BBVA's Jose Olalla is the first big-bank CIO to adopt Google Apps on a grand scale. He's certain to not be the last.

Jose Olalla
Chief information officer
Latest breakthrough: Olalla is rolling Google Apps out across the entire company in the first major bank implementation of a public cloud.

While many banks still live in fear of the public cloud, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria recently began a rollout of Google Apps to all 110,000 employees in all countries in which the bank operates. The news, which came out in March, caused a stir. "Since our announcement, I have had many, many, many conversations with other CIOs all over the world thinking about doing something similar," says Jose Olalla, chief information officer.

In mid-April, the bank had moved more than 15,000 users to the new set of productivity tools, most of them in Spain. (The $709 billion-asset bank is based in Bilbao.) By the end of 2012, all employees will be on Google Apps.

The toughest country so far has been the U.S. "There we are just in the pilot phase," Olalla says. A language barrier is one obstacle; in the process of translating contract documents from Spanish to English and back, issues arise. U.S. regulations have been another stumbling block.

BBVA's CEO and chairman and the executives who report to them recently attended a training session on Google Apps. "I don't imagine many other companies having a team like this together in a room on a Friday afternoon attending that training session," he says. "The top management at BBVA are adopting very quickly and willing to learn new things." At a strategy meeting three days later, the executives all used Google Apps for their presentations and sharing documents.

The shift to Google Apps is already helping with merger integrations. BBVA recently agreed to acquire another Spanish bank; the close will take place by the end of July. "What we intend to do is the day after the closing, move as many people as possible to Google Apps," Olalla says. "The next day, they'll be able to use and share the tools the rest of the group is using, that will happen in 24 to 48 hours."

It helps that most employees already have a gmail account for private use and understand how Google Apps work.

Patch management is simpler using Google Apps, Olalla reports. "If Microsoft has a vulnerability, they have to send us a fix and we need to install that fix," he says. "With Google Apps, there's just one single instance for everybody. So if a vulnerability appears, we'll be able to fix it for everybody in just one moment."

How does Olalla get projects like this done when so many banks are afraid of the public cloud and of being the first to adopt any new technology?

"Innovation is one of our cultural characteristics, starting from the very top," he says. The bank has a structured approach to innovation. A team headed by Chief Innovation Officer Beatriz Lara Bartolome is based in Madrid and San Francisco and works with several universities. "We have a methodology for finding, analyzing and understanding how the world will be five to 20 years from now," Olalla says. "From that vision, we define five to seven lines of disruptive innovation for banking, and that's where we start acting." Typically it takes between one and a half to two years to turn such a mission into new products. "You need to understand the context, identify, test, pilot and deploy," Olalla says.

Several years ago, the bank identified mobility, cloud and data center management as lines of innovation it should be in.

In one of the team's recent projects, the bank recently built a data center in Madrid and is building one in Mexico: from these two locations it will operate information technology around the world. The data center in Spain will operate Europe and eventually Asia. The Mexico facility will house IT for the Americas. The two data centers will back each other up. In the case of an emergency such as a loss of power, one data center could operate the entire bank for 72 hours. The likelihood of having the same failure in both centers is one in 5,000 years. "This level of reliability is very important for us because we're operating in different countries, and we need to make sure the regulators in all countries will feel comfortable," Olalla says. Consolidating down to two data centers will be more ecological and more efficient, the processes will all be the same and consumption of power will be much lower.

On Olalla's drawing board are four new models of high-tech branches, ranging from a flagship to a kiosk. "We're piloting new models of branches in Madrid in which the idea is to have a space just for customers and employees to share information and technology," Olalla says. "We have places where employees and customers sit together and share information, and use touch screens to do so. Employees have iPads on which they will receive alerts about what their customers are doing, such as withdrawing money at an ATM. The bank is also piloting new touch-screen ATMs it developed with NCR and plans to start working with smart televisions in the U.S. this spring.


Gallery: The 2011 Innovators of the Year

Articles on honorees:
Brett King: A Vision for 'Frictionless' Banking
Jeff Dennes: A Granting of Grace
Robert Frohwein: The 10-Minute Small Business Loan
Howie Wu: Getting New Members Quickly on Board
Susan Andrews: Drawing the Best Ideas Out of 263,000 People
Shekar Pannala: Aware of the Context
Frank Eliason: Taking Social Media to a Chattier Level
Harry Gunsallus: Speeding Apps to Market
Jim Smith: A Plethora of Online Banking Options

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.