Citi Shows How NOT To Run An IT Department

by drjim on January 5, 2009

Citigroup's IT department is NOT doing a good job of keeping basic applications up and running.

Citigroup’s IT department is NOT doing a good job of keeping basic applications up and running.

The news is always filled with IT departments that are winning awards for being innovative, reducing costs, or saving the day. That’s why a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about how the Citi group’s IT department is blowing it was so interesting…

The article was titled “Computer Glitch Slows Citi” (if you worked in Citi’s IT department, you’d know that this couldn’t be a good thing). It turns out that the retail bank part of the huge Citigroup corporation had computer problems on this past Tuesday. These computer problems ended up leaving lots of customers and employees in a bind – they couldn’t access information about bank accounts and mortgages.

It’s bad enough to have problems like this; however, this problem lingered until Wednesday morning. Now in all fairness to Citi, it appears as though customers were still able to deposit, withdraw, and transfer funds during this period.

So in many other businesses, this type of outage would be no big deal. However, when you are one of the largest consumer banks in the country, this is most definatly a no-no.

Just to make a bad thing worse, in the acticle Citigroup employees stated that their company seems especially plagued by crashes.

So who’s to blame for this IT mess? It turns out that Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit has stepped up. He has promised to upgrade and integrate the company’s computer systems. This effort is going to take several years and will probably end up costing billions of dollars.

What’s missing from all of this is any word from Kevin Kessinger who is Citi’s Chief Operations & Technology Officer. This is a fancy title for someone who has CIO responsibilities. At the end of the day, this mess is Kevin’s responsibility.

The ability to keep a firm’s basic applications up and running is so fundamental that we often refer to it as “blocking and tacking”. This is an American football term that simply means that you need to play good defense before you spend anytime focusing on offense.

There is NO WAY that the Citi IT department should be working on anything else if their apps are not staying up. I’m sure that many of us spend time throwing rocks at our own IT departments for not being innovative enough; however, hopefully most of us do a good job of taking care of the basics.

Kevin has been in his job since 2005 and so he really does not have any excuse for not having already taken care of this problem. It’s easy to throw stones at Kevin for not doing his job. However, perhaps it would be more valuable to take a look at what he should be doing right now to fix this issue:

  • Make App Stability THE Top Priority: By communicating to the entire IT department that keeping apps up and running is job #1, this would send a clear message to everyone that this is what they need to be working on.
  • Appoint A Stability Czar: Kevin needs to pick out an up-and-coming IT manager and put him / her in charge of working across the IT department to make sure that all of the apps become stable. This could be a career maker / breaker for this individual.
  • Change How Apps Are Developed: The current problems are caused by how the current set of apps were developed. Clearly, a new set of design procedure and / or testing needs to be put into place.

Kevin probably needs to do a lot more than just these basic steps, but this is how he needs to start. The CIO is responsible for how the digital side of the company operates. Let’s see if Kevin ends up doing the right thing…

Have you ever had a problem where a production application was not staying up? Who was responsible for fixing this problem? How did they go about fixing the problem? In the end, were they able fix the problem(s)? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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