Barry Lynn on the evolution of the bank CIO

barry-lynnWe recently sat down with Barry X Lynn, technology investor/consultant and member of Zafin’s Board of Directors. Barry has over 40 years of experience in IT and banking, building the first online banking system as CIO at Wells Fargo.


You were CIO at Wells Fargo for over six years during the 1990s. What was your key focus during that time?

Initially, it was centralization of IT and integration. Before 1993, Wells Fargo as an organization was decentralized – many stovepipe businesses operating pretty independently, each with its own IT department. The idea in 1993 was to transform IT to be more in alignment with an evolving customer-centric business approach. So, we reorganized IT around functions.

In addition to consolidating data centres, we created a single group to address all application needs, a second to address information integration and a third to address all network, front-end and user/customer experiences, and then unify them across business units.


Can you give some examples of your efforts to galvanize innovation as part of the IT culture at Wells Fargo?

We implemented a program called ‘Falling Forward’, where we actually gave bonuses to people for making the mistakes we learned the most from. This is difficult to manage because one has to differentiate between risks worth taking and stupid mistakes, but it encouraged risk taking, rather than punished it – and resulted in some of the most progressive financial services technologies of the time.

Also, very importantly, we made sure that people knew why they did what they did and what the impact was on end users and customers when their technology failed. The culture was this: if your daily purpose was to create the greatest technology on Earth, you were probably working for the wrong company. But if your daily purpose was to leverage technology to make Wells Fargo more profitable, you were in the right place.


In your view, how has the bank CIO role evolved over the past 20 years? What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?

I think the CIO role has evolved from being the owner of IT to being the owner of technology infrastructure – a sort of parts and services depot for business to build and/or integrate applications.


How do you see the CIO role changing over the next decade?

I think the biggest change, especially with the advent of cloud computing, is that corporations will no longer own, manage and operate data centres. They will leave that to the data centre operators. Rather, they will manage resources on demand and Software-as-a-Service (as well as infrastructure and platforms as services).


See also: A day in the life of a bank CIO

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Look for more in our upcoming Fall 2014 CIO supplement of the Relationship Banker: Journal of Product and Pricing Lifecycle Management.