Part 3: Core Banking Transformation – From Coal to Diamonds

Part 2: Core Banking Transformation – From Coal to Diamonds
July 8, 2018
Part 4: Core Banking Transformation – From Coal to Diamonds
July 10, 2018

Part 3: Core Banking Transformation – From Coal to Diamonds

To recap quickly, Part 1 in this series outlines the questions to be asked and answered by executive management when tackling a core transformation. Part 2 informs the strategic mindset needed to frame the effort appropriately, both in the minds of executive management, and the organization as a whole.

In Part 3, we will explore the need for a readiness assessment as part of preparing for the transformation process. It addresses

  • Why it’s performed and
  • What can be gleaned from it,

remembering that the purpose of all of this information has been to tame the three-headed beast of Risk Mitigation, Cost Stabilization, and Increased Likelihood of Success.

Also note that this assessment – like the questions to be asked and answered by executive management as outlined earlier in this whitepaper – is not a referendum on whether the organization should be performing such an effort.

The only wrong answers are those that do not reflect a true view of the landscape – it is what it is.

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” Carl Sagan

Why Perform a Readiness Assessment?

If Executive Management has given thought to similar questions, why go further with a detailed assessment? A few reasons come to mind:

  • The assessment provides an opportunity for the organization to take a good look in the mirror and acknowledge strengths and opportunity areas.
  • It can inform and spur corrective/improvement action without an executive mandate, i.e. operations and technology groups can have a chance to self-identify early on what capabilities they need to enhance to support the program.
  • Executive management will obtain insight into their organization at a more detailed level.

Understanding and addressing readiness saves significant time and cost by minimizing some of the jack-in-the boxes that would be discovered over the course of the project.  Upfront miscalculations can have large ripple effects with significant cost and timeline impacts.

As Steven R. Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.” The “End” in context of a Core Transformation is the “End Game” as defined by executive management, the business outcomes the effort is expected to achieve and/or facilitate (addressed in Article 1).

This assessment is the chance to begin operationalizing the End Game; it’s the time to make the business case real, the opportunity to determine what aspects within the broader organization may be an asset, or a liability, and face them both head-on.

What are the BENEFITS of a Readiness Assessment?

What emerges from this process is relevant information- information that can flow into project strategies, plans, schedules, budget estimates, risk plans and project assumptions, and potentially, the future organizational blueprint.

For example,

  • Understanding the state of data in the organization will inform the level of work that needs to be done to ensure clean, transparent and traceable data migrations and conversions. Without an objective assessment of the state of data and data governance, planning and decision-making in this space could quickly become tactical and sub-optimal.  A dangerous place to be with data.
  • Understanding whether the organization has a documented, agreed-upon Operating Model and a target state vision will inform what change the organization hopes to achieve from the transformation effort. It will inform clarity around goals, future state structure, operational costs, and ability to meet customer needs. In the absence of an agreed upon Operating Model, it will be more difficult to provide a vision to the organization of where it needs to go, clearly define expectations, and ensure accountability, among other things.
  • With an assessment of the state of the organization’s technology and integration infrastructure and architecture we can know whether it is sufficient for integration with the new product, platform or application.  In the absence of that assessment, we can make an assumption and build that into our plans. (We all know what assume makes of u and me – a miss of that magnitude could result in significant delays as the organization scrambles real-time to address gaps.) Having an assessment of this type performed by an objective, outside party tends to yield results different from that performed by internal groups; it’s not a matter of nefarious intent on the part of the internal teams, it’s a matter of objectivity, plus experience with these types of efforts.
  • More broadly, performing an assessment not only highlights areas that need to be shored up, but informs strategy and planning for any other efforts required to facilitate project success.

What are the potential impacts of not taking the time to do an assessment?

  • Not understanding the organization’s overall readiness to take on such an effort could result in initial plans, timelines and high-level assumptions (including budget) that are not realistic or accurate within an acceptable range. These types of upfront miscalculations can have large ripple effects with significant cost and timeline impacts.
  • In the absence of performing an evaluation of the vendor’s capabilities, including strengths and weaknesses, the organization runs the risk of missed expectations, re-work, and planning dependency disasters. These factors could also have significant cost and timeline impact.
  • Not understanding the organization’s culture and people capability with respect to change will result in a decided lack of information as to how the individuals and teams involved will respond to the size, magnitude, scope and variability. For example, if something isn’t working, will the organization be willing to try different approaches, at both the macro and micro-level of the project? Will individuals or teams on the project be able to let go of long-held practices that may not apply on the effort? Without understanding the answers to such questions, the team will struggle, mainly as a result of an inability or unwillingness to plan for contingencies and adjust for variability during execution when needed.

And, if you do an assessment, does the timing matter?

  • There are different considerations to consider depending on when the assessment is performed. Ideally, it would be undertaken before starting the effort; this provides optimum flexibility to align to your vision, eliminate rework, and allow for tight dependency management. On the other hand, if the assessment is performed after the effort is already underway, it’s critical to be even more careful and informed. For example, it’s possible that changes to the initial plan may be needed, changes that may be necessary to ensure the long-term success of the effort and the organization.
  • As we all know, making changes down the line are always costlier than changes earlier in the cycle. Whether these changes are technical in nature, such as revamping the IT services layer, or more business-centric, such as standardizing process, each has time, cost and dependency implications.

As a brief side note, while the following item has not received a lot of air-time in this article series, there is an overly simple, yet profound realization that hits time and time again on any effort – one that is worth now using some ink on: Get the right people on the bus! (The corollary: Be open to the fact that those folks we think may be the right people on the bus, may not be the right people.)

The Jack Welch model applies here, i.e. high performers who aren’t with the program – either culturally or otherwise – need to be let go or moved out. An organization that is willing to do that will see their prospects soar, those that do not will suffer. A great example of this can be seen in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series. There was an episode covering the Detroit Pistons of the 80’s – the Bad Boys as they were called – who went to 3 NBA finals in a row, winning back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. Being a diehard Bulls fan, I despised the Pistons at the time with a hate known only to Red Sox Fans when the Yankees are mentioned (and vice-versa); but I was fascinated by the story, and the leadership message it contained.

The Pistons had lost to the L.A. Lakers in the 1988 finals in seven games. The next year, the Pistons were the consensus choice to win it all; however, by the all-star break, they were only a few games over .500. Chuck Daly at the time realized that their star player and high scorer, Adrian Dantley – known to be a prima donna with an attitude – was dragging the team culture down. Coach Daly also had a young guy by the name of Dennis Rodman (whom I learned to appreciate several years later as he helped the Bulls win three titles in the 90’s) who was a rare talent and needed more playing time. Then Daly did what others thought was an insane move – he got rid of his star.

The Pistons subsequently took off, never looked back, torching their opponents the rest of the season, sweeping the defending champion Lakers in 4 games, and then winning it again the next year. Even as a Pistons-hater at the time, I must acknowledge in retrospect the courage of a coach who made a tough choice – who took his star player, highest performer, and got rid of him because he wasn’t with the program.

Taking a moment to assess the landscape through a “Go Slow to Go Fast” approach can result in the difference between an effort meeting the goals and vision of the organization, versus achieving unaligned or sub-optimal results.

It is natural and normal for organizations to want to start executing a large transformational effort as soon as they can, to “strike while the iron is hot.” Budget is available; the organization is ready to act; and the sense of urgency is palpable. Yet, taking a moment to assess the landscape through a “Go Slow to Go Fast” approach can result in the difference between an effort meeting the goals and vision of the organization, versus achieving unaligned or sub-optimal results.

The beneficial impacts of a readiness assessment cannot be overestimated.

Sometimes we all need the perspective of another to help us see through the field we are plowing to recognize the diamonds – the keys that unlock success – and then have the courage to make tough choices. And, while there are few events that will tax the character of an organization like a transformation effort, performing an objective, up-front analysis can inform the right approaches to help balance the difficulty scale.

In the final installment (Part 4), the benefits of having the right structures for the effort will be outlined, along with some pitfalls to avoid; again, more information to help mitigate risk, stabilize cost, and increase the likelihood of success.

CLICK HERE to receive a complimentary PDF of the complete Core Banking Transformation – From Coal To Diamonds whitepaper.


AARON SCHLENZ, Managing Director, Core 20/20 LLC

Aaron Schlenz is a creative and dynamic financial services executive who has made a career of delivering groundbreaking and transformational efforts in support of business strategy across a wide spectrum of domains, including application, governance and operations. Complimenting his expertise as a highly effective cross-functional collaborator bridging operations, business and technology, Aaron possesses a natural ability to identify customer needs and partner for results, tackle ambiguous, complex problems, and develop workable solutions. Utilizing his skills in program and project management, execution strategy, and transformation, Aaron managed the successful Zions Core Banking Transformation program, with responsibility for planning, delivery and governance. In addition to Zions, Aaron has deep financial-services transformational experience with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Aaron took his skill set and leadership experience and partnered with John Kershner to create Core 20/20 LLC. Aaron received his MBA from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Maryland, and his B.S. in Accounting from Illinois State University.

JOHN KERSHNER, Managing Director, Core 20/20 LLC

John Kershner is an executive leader with proven experience developing and executing strategies that deliver bottom line results utilizing creative abilities, knowledge and skills gained as a management advisor and coach. Key areas of interest include strategic technology management, business process improvement, change management, and organizational design and development. John successfully led three large core banking transformations and many other core and non-core technology improvement and replacement initiatives. Most recently, John organized and led the program for the first U.S. implementation of the TCS BaNCS global core banking platform at Zions Bancorporation. In 2018, John partnered with Aaron Schlenz to create Core 20/20 LLC. John received his MBA from The University of Texas at Austin, and his BBA in Finance from the University of Houston.


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