Cloud

Why ATB Financial moved its entire organization to G Suite

This financial institution shares the changes and challenges it experienced while transitioning to G Suite.

Illustration of building with ATB Financial logo at top; Computers displayed in offices showing "G Suite" on screen.
Image: Andy Wolber

In the summer of 2016, a team from ATB Financial (ATB) visited Google. By the end of the year, the crown corporation had signed a deal to move its team of more than 5,000 people to G Suite. Over the next several months, ATB leadership moved through three phases. The first phase, Ignite and Listen, sought to raise awareness and identify concerns. The second phase, Excite and Discover, provided people learning resources and experiences. By July 2017, the organization switched to G Suite. A third phase, Adopt and Master, promoted continued learning after the launch.

TechRepublic spoke with ATB Financial's chief transformation officer Wellington Holbrook and chief evangelist Lorne Rubis to discuss changes their organization experienced as they moved to G Suite.

TechRepublic: Why did ATB move to G Suite?

Holbrook: There was a confluence of several things that came together at the same time, like recognizing that our future is being a cloud-based organization. And as part of our transformation, we wanted to send a message to some of our vendors that we were not satisfied with status quo and that we were looking for increasing value to be delivered to us.

When we put all these things together, we recognized that Google was a really good way for us to: make a good business decision for ATB that we think is going to be financially beneficial for us for the long run, put us on a better technology footing, and enable us to transform the organization in ways beyond technology.

Rubis: The culture shift we wanted to achieve as an organization was probably the number one driver for moving to Google: Forcing people to think differently around how we do work.

We were locked into a mindset of working an old way. ...It's been such a wonderful experience to have to say, "How might we?" By adopting G Suite, every assumption about how we work really was open for consideration.

Holbrook: It's changing the way we change. We're sharing information with each other, instead of waiting for somebody to download information.

Photo of Wellington Holbrook (standing, left); Lorne Rubis (sitting, right)

Wellington Holbrook, Chief Transformation Officer (left) and Lorne Rubis, Chief Evangelist (right).

Image: ATB Financial

TechRepublic: What does G Suite offer to give you confidence as a financial institution that you can secure data?

Holbrook: Security was the biggest technical question we had—and the most important one we had to answer. Early on in our due diligence that was probably the biggest time-consuming element of our work. We engaged stakeholders like our regulator, privacy commissioner to ensure that we wouldn't go out of bounds.

But we basically came to the realization that this isn't really a security question, it's just an expertise question: understanding how to use the tools differently or how to use new tools. It introduced some new technologies like cloud security broker. But at the end of the day, this was never a question of security. This was just expertise.

It's a mindset shift for everyone. Everybody who said no initially, said no because they didn't understand. They were scared because they just didn't have the understanding. And once understanding was gained, everybody came around to say, 'Gosh, we've got to do this.'

Rubis: Even though cloud's been around for a long time as a concept and even a practice, at the board and governance level, there's still a lot of old information that 'firewalls were safer' and that kind of stuff. This was an opportunity to really educate [people] about how there's way more security about how we're doing it now.

Holbrook: One interesting thing that I figured out along the way is that we call it the 'public cloud.' And unfortunately that's the worst brand ever. It makes it sound like anybody can access and just do damage to it or something. It's the opposite. It should have been branded as the most secure and safe data center in the world.

TechRepublic: What other hardware or infrastructure changes did the move to G Suite prompt?

Holbrook: We had an older WiFi infrastructure across our branch network across the province [of Alberta]. And some of those branches are in smaller communities that don't have a lot of bandwidth. Se we had to look at their needs and open up the pipe further for them. But those things were relatively easy things to tackle. ...They just made those locations work better. In our larger offices—like our corporate office here in Edmonton, that we're in right now—we substantially upgraded the bandwidth in the building. ...Everything works better now.

Rubis: It allowed us do lots of cleanup of stuff that's around. Now you can use any mobile device, and we have 2-step authentication. Our IT organization did a phenomenal job of using this as an opportunity to clean a lot of stuff up.

Holbrook: We do have a lot of bank applications—or banker applications—that don't function immediately out of the box on a Chromebook. ...So we've been spending a lot of energy bringing in visualization tools, so that we can bring them to the Chromebook. ... What I can tell you is people love Chromebooks. Give them a Chromebook and people will never go back to a PC. ...I don't have a PC anymore other than one that has to be logged in to once a month for one application that will be made redundant next month.

Rubis: Administrative assistants used spend the first 15 minutes of a meeting figuring out how to get the equipment to work. ...We don't even think about it any more. We just get into a meeting and things work. I know that may sound trivial, but it's not.

People were used to breaking things. The mindset we had to change was that you can't really break anything. ...Part of the mindset issue was fear — 'I might break something. I might have to call the support desk'—is no longer an impediment. Not sure how something works? Just go in there and Google the damn thing. ...Peer to peer stuff is happening that would not have been possible without this.

TechRepublic: What other changes has the move to G Suite enabled?

Rubis: We have thousands of forms in the company, with only only about 50 of them that probably are the most ubiquitously used. And so we've identified those. But we're asking the business to take the lead. ...It's actually the businesses taking the lead to identify those and attack those consciously. We expect the bulk of those to be done by March 31 this year.

Holbrook: We're building a digital platform upon which we're creating all of the products and solutions that we're equipping our team members to do their business, as well as our customers. And this digital platform is essentially the conduit through which speaks to the core banking engine underneath. ...This digital platform is using open source technologies and it can link in to G Suite and other Google tools, as well.

A big conversation we have right now is around 'How do we create CRM tools for our team members?' We have a very traditional CRM that's kind of clunky, like many older CRM systems. Well, because of this digital platform...we've created new applications that seamlessly link into G Suite.

TechRepublic: What else do you want people considering the switch to know?

Holbrook: We committed and went all in. And those organizations that sit on the fence and introduce it, while they let people use old tools almost don't make the case. The reason for doing this is to change the way you work. And if you don't force change in an instance like this, people won't change the way they work. And I think that's what changed here. When we cut over, that next day you were using Gmail. You couldn't go back and use other tools. You were using Docs, you weren't supposed to go back and use Word. And although we let people transition a little bit, we told them that time is coming up. Other organizations have just ended up having Microsoft and G Suite. I think it's hard to change when you don't have to change.

Rubis: This is really a strategic and cultural initiative. ...The success of this is truly a 'we.' There are over 5,000 people that participated in this. It wasn't something done to people. We did it together.

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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