinary transformation that his organization’s IT group had recently experienced. Over the past three years, Standard Bank’s IT group had changed from the relatively well accepted systems development lifecycle/waterfall model to a revolutionary large scale agile approach. The results had been gratifying. But it left a question unanswered. Now that things were starting to stabilize, what should be the next steps? The 154-year-old Standard Bank was the largest banking group in Africa, and the 5th largest company headquartered in South Africa. The bank offered a range of corporate, business and personal banking as well as financial services. Its 49,000 employees served over 15 million customers, in 20 countries across the continent of Africa, as well as other countries scattered around the globe.
Standard Bank’s IT group, located within the company’s Johannesburg headquarters, had over 6000 employees. The group managed the bank’s technology infrastructure–including a network of nearly 10,000 ATMs, its applications development, testing, deployment, maintenance and operations.
By 2014, the bank recognized that its IT performance was lagging industry benchmarks in productivity, turnaround time and employee satisfaction. Employing a “do it in-house” philosophy, it embarked on a major transformation. Abandoning traditional highly structured approaches to project management and development, it had adopted an agile philosophy that was most commonly seen in much smaller organizations and technology startups. The results had been impressive–productivity, cycle time and organizational health indicators had all risen dramatically. The group had also achieved substantial reductions in its budget. Even skeptics within the organization could not fail to be impressed.
Now, however, Langerman wondered about the future. He had been cautioned by his group’s HR Culture Transformation Guide that rapid improvement could easily be followed by disillusionment. What could be done to keep the momentum going forward? Should the bank double down on the types of changes to culture, practice and training that had led to its success, or was it time to let things settle? And who should be guiding the change? Should the implementation continue entirely in-house, or should outside consultants–that were working in other areas of the bank–play a significant role? In the near future, he would need to present his recommendations to the group’s CIO.
discussion case, case study, agile programming, banking, organizational transformation, scrum, South Africa
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