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John Soat
John Soat

Wells Fargo CIO: No Budget Cuts Yet

Agreeing that the banking industry "is challenged from a financial perspective," the San Francisco firm's tech chief says demand for IT services is growing and the IT group sees itself as an equal partner within the organization -- and more than that.

Agreeing that the banking industry "is challenged from a financial perspective," the San Francisco firm's tech chief says demand for IT services is growing and the IT group sees itself as an equal partner within the organization -- and more than that.Avid Modjtabai has been in the CIO spot at Wells Fargo since April of last year. Her background isn't in IT -- she started out as a McKinsey consultant -- but she spent time as head of the bank's Internet Services Group and as the head of HR, which makes her "clearly comfortable in the technology world," she says.

Modjtabai is currently working out her IT budget for next year, which she hopes will be the same as this year's. "It's not going to be less, as it stands now," she says, "but we haven't finalized our budget process yet."

The bank currently has "anywhere from 100 to 200" IT positions they're actively recruiting for, she says -- though those positions don't necessarily represent an increase in IT staff, she's quick to point out. Citing a familiar refrain not just in financial services but in most organizations across the country these days, Modjtabai says her IT group will most likely be "looking at doing more with the same amount" next year.

That "more" has to do with the three areas Modjtabai sees as her IT group's primary functions: to serve the bank's end customers, to be a good partner to the business units, and to be a great place to work for IT people. "One of the things the technology group is cognizant of is aligning IT with business and building bridges," Modjtabai says.

Consolidation and standardization are the prime directives for the company's "open systems" server environment, Modjtabai says. Wells Fargo is well down the path of server virtualization, she says, and is about to begin testing desktop virtualization, looking at implementation later this year or the beginning of next year.

In its data centers (for security reasons, the company won't say how many or where they are), the strategy revolves around "resiliency" -- redundancy, change management, problem resolution -- and the "efficient use of computing power," i.e., green computing. In terms of networking, the company is working its way toward unified communications. "We've started a couple of pilots," Modjtabai says, and she's meeting with vendors to go over their strategies.

Wells Fargo has a history of aggressive use of IT -- Modjtabai says it was the first to offer Internet banking. "We don't view IT as a service organization," she says. "We view ourselves as a partner serving our end customers." In fact, she says, "We impact those customers as much if not more than any organization at Wells Fargo."

Modjtabai offers this point of comparison: Wells Fargo has 8 billion interactions with end customers during the year. That means one minute of system downtime interferes with 43,000 customer interactions. And that makes IT a critical part of the bank's customer strategy and overall mission. The challenge -- make that opportunity, Modjtabai, says -- is this: "How do we deliver our products in a consistent and highly responsive environment?"

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