Wim Vochten

XPLUS Talks: meet Rudy Wouters, ING chief architect

Rudy Wouters

Last week I spent a few hours talking with the Chief Architect Rudy Wouters (ING Tech Chief architect for Market Leaders).
Rudy answered a series of questions regarding digital transformation and enterprise architecture. We are happy to share his experience with you!


In one sentence, how would you describe what a ‘digital transformation’ is?

Rudy Wouters: Digital transformation is happening in everyone’s daily life, i.e. activities such as shopping, socialising, gaming, gambling and managing finances are now done online.


How would you describe your role as chief architect?

Rudy Wouters: As a chief architect, my mission is: ‘To develop, advise on and execute the architecture policy, standards and strategy in order to position adequate IT capabilities for realising and enabling changing business needs and moving towards a globally scalable and secure banking platform.’
As part of this mission, we create an environment to continuously foster the professionalism of the architects. After all, stable and secure solutions are delivered by good professionals.


What are your day-to-day difficulties?

Rudy Wouters: Finding the right balance and priorities. Dividing the attention between Horizon 1, 2 and 3 work, between planning and operational support, between less and more detail to deliver to the squads, between first time right and iterative improvements, between global and local solutions.


How do you see architects’ responsibilities evolving?

Rudy Wouters: ING is globally implementing a new and agile way of working. This predominantly means that accountability and autonomy is given to multi-disciplinary squads. To get the full potential out of the squads, they need to be fed with sufficient context and boundaries, not with details. This means that although the purpose of the architects still remains the same, the service is delivered in a different way. In addition, architects will have to spend more time structuring the portfolio well in advance and provide a view of how business outcomes can be realised across the different assets and thus teams. The latter requires a mature collaboration, between architects and tribe leads. Overall, communication competencies become more important than in-depth technical knowledge in specific technologies.


What – from your point of view – is the next innovation that will impact your activity?

Rudy Wouters: As digital transformation advances, also within the bank, business processes are moving towards full digitisation. For example, some of the least expected ones a few years ago are now picked up by robots. This means that, whatever happened within and often also outside the company, is available in exploitable data. Still today, humans interpret these data to take business decisions. More and more of these feedback loops will become automated, meaning that commercial and operational aspects of the business will adapt themselves to the reality created by customers. This means that software engineers will focus more on smart algorithms and artificial intelligence to keep up with the required agility. Stand-ups will be more organised around screens showing how systems are currently running the business, trying to understand why this is happening and consequently maybe steering the responses in a different direction.


What is the current digitalisation challenge of your company today?

Rudy Wouters: We still have difficulties in benefiting from our size, i.e. it is a challenge to work towards globalised solutions that are used many times. This is mainly because of the different business speeds in different parts of the world, which leads to differences in priority. The speed of change is ultimately limited by the number of engineers that can be put to work effectively.


Which transformation project is the most risky from your point of view?

Rudy Wouters: To be really competitive in a digitalised world, the core systems of the bank also need to be adapted to more real-time and data-driven processing. As this happens in flight, it is risky for many reasons: because they are part of nearly all business flows, there is a real danger of jeopardising the business stability and continuity, and at the same additional value is only visible in the long run, which increases the risk of losing focus and inevitably leading to failure to deliver.


Which transformation project will bring you the most value?

Rudy Wouters: In terms of potential, it will most probably be situated around the core systems upgrade. In terms of immediate value it will be related to how we change our means for integration in the ecosystem.


Explain the risk of omitting EA. In other words: what happens when EA is not present?

Rudy Wouters: Every company with a sizeable change portfolio has already experienced this several times. Without the structuring capabilities of EA, it’s very difficult for executives to have a sufficient overview to determine a strategy that is not disconnected from reality. Defining a target view may still be easy enough, but when sufficient structured information down to the operational level is missing, it is impossible to define executable steps that lead to that target or even understand that the target cannot be achieved, inevitably not leading to the desired outcomes.


How do you communicate the value of architecture to your CIO and other CXOs?

Rudy Wouters: Talking or reading about it won’t do the trick. If that were true, everyone would be convinced. There are enough lectures on the subject to fill a room. According to me, the difference can be made by the actions of the architects at all layers of the company, from operational to tactical and strategic activities. The architects should always prioritise their activities to complement the value of the teams and ensure stability of the solutions. This added value finds its source in the structured oversight they have and their understanding of how everything relates to the desired outcomes. Architects with this behaviour will be communicated about.


Which book has influenced you recently?

Rudy Wouters: There are two, actually:

  1. ‘Reinventing Organisations’ by Frederic Laloux
  2. ‘Continuous Architecture, sustainable architecture in an agile and cloud-centric world’ by Murat Erder and Pierre Pureur


How do you view the challenge of training and retaining your architects?

Rudy Wouters: Given the importance of context and integration with the organisation for architects, there is added value in a stable architecture workforce. How can architects then be convinced to stay with the company while satisfying their desire for new challenges? This is why we’re working in partnership with XPlus on a true architecture training platform. The idea is to allow companies to produce and consume interesting training, dedicated to architects. At the same time, there is an opportunity to bring architects from non-competing industries together in conventional training. When brought together and presented with similar challenges, they may exchange valuable information with each other and even stimulate new ideas for collaboration across companies. The main aim is to enable companies to create their own architects – you don’t hire an architect, you create one. On the other hand, it also allows architects to find diversity in their work without needing to switch company.