Head of IT (CIO) National Bank of Belgium
An Swalens has been Head of IT (CIO) at the National Bank of Belgium (NBB) since November 2019. Leading a department of around 250 people, Ms Swalens is responsible for the Bank’s IT strategy and delivery and for building strong relationships with business. She is currently driving forward an ambitious digital transformation project aimed at building a strong IT organisation, talent and culture, including Agile and DevOps initiatives and value-driven cloud roadmaps.
In an interview with Data News a few years ago, An emphasised that her job was centred around building bridges between the Bank’s technology stacks and IT teams and its various business units. “That remains the case in 2023,” she explains now, “and we are currently about halfway through implementing an unchanged strategic plan”.
The NBB has recently renewed core applications that support its work to ensure secure payments and guarantee safe cash, using new technologies and the highest security standards. Twelve countries in the Eurosystem will be using the Bank’s new safe cash application.
The NBB is also rolling out an initial hybrid cloud strategy, for which An and her team have built a new virtual private cloud (Azure), a data platform and an automation platform. These platforms use innovative cloud technologies and are being deployed for projects and for use by all employees. The NBB adopts a ”self-service” approach in this respect, underpinned by a robust governance of its IT architecture, re-use and maintenance, and security. “Think about BI and machine learning, AI, robotics, low-code development… We have many small and very diverse cases, ranging from automating the NBB art catalogue to more complex AI work. We are now also starting more extensive data sharing with universities and the ECB,” she explains.
Under An’s leadership, the organisation and operating model of the IT department have evolved to ensure optimal collaboration around the specific requirements of the NBB’s activities and the delivery of solutions. A “business partnering” service has been created within the IT department while all other services with a specific focus (e.g. IT security) have been transformed. A special programme focused on agility, collaboration, and continuous learning and improvement has also been put in place. “People are our greatest asset, An emphasises, “so investing in our talent is key”.
“All in all, I believe we have succeeded in being more of an engine than a brake for our business,” she concludes. The rather risk-averse culture of that business doesn’t, it seems, make her work any less complex.
Prior to joining the NBB, An Swalens worked in the IT department of Partena group (active in the healthcare field), ultimately becoming CIO. Before that, she gained extensive experience at various companies including HP, EDS Group and Belgacom (now Proximus).