TD Bank: Contingency planning’s tough on IT projects

TORONTO — John Davies thought he was safe when he showed up in the “”command centre”” where the Toronto Dominion Bank was preparing the first conversion of Canada Trust’s core banking systems to a common platform.

It was late afternoon in March, 2001. This was supposed to be the quiet time

of the day, he says, even though they were beginning a dress rehearsal of what would be a massive integration between the IT networks of the two financial institutions, which merged two years ago.

“”That’s when I got the call that someone in Atlantic Canada who had started early,”” he says. “”We never anticipated that. That’s when we went into panic mode.””

Davies, TD Canada Trust’s senior vice-president, shared his experiences as part of the “”What Worked”” track at ProjectWorld Toronto 2002 Wednesday. The bank has discussed the story of its IT integration before, but Davies was more concerned with lessons learned and using his experiences to provide guidance to colleagues on how to streamline projects to provide better service on deadlines.

In TD’s case, the deadline was particularly tight. The company gave itself until August 2001 to get the systems converted. This included more than 65 applications, Davies says, and affected 160 products. It had considered converting all Canada Trust (CT) systems to TD’s, or merely connecting TD’s retail customers to Canada Trust, but in the end it used TD’s core systems and enhanced them with CT’s Teller and Sales Systems. Though there was some luck involved — TD was already in the middle of re-architecting its core applications to line up its products and pricing like CT’s and was piloting a new call centre tool — a new data warehouse and Teller systems had to be created.

Perhaps more challenging, Davies says, was contingency planning in the event disaster struck.

“”We had to make sure that if we were in the middle of a conversion that we would essentially go back,”” he says. “”That was really difficult, because until something bad happened you didn’t know if this thing would work.””

TD and CT had given themselves until last August to complete the conversions. Davies says that meant other decisions — like the critical question over what systems would be selected — also had to made quickly.

“”We got a new platform in one month,”” he says, “”and I don’t think that if we had taken six months we would have come up with anything better.””

Though TD Canada Trust has experienced some high-profile embarrassments since the integration — thousands of ATM and electronic banking customers were unable to get their money when its systems crashed for about 24 hours last October — the companies’ approach follows the advice given in the ProjectWorld keynote address. There, author Patrick Lencioni said one of the pitfalls he highlights in his book The Five Temptations of a Leader is putting certainty over clarity. Too many companies, he says, wait until they have gathered enough data to make a decision, leaving employees unclear of how a project will proceed. “”In high school, you were rewarded for getting things right,”” he says. “”In business, you have to have that ability to make risks.””

In TD Canada Trust’s case, the risks were even higher because of the IT systems involved. “”If you know anything about banking systems, they’re already so tightly integrated,”” he says. “”If you touch one piece of it the wrong way, the whole thing comes crashing down.””

The fear factor explains some of the elaborate project management structure the banks established. Davies says the banks began by keeping the business side, represented by the Integration Management Office (IMO) separate from the IT project office. As the planning got more complicated, however, the firms created an IT Architecture Council to ensure consistency across the various projects. The groups were also interacting with committees devoted to customer concerns and employee concerns, all the business units and various IT functions.

Davies says he adheres to the “”live by the plan,”” credo, and throughout the integration project change requests (PCRs) went through an approval process that included both the executive committee and the IMO, after which it was assessed by the IT groups for potential impact and then implemented. “”It got to the point where if anyone created a PCR there was a huge outcry,”” he says. “”People started to back off a little bit.””

Though he admits the integration was more intense than anything he’d gone through, Davies says he people at the banks were prepared to work together. “”There’s politics . . . We didn’t have to get people’s attention,”” he says. “”They were already focused on integration.””

Lencioni pointed to Canada’s gold-medal winning hockey team in the recent Winter Olympics as an example of “”star players”” successfully coming together despite not having worked directly together before. “”I keep thinking of that moment when the puck went through (Mario) Lemieux’s legs,”” he says. “”They thought he was going to take the shot, but it was a decoy for someone else to shoot. They wanted to be a winning team, rather than be a star.””

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