With Artur Lewandowski, Director of the Department of Application C Portfolio Development and Maintenance at mBank, talked Katarzyna Domańska, Communication Manager in Sii, and Andrzej Kowalczyk, Account Resource Manager in Sii, responsible for cooperation with mBank.
Katarzyna Domańska: You are the director of one of the bank’s software development departments. How does one get to such position?
Artur Lewandowski: My professional path is closely tied with mBank, where I went from being a programmer to manager. I have been faced with numerous challenges and many interesting projects along the way. In the beginning, I had to overcome too many stereotypes associated with IT and academic education, which some time ago still very much prevailed in banks.
Watching Sii, I can see that your company invests a lot in internal recruitment. I think this is a very good approach: it gives a chance for development to everyone with such intentions and ambition. I often tell my employees that true development must be generated from within, from their own needs, not imposed from above by the organization.
Andrzej Kowalczyk: How big is the team you currently manage?
Artur Lewandowski: At the moment it is about 70-80 people. They represent a broad spectrum of skills and competencies, as we rely on interdisciplinary teams, working closely and in cooperation with business. Such approach enables implementation of various interesting ideas in the end-to-end model, i.e. from idea to implementation and deployment to production.
Katarzyna Domańska: Does IT come up with the ideas or does business?
Artur Lewandowski: Most initiatives come from business or the incubators of innovation, wherein ideas are developed by mixed teams comprising both IT and business. The key, strategic ideas are most often born of close cooperation between IT and business. Together we determine the goals, the form and the manner of their implementation.
Katarzyna Domańska: mBank sets the trends in the Polish banking sector. What is the role of IT in this regard?
Artur Lewandowski: It’s true – we are the market leaders in banking. I have been working at mBank for quite a long time and I have to say that the IT gene has always been an important part of the bank’s DNA, having a significant effect on the shape and development of the entire business. Beginning with home banking to electronic and mobile banking.
Many awards that had been won by mBank in the national and international arena over the past few years can be largely attributed to good cooperation between IT and business. What’s important is the fact that this cooperation takes place within the framework of high-level partnership. Instead of saying: “When will you have it ready?”, we prefer to say: “Let’s do it together!”.
It is worth mentioning that mBank has always stayed ahead of the curve. Already 10 years ago, we made the switch from IT outsourcing to IT insourcing, which went against the market trends which were back then prevailing in the banking. Nowadays, everyone is turning back to internal IT. This is one further proof that science should always remain closely connected with business. Technology has always played and continues to play an important role and affects the shape of the entire organization.
Andrzej Kowalczyk: How big is the entire IT team at mBank?
Artur Lewandowski: It counts several hundred people in different departments, focused both on development and operations. We are one of the biggest software houses in Poland. Of course, Sii is now way ahead of us.
Katarzyna Domańska: Speaking of in- and outsourcing. Your company uses services of external suppliers in terms of body leasing and design. From the point of view of a client, what is the most important part of cooperation with IT suppliers like Sii?
Artur Lewandowski: When it comes to fix price, we use the services of several suppliers, although this number has changed in recent years. What I care about in such cooperation – and I will not be very original here – is partnership and trust. It’s about transparency of expectations, interests and costs. This has become increasingly important in recent years, in particular when implementing new methodologies. Changing business environment and the need to create innovative solutions deem the classic fixed price model of contract – price – contractual penalties, insufficient. Currently, the two sides need to work as partners – adapt to current needs and ideas to achieve common goals. This is the key element, which I have always considered a priority, and that will be increasingly important when it comes to innovative solutions and cooperation with external suppliers.
In the case of body leasing, the situation is a little different. We have – and this might be a controversial thesis – a pretty standardized “product” in addition to high competitiveness of the market. Therefore, the price still plays a major role when it comes to these services. The second important factor is the turnaround time and cost of recruitment – I’m talking about the cost that I incur when not taking advantage of body leasing and devoting my time to screening people, selecting a consultant, all the interviews. In addition, I also incur costs due to turnover of individuals in the project. In the case of body leasing, optimization of these costs is crucial for me. Of course, one must also take into account the short-term-lease and long-term-lease. In the case of the former – recruitment for a particular project covering a period of several months to half a year, timely availability of candidates is a very important factor and it’s starting to be the key criterion.
Katarzyna Domańska: mBank was one of the first banks in the portfolio of our Clients and it has remained a part of it invariably for the last eight years. You were one of the first people to cooperate with us on behalf of the bank. What was this cooperation like in the beginning and how has it changed?
Artur Lewandowski: We began cooperating at a time when two very important things, from the point of view of mBank and Sii, were happening simultaneously. Firstly, we were developing our own software house, transitioning from the outsourcing to insourcing model. Secondly, the body leasing market in Poland was not as saturated as it is now, and you have just entered it with a good range of body leasing options. We have jointly achieved the following objectives: for us, it was reorganization of IT at mBank and project transformation, and for you – development of your cooperation with us.
Back then Sii was strictly a body leasing company. At the moment you have two branches and, in my opinion, you are able to keep a healthy balance between them: on the one hand are the fixed price projects and contracts, on the other: body lease.
The cooperation has always been very good. I remember its beginnings quite well. The market was different back then – not yet the employee’s market it is now, but the employer’s. Those who decided to seek work through outsourcing companies were isolated cases – people who were more open and courageous.
I have always praised Sii primarily for one important thing. Consultants you recruit always have the soft skills, which are so important at work. Colleagues from Sii have always told me that this is due to good recruitment and HR departments as well as recruitment process, which is also set to test soft skills. I think this has always been your hallmark: people from Sii have always been very fast to adapt in interdisciplinary teams, while also achieving very good results and scoring maximum points in our internal banking implementation programs.
Andrzej Kowalczyk: Do we still have this distinguishing feature? Or has the market now equalized?
Artur Lewandowski: For many years, you have been our key partner – and this is probably the best recommendation. We hold you in high regard, because the cooperation has been very good. The soft skills factor is still what differentiates you from the competition.
A few years ago we talked about the goal you wanted to reach – development towards projects. I warned you then that you would have to work out a good balance between body leasing and contracts. Today, I have a feeling that Sii has achieved this balance. Currently, the contract division is beginning to take good resources away from the body leasing division, but it is not noticeable enough to be considered a drawback.
Katarzyna Domańska: Speaking of human resources: it is estimated that the Polish market lacks approx. 40 thousand computer specialists. Certainly a significant portion of these specialists is needed in modern banking. As an experienced IT manager, what advice would you give to a young adept of computer science: what is the best bet ;in what direction is it best to develop?
Artur Lewandowski: We have lived to see an era of the labor market strongly dominated by the employees, a kind of El Dorado. You should just take advantage of this opportunity. Employees now have the ideal situation, in which they can realize all their interests. It’s hard to advise young people to choose one specific technology or industry. The important thing is to really know what you want.
One thing is definitely worth noting: start-ups. This trend will continue to grow in Poland. We are not yet leaders, like the Silicon Valley, but we are moving forward. As for banking – banks operate on a very competitive market, and the advantage is being built largely by technology. Few banks have such a strong internal IT – software inhouse, as mBank. If someone wants to work and develop in banking technology, I strongly recommend mBank as a unique software house in Poland. Given the awards garnered in Poland and in international competitions, I can also recommend it as a good place to work because of its prestige. We invest in the development of all trends that are present in the banking market, both in new methods of work and project management, as well as new technologies. Therefore, we are a very good candidate for an ideal employer: we have access to multiple diverse technologies you may dabble in, all in one place. Of course, we do not cover the entire spectrum of IT capabilities, but it is wide, and there is definitely room for different interests.
Andrzej Kowalczyk: So, if someone wishes to learn, they should search for a good corporation that will allow them to develop their competence and facilitate upward mobility; as in the case of our specialists, who start out as, for example, software developers, then end up getting promoted and gaining extensive knowledge and experience over the next 2-3 years. An alternative is start-ups.
Artur Lewandowski: I personally would look for professional software houses, where I would be able to learn about engineering at the highest level. These are most often found in corporations and large organizations. In the case of start-ups, they allow great freedom, which is not found in corporations. They give you a chance to work in a different environment, in any capacity, where every action is immediately reflected in the business. It gives a lot of joy, when you have direct bearing on the final result.
Katarzyna Domańska: Can you tell us anything about the projects mBank is currently working on?
Artur Lewandowski: For now, mBank has made a big move in the field of digital banking. The next step is to invest in mobile banking, which is currently the apple of our eye. Sadly, I cannot tell you anything about the other projects that are being developed in incubators, but I hope that they will be successful and we will be able to boast of them officially in the coming months.
Katarzyna Domańska: We hope that we will be able to share these successes with mBank and help in achieving them.
Andrzej Kowalczyk: Today, a strong trend in banking is to facilitate access for the client. Banks are moving in the direction of maximum ease of access and acquisition of new banking products.
Artur Lewandowski: It has already happened; in banking, we cannot even speak of it as innovation. UI (User Interface Design) and UX (User Experience Design) have become our everyday life. These competences are constantly expanded, as well as purchased. Mobile banking sets these trends: everything will be easier, nicer, more pleasant and instant – the bank invests in a lot of energy and capital into it.
Andrzej Kowalczyk: Would customer identification based on their retina be a competitive advantage?
Artur Lewandowski: I wouldn’t speak of it in the context of advantage. However, it is worth remembering how the mentality of Polish people has changed. Growth of the social trend that requires people to give up their privacy makes it possible to test multiple technologies and products and see how the customers perceive them. We then implement these technologies in banking, becoming a modern bank. One example of this are beacons, which recognize the client upon their entrance to a store, enabling them to see what they would look like in the clothes that hang on hangers before they have a chance to even think about which ones to try on. These innovations show how we are close to making the identification process one hundred percent and to having an offer fit perfectly to our needs ready and waiting for us. Mentally, we are ready. This will certainly become increasingly important in the coming years and banks will also have to get on board.
Andrzej Kowalczyk: mOkazje are already here.
Artur Lewandowski: Yes. So is, for example, our mobile future facility that uses the Kinect technology to recognize the customer’s gender and their expectations in selecting an offer. It is our small step forward and ahead of the competition.
Katarzyna Domańska: We wish you success! Thank you for the interview.