Bank of America
- Howard Boville, Bank of America’s chief technology officer, explained to Business Insider how he approaches shutting down technology projects.
- Boville said getting humans on board with changes is far more challenging, and important, than the technical aspect of switching out old systems or tools.
- Bank of America has made a big push towards retraining employees, and hopes to increase the amount of internal candidates it hires for open positions.
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Bank of America’s chief technology officer, Howard Boville, says he spends a lot of his time thinking about people problems.
That might sound odd coming from the tech head at one of Wall Street’s biggest banks. But Boville says that dealing with humans, not computers, is the most important consideration when deciding if and when existing systems or tools should be shut down.
"You become more of a sociologist and a psychologist than you do actually a technologist," Boville told Business Insider. "It’s one of the most difficult things to do, because you get people that are really emotionally attached to something."
Knowing when to shut down — or "sunset"— a system or tool is a constant focus for technology executives across Wall Street. Traditional banks may be feeling constant pressure from startups to innovate more quickly, but deciding when to pull the plug is equally important.
Even systems that launch successfully and prove good for the bank typically last just five years, Boville said, and it’s important to make a definitive end date clear from the start.
"They build the thing and they get very emotionally attached to it, therefore we won’t get off it," Boville said. "You’ve got to almost make a decision the day you make it, but be very committed over that five-year term to derive the most value from it."
And even when an end date for a technology system is set, there’s still likely to be friction. Touting metrics about a replacement’s efficiencies will only goes so far, Boville said. People want to know how the change will affect them personally: What’s in it for me? Why would I do this?
It’s essential to get inside employees emotional psyche, understand what someone’s reservations might be, and address them, Boville said.
As a result, Boville finds his team spending more time on how the tech gets adopted and incorporated than the build out or launch.
"When you do it well, we can change the silicon overnight," Boville said, referring to the actual technology. The human, or "carbon," aspect is trickier. "If you do it well, it’ll take about 18 months to get the carbon to come alongside."
Not taking steps to ensure employees are willing to use a new tool or platform can be disastrous — if the appropriate adoption plan isn’t put into place, there’s a chance it will go completely unused.
"They’ve got the Ferrari in the garage, but they are hitching a horse to the front of it to pull it along," Boville said.
Employees often fear that their jobs will be replaced by new tools, which further complicates things. A report by IHS Markit in April estimated 1.3 million US workers will face job losses or reassignments in 2030.
Boville doesn’t believe the future is so dire. Humans will always need to work hand-in-hand with technology, and it’s just a matter of what they’ll be doing, he said.
Bank of America has invested heavily in retraining and reskilling its employees. It offers nearly 720 courses across 13 topics for the 95,000 people in its global technology and operations business. More than 423,00 courses have been completed so far.
Boville said the classes also help the bank with its goal of filling more roles with internal candidates. Boville estimated it takes between six and nine months for a new hire to get up-to-speed.
"We don’t think that there’s going to be a massive reduction in the number of people we need," Boville said. "We think there’s going to be more work that needs to be done even in disciplines we haven’t even thought about yet."
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