ING sets up transformation ‘war room’

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Dutch bank ING has set up a transformation ‘war room’ to speed up communication and decision-making and provide a global overview of its progress to becoming a digital bank.

In October, ING announced plans to invest EUR800 million in digital transformation initiatives over the next five years while shedding 7000 jobs. The plans marked an acceleration of the bank’s two year old ‘Think Forward’ strategy to unify its operations on a single global technology platform.

At the same time, ING’s chief operating officer (COO) Roel Louwhoff gained an extra job title: chief transformation officer (CTO), with a brief to unite the bank’s platforms, processes, products, priorities and people and overcome potential stumbling blocks on the transformation journey.

To this end, Louwhoff has borrowed from an idea first promulgated by Toyota in the car industry and set up an ‘Obeya’ room at ING’s head office in Amsterdam. Obeya, which roughly translates as ‘war room’, is a Japanese programme management methodology designed to speed up communication and decision-making.

Louwhoff explains: “This is the heart of ING’s transformation. The purpose is simple: having the full overview of the status of all projects and solving issues quickly. If an issue can’t be solved in five minutes, it’s escalated to the next level. You immediately see how everything fits together.”

He describes the bank’s transformations strategy as as huge shift in the history of the company, requiring a singular vision across all aspects of its business.

“We need to stop prioritising local goals and instead only think of the bigger picture,” he says. “And from sharing knowledge where everybody has a choice to use it or not, we now take the extra step by saying: we only build this once.”

Louwhoff acknowledges that two years ago many in the financial services industry were complacent about the speed and scale of change that digitalisation was causing in other industries. Now, that disruption is impossible to ignore.

“ING is one of the first big banking players who have seen this and have started to act,” he says. “We must remember that Alibaba wasn’t created in a few months. WeChat started four to five years ago. And we’ve only started this journey last year. We will speed things up in such a way that the company keeps functioning, delivering excellent customer service, making good returns, but also works towards our transformation goal. I’m 100 percent certain we will make it.”