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XPLUS Talks: meet Rudy Wouters, ING chief architect

Last week I spent a few hours talking with the Chief Architect Rudy Wouters ( ING Tech Chief architect for Market Leaders ).

Rudy answered a series of questions regarding Digital transformation and enterprise architecture.

We are happy to share his experience with you !

In one sentence, how would you describe what is a ‘digital transformation’?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)]  Digital transformation is happening to the daily life of everyone, i.e. activities like shopping, socialising, gaming, gambling, managing finances are now done online.

How would you describe your role as chief architect?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] As a chief architect, my mission is : “ To develop, advise on and execute the architecture policy, standards and strategy, in order to position adequate IT capabilities for realizing and enabling changing business needs and moving towards a globally scalable and secure banking platform.”

As part of this mission, we create an environment to continuously foster the professionalism of the architects. After all, stable and secure solutions are delivered by good professionals.

What are your daily difficulties?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] Finding the right balance and priorities. Dividing the attention between Horizon 1, 2 and 3 work, between planning and operational support, between less and more detail to deliver to the squads, between first time right and iterative improvements, between global and local solutions.

How do you see architects’ responsibilities evolving?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] ING is implementing globally a new and agile way of working. Predominantly this means that accountability and autonomy is given to multi-disciplinary squads. To get the full potential out of the squads, they need to be fed with sufficient context and boundaries, not with details. This means that although the purpose of the architects still remains the same, the service is delivered in a different way. In addition, architects will have to spend more time in structuring the portfolio well in advance and provide a view of how business outcomes can be realised across the different assets and thus teams. The latter requires a mature collaboration, between architects and tribe leads. Overall, communication competencies become more important than deep technical knowledge in specific technologies.

What  is – from your point of view – the next innovation that will impact your activity?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] As the digital transformation advances, also within the bank, the business processes are moving towards full digitisation. E.g. some of the least expected ones a few years ago, are now picked up by robots. This means that, whatever happened within and often also outside the company, is available in exploitable data. Still today, humans interpret these data to take business decisions. More and more of these feedback loops will become automated, meaning that commercial and operational aspects of the business will adapt themselves to the reality created by the customers. This means that software engineers will focus more on smart algorithms and artificial intelligence to keep up with the required agility. Stand-ups will be more organised around screens showing how systems are currently running the business, trying to understand why this is happening and consequently maybe steer the responses in a different direction.

What  is the current digitalization challenge of your company today?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] We still have difficulties to benefit from our size, i.e. it is a challenge to work towards globalized solutions, that are being used many times. Mainly this is coming from the different speeds of the business in different parts of the world and leads to differences in priority. Eventually, the speed of change is limited by the amount of engineers that can be put to work in an effective manner.

Which transformation project is the most risky from your point of view?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] To be really competitive in a digitalised world, also the core systems of the bank must be adapted to more real-time and data driven processing. As this happens in flight, it is risky for many reasons: because they are part of nearly all business flows, there is a real danger of jeopardising stability and continuity of the business, at the same time, there is only in the long run additional value visible, which increases the risk of losing focus leading inevitably to failure to deliver.

Which transformation project will bring you the most value?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] In terms of potential, it will most probably be situated around the core systems upgrade, in terms of immediate value it will be related to how we change our means for integration in to the ecosystem.

Explain the risk of omission of EA, in other words, what happens when it is not present?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] Every company with a sizable change portfolio has had this experience already several times. Without the structuring capabilities of EA, it is very difficult for executives to have sufficient overview to determine a strategy that is not disconnected from reality. Defining a target view may still be easy enough, but when sufficient structured information down to the operational level is missing, it is impossible to define executable steps that lead to that target or even understand that the target cannot be achieved, inevitably not leading to the desired outcomes.

How do you communicate the value of architecture to your CIO and other Cxo’s?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] Talking or reading about it will not do the trick. If that would be true, everyone would be convinced. There is enough lecture on the subject to fill a room. According to me, the difference can be made by the actions of the architects at all layers of the company, from operational to tactical to strategic activities. The architects should always prioritize their activities towards complementing the value of the teams and ensuring stability of the solutions. This added value finds its source in the structured oversight they have and their understanding of how everything relates to the desired outcomes. Architects with this behavior will be communicated about.

Which book recently influenced you ?

[Wouters, R. (Rudy)] There are actually two:

1/ “reinventing organisations” from Frederic Laloux

2/ “Continuous Architecture, sustainable architecture in an agile and cloud-centric world” from Murat Erder and Pierre Pureur

How do you see the challenge of training, keeping your architects?

Given the importance for architects of context and integration with the organisation, there is added value in a stable architecture workforce. How can architects then be convinced to stay with the company while satisfying their desire for new challenges. For this reason, we’re working in a partnership with XPlus on a true architecture training platform. The idea is to allow companies to produce and consume interesting training, dedicated to architects. At the same time, there is an opportunity to bring together architects from non-competing industries, in classical training. When brought together, being presented with similar challenges, they may exchange valuable information with each other but even more, they may ignite new ideas for collaboration across companies. The main idea is to enable companies to create their own architects – you don’t hire an architect, you create one. On the other side, it allows architects to find diversity in their work, without having to switch company.

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