The five minute CIO: Kim Brien

4 Jul 2014

Kim Brien, chief information officer at HML

“When change lands, I help to ensure that the business is ready.” Kim Brien sums up the CIO role at mortgage servicing company HML, where an agile IT strategy supports a customer-first approach.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive HML’s IT infrastructure is?

HML has approximately 1,300 employees across four sites; it is headquartered in Skipton, and also has offices in Derry, Glasgow and Dublin. Our infrastructure supports approximately 2,000 users, which includes five major clients.

HML iCONNECT is the custom-built platform we use to run our administration services from. Developed using IBM, Jade and Microsoft technology, HML iCONNECT supports HML’s mortgage and loan services and can be used on a remote system-only basis or with HML’s white-labelled account administration package.

How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it or is it a function of the work HML does?

Our infrastructure is fairly complex, with our core and periphery systems joined through a web service application layer. We have no legacy systems. We have a single platform to support all clients.

HML is fairly unique, as many other organisations are more complex because of mergers and acquisitions where they have inherited several historical legacy issues. This single platform allows us to continually enhance our proposition and helps simplify the operation and improve HML’s overall delivery performance.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

Our IT team is in-house and consists of 170 individuals. These individuals develop and maintain our core platform. We do outsource the web self-service and HR systems and potentially we’ll be looking to outsource our financial systems.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

I only get involved with deep technical issues when escalated. The majority of my time is spent on the management of the business, particularly focused on business change. I tend to drive initiatives that help to redefine HML’s platforms and ensure we maintain market-leading functionality. I have led on driving the organisation in support of an agile IT approach, promoting a value-driven delivery approach. When change lands, I help to ensure that the business is ready; after all, the majority of cultural changes begin on the business side.

I always walk the floor and hot-desk, as I much prefer to speak to different people rather than rely on emails and the phone. Go to the problem, don’t let it come to you is a good rule of thumb.

What are the main points of HML’s IT strategy?

Our IT strategy supports HML’s four key strategies; retain and add value to clients, acquire new clients, mobilise our people and manage our cost base. By constantly looking for ways to simplify our architecture, we keep costs down. By creating software reuse, we can expand the propositions without having to always build new systems from scratch. This is enabled by the agile approach, and ensures we only deliver the IT solutions that are required.

Our IT strategy mobilises our people by keeping them better connected, empowered and able to work smarter. We are considering moving to Microsoft Lync, allowing better communications across the sites.

Our clients trust us to service their mortgage customers’ accounts effectively and right first time, improving the customer experience and enhancing our clients’ brands and reputation. If our IT did not enable us to do this, we would lose clients and struggle to attract new ones.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

To start with challenges, our IT needs to accommodate different regulatory changes as they arise. Being in both the UK and Ireland, we need to accommodate and support a number of regulatory and legislative initiatives each year. We all know how the mortgage market has changed over the past few years, and it’s important that our systems can keep up with this and support our people and our clients’ customers. Mistakes, whether by human or technical error, can cause detriment to a customer and impact both the reputation of our clients and HML. Therefore we design our system and processes to avoid this eventuality.

Another challenge is keeping costs down, although this is especially true within the financial outsourcing sector as it is such a small and competitive market. We ensure our consultants are efficient in a number of ways, including through the introduction of iPerform. This IT platform allows mortgage consultants and team leaders to access key quality and performance data on a daily basis, meaning they can see how they are performing every day, rather than waiting to find out during a review meeting.

Cloud-based computing, software-as-a-service and mobile technology are, like in many sectors, key trends. However, it can sometimes be difficult to envisage how these trends can apply to the niche mortgage servicing sector. I’m currently considering how IT should be changed to ensure HML can become “app-ready” on its core platform, as I believe in around four to five years, mortgage consultants will expect intuitive touchscreen technology. This type of technology will become mass manufactured, and I’m keen to start planning for this eventuality now, rather than having to mass re-write code when the time comes.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

We draw upon a whole series of weekly and monthly metrics which include service level availability, productivity, quality, code deploying success, problems management, and project progress. HML has an IT dashboard which stores all of these metrics. Based on industry software quality and best practices, we believe that HML is world class when it comes to code quality. As I mentioned, our iCONNECT platform has proven reliability and achieves 99.9pc system availability.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

Of course, there’s always room for improvement in certain areas – productivity, work prioritisation, service availability and responsiveness. But, on the whole, HML is performing very well and has a strong agile IT story to tell.

HML was shortlisted for a European IT Outsourcing Project of the Year award. Briefly, what did the project involve and what makes it a candidate for the award?

We had to ensure our Irish clients were ready for the introduction of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). The SEPA Regulation was adopted in 2012 and had an initial deadline of 1 February 2014 when European banks had to ensure direct debits and credit transfers adhered to SEPA. However, due to delays in some member states of implementing the new system, the deadline was pushed back until 1 August 2014.

Throughout the project lifecycle, we overcame issues by collaboratively working between stakeholders in IT, operations, the euro payment team, our clients and their clearing banks. Working independently could not have resolved the issues. HML also carried out User Acceptance Testing, including specialised model office testing to simulate the full direct debit lifecycle. This ensured minimal disruption to our clients and their customers on migration to SEPA.

While the initial deadline set by the European Commission was 1 February 2014, HML exceeded this by three months. There were several benefits derived from exceeding the deadline: firstly, allowing breathing space meant we could obtain earlier feedback from our clients and end users to ascertain whether or not the right solution had been delivered to meet their needs. Early feedback was a key mechanism to speed up delivery and certainty of outcome and reflects the iterative and agile approach HML took to develop the solution.

Surpassing the SEPA deadline enabled our clients to continue to collect payments via direct debit without affecting their income and ensured minimal impact on customers, many of whom may have been unaware that SEPA was approaching. By automating the transition, confusion and inconvenience was removed for them.

Meeting the deadline and having no subsequent impact on our clients’ income was a measure of success of the project.

We also won a Gartner Business Process Management award and Mortgage Finance Gazette award for adopting the TIS eFLOW Digital Mailroom to accurately and automatically capture, classify and index incoming letters and faxes. Within a seven-month period, almost stg£500,000 of savings had been made, with a further stg£50,000 subsequently saved.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

We have the move to PCI Data Security Standards over the coming months. This provides a framework for developing a strong payment card data security process. The benefits of this project include reducing our business risk and our clients’ risk.

We’re also looking to enhance the consultant dashboards, workflows and diary screens to help focus them more on driving the right customer experience. In the finance sector, the right outcomes for customers should be at the centre of everything we do and is a concept that is culturally embedded across the company. We also have several technology upgrades we would like to implement, including IVR and Telephony.

HML manages billions of euro worth of assets – does that put a greater onus on your compliance efforts, and how do you go about managing them?

We take our regulatory responsibilities very seriously. Whether you are managing €1bn or €40bn worth of assets, you still have to be compliant. Our risk management has been reviewed by rating agencies including Fitch and Standard and Poor’s and viewed to be the best there is.

We operate three lines of defence; Manage, Assess and Assure. Manage means ownership of operational risk includes a risk-aware culture. Assess is a second line that provides oversight and an objective challenge to the first line of defence. Assure is the third line, providing independent and objective assurance on the effectiveness of HML’s systems of internal control.

There’s some debate as to whether compliance is a burden or a way to improve business processes. What’s your view?

Regulatory compliance can be perceived as a burden, but we need to remember that the right outcome for the customer is usually what the intent is of regulation and we need to make sure we deliver on that intent. An example is the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process stemming from the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears. Thus, there is definitely a focus on improving our business delivery of great customer experience and outcomes.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic