Jan Kortesalo

“This is much more than just a core system renewal” – OP’s technology organisation and business units are collaborating to implement a comprehensive renewal of wealth management systems

In 2017, OP’s Development & Technologies organisation was facing interesting times. Wealth management services are part of OP’s core business. Developing these services along with the customer experience in accordance with OP’s strategy was going to be one of the priorities of the upcoming years.

This was particularly exciting because the scale of the renewal was going to be so comprehensive that it would not only cover the old, complex systems but the whole wealth management operation. How big was this hurdle going to be?

The project brought a new face to OP, as Jan Kortesalo, who has had a long career in business transformation and technology renewals, became the project lead. He now works as the tribe lead of the Midas tribe, who have been tasked with implementing the renewal project. Jani was drawn to OP by the comprehensive nature of the project, the resources invested in added value for customers and, in his own words, work that aims to create a wow factor.

The need for the renewal was recognised years ago, but its scale was a challenge for implementation

“The need for the development and renewal of the wealth management business has been recognised in OP for years. This renewal would include systems, processes as well as services offered to customers. The outdated range of systems that had been formed through various merges had made the renewal process especially slow and cumbersome for processes and services, too,” Jan explains.

Over the years, various trial runs have been made to implement system renewals by selecting individual parts from within the extensive and complex wealth management system. These small-scale renewals have not been altogether successful.

“The situation was like a game of jackstraws, where you need to pick up one stick from a pile without the others collapsing. Attempting system renewals one piece at a time was like trying to pick up a stick and replace it with a new one. In practice, wealth management services include dozens of different, interconnected systems. Trying to renew just one of them means that you would need to be able to reconnect it to all the other old systems. We quickly found this to be impossible,” says Jan describing the project’s starting point.

A complete overhaul of the business practices of wealth management was needed. This meant that, in addition to a complete renewal of the core system, new perspectives were also needed for processes and the services offered. Instead of individual pieces, the project set its sights on the big picture. And what a big picture it was.

How and with whom was this project approached?

“The renewal was to be comprehensive front to back overhaul. One concrete example that I can give is the need to automatically and faultlessly process large batches of transactions while still being able to provide tailored services for our customers in cases where the usual processes are not enough,” Jan explains.

Customer needs should also be considered in the long term: the goal is not merely to replace existing services and systems with new ones. Instead, we must also change our ways of thinking to match the future needs of a changing world.

The Midas tribe, with Jan as its lead, comprises people with many kinds of skills from different parts of the company. Considering the scale of this renewal process, it was clear to everyone that the tribe should include more than just system development expertise. There was also a need for skills related to business operations and technology.

“In my career of nearly 30 years, this is my first project to incorporate business development in such a seamless way with technological development. We are all specialists in this process, even though our competence areas may be very different. We are working together to find the optimal solutions for the project as a whole to renew business operations, improve processes, create new services, and implement a new core system,” Jan says.

In practice, the tribe includes people such as Product Owners, Solution and Business Analysts, Agile Masters, Developers, Lead Developers, and Release Managers. The titles are abundant, which is an indication of the scale of the project.

An external partner has also been included to work on the Platform as a Service aspect of the project. With a layered architecture, the basic production of quick and efficient automation is provided by this external partner, while the internal OP team focuses on integrating OP’s environment into the partner’s platform. Creating interesting and appealing new services, improving the customer experience, managing the company brand, and serving customers are also under the jurisdiction of the internal OP team.

How did it feel to take on a previously unsuccessful project?

“Already when creating the team, I had one on one chats with everyone about the nature of the project. It was clear that our task would be extremely challenging. There had already been a couple of failed attempts at system renewal that had been abandoned before their conclusion,” Jan explains.

“Now we were going to approach the challenge differently, taking the project forward as one logical unit. After three years, it has proven to be a wise decision, as we are now much further on in the process than in the previous attempts,” he says.

In autumn 2020, after three years of work, Jan estimates that they are halfway through the entire core system renewal project. The original team of 5 people has grown into a functional organisation of 50–100 people with varying allocations. The team members are united by their engagement in the work and their enthusiasm to tackle the challenges involved to achieve success. The project is now finally at a stage where the first concrete results are becoming visible.

“When we started on this path, we assumed that the biggest challenges would be related to the complexity of the project and the information OP had already lost. We also anticipated some resistance to change. In addition, there were problems with lacking documentation for the old systems. We would be setting out to fix things that may have originally been meant as temporary solutions for a very different kind of business environment,” Jan explains.

“I have witnessed extraordinary flexibility within the tribe in sometimes rather thankless tasks. For the longest time we waded through without any visible signs of progress. Now, after three years, the first solution is in production and going through internal pilot testing before being released to the public,” he celebrates.

Jan also points out that the fact of the matter is that doing something safe and easy can never be as rewarding as challenging yourself. Projects like this one require people who are prepared to fail a hundred times before finally finding the successful solution. That is more rewarding than anything.

“It should also be said that, despite the challenges and setbacks, work does not get more high impact than this. We are working in the largest bank in Finland, improving processes in core business operations that will be visible to four million Finns,” Jan says.

Are you interested in working at OP? Would you like to be part of large-scale development projects that aim at producing a wow effect for up to four million Finns?