Tsvi Gal Brings Open Systems to Banking

Improved time-to-market is the goal for Bank of America VP

                        Name: Tsvi Gal
              Place of Birth: Haifa, Israel
                    Position: General Manager, 
		              Bank of America Systems Engineering
    Time in Current Position: 3 months
       Years in the Industry: 20

               Car He Drives: 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity

Favorite Non-Work Activities: Spending time with his two daughters,
reading, basketball, and judo.

      Pet Open Systems Peeve: "Open systems suffers from the disease of
buzzwording.  A lot of buzzwords are thrown around, a lot of promises
made that can't be fulfilled.  There's a lot of hype.  I think that 
the biggest lie, and it comes from the trade journals, is that it's
enough to install a UNIX system to cut the cost by tenfold."

In 1974, as an 18-year-old Israeli, Tsvi Gal faced the certainty of military service. His future in information systems began to take shape at the moment he weighed his options in the Army. "I was given a choice of becoming a warrior or a programmer," Gal remembers. "It was very easy to decide what I wanted to be."

With that decision made, Gal began a career that led, 20 years later, to his current position as general manager of systems engineering for Bank of America, the second largest U.S. bank.

In the Israeli Army, he got a concentrated and intensive dose of technology. "They send you to a programming class which lasts eight months, each day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.," Gal relates. "They teach you Assembler and Fortran and PL/I and Cobol and algorithms and data management and databases. Out of 100 people who started the class, only 20 survived. Then they take the top 10 percent and send them to study systems programming." Gal made the cut and got the systems programming basics under his belt, but the training still wasn't over. "They send you to four more months of classes on system internals. They say 'Let's start from scratch' and you learn all the control blocks and the way the system is built internally."

One of Gal's first tasks involved a project to revise IBM's operating system source code for its mainframes. "We changed the source code, recompiled it, and we had a wonderful system. Then we regretted it dearly three months afterward, when there was a problem in the system. I was going through 200,000 lines of well-documented program and trying to debug it at 2 a.m."

Gal was later sent on a mission with Israeli intelligence forces, helping develop small computers based on the Intel 8080 chip. "They didn't call them PCs at the time, so we didn't become millionaires," he says. "But that's what we did."

Gal's first management experience came involuntarily. "It was proposed by my boss's boss at the time. He told me 'We've seen the work you do and it looks pretty good. Would you consider being a team manager?' I said no, that I'd actually like to be a techie. And so he said, 'Well, let me rephrase it for you. Starting next week, you are the leading the group.'"

Leaving the Army

After spending seven years in the Army, Gal left to become a private consultant. His first job was on an Air Force project. "So finally I was out of the Army and then there I was in the Air Force. All my friends from the Army hated me because now I worked for the real enemy."

After completing a job for El Al, the Israeli airline, Gal and his wife Sara decided to come to the United States. For several years, a friend in the New York City area had been inviting them to give the New World a try. "We knew Israel very well," Gal says. "We said we'd see if this new place was nice. If we like it, we can stay, and if we don't we can always go back." His first job was working for March McLennen, building an SNA network within the United States and an X.25 network internationally. Later, he had a part in building one of the first local area networks in the United States. While working days, Gal earned his B.S. in computer science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.

After completing his degree, the Gals decided to make another move. "One day my wife decided, 'Why don't we move to California?' She had three cousins there. I argued that I really liked my job. That argument lasted for about two minutes and the next thing that happened was I took a one-year assignment with Safeway." The California-based grocery store chain had just started a leveraged buyout, and Gal was brought in to rebuild Safeway's system.

Change at Wells Fargo

In 1989, Gal moved to Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, where he was named head of information technology. The systems he found at Wells Fargo consisted of IBM mainframes with 3270 dumb terminals connected to them, as well as a Tandem system for handling on-line transactions. Gal decided that he would introduce the bank to open systems.

Although Gal had encountered Berkeley UNIX in Israel, and had played with it in college, Wells Fargo's move to open systems was not based on a love of the technology itself. "The business needs are the driver," he says. "There are very strong business needs to improve time to market and improve the ability to share data and information. I have never thought it was the role of IT to make business decisions. IT is really a service organization to enable the business to progress in its direction. The change in the last few years is that IT should now present technological alternatives to the business, understand the business itself, and come back with ideas of how to improve the business. The ideas that IT may come up with may or may not be accepted. The overall goal is one and only one, which is time-to-market."

Beginning with no UNIX at all at Wells Fargo, the bank slowly began to introduce it. "You start with discussions and by planting the seed. I brought in Sun and SCO UNIX and showed that it was not like a monster. Then we ran several studies and used industry speakers to show that UNIX was not a university-only environment. It takes time to convince people. Although we were on the leading or bleeding edge of the move, we were definitely not the only ones." In the worldwide move to open systems, "this was just the beginning, just before the big hype started. So it was good timing," Gal says

The conversion took years, and was never intended to completely replace the mainframe. "The mainframe is still there, it's very strong, and it's actually growing," he notes. "This is a process of turning off the hype of the UNIX revolution. UNIX and open systems will not replace the mainframe, but they will live side by side and UNIX will add value to the system where the data is stored. The data is not moving anywhere."

In addition to starting an open systems revolution at the bank, much of Gal's work also involved building local area networks. Employing hardware from Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun, Sequent, and DEC, the bank will have, by the end of 1994, several hundred UNIX servers with thousands of nodes, PCs, and externals connected to the servers.

The biggest problem in the process of change was not technological but mental, Gal reports. "It's the mind set of people-that's the biggest change. It's human nature-in the IS organization and in the business." Some executives may be led to believe that very complex production systems can be developed in days, he warns. "Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is people's minds that are problematic. Initially, it's the resistance, and then there is a hypnosis-people believing you can do everything in no time. It becomes a massive training campaign. You build something small, make sure that it works, use it as a showcase, and try to convince them to basically earn their trust. Show that you can do it and they will trust you with a bigger one. Don't try to go for the biggest one as the first project."

In retraining the IT staff, Gal found that many were willing to make the conversion from mainframes. "The best people that we had were people who were not born and raised by UNIX, but people that really were born and raised by mainframes and converted to UNIX," Gal says. "They were the best, first in terms of their knowledge and ability to understand. If you know MVS in detail, to learn UNIX is no big deal. But also, their attitude was a production attitude, which means they know what's really important. Not everybody will make the cut, but the ones that do will benefit themselves and the corporation. You need to make sure that you provide them with the opportunity to make the change."

In taking a company toward open systems, nobody should believe that just converting to UNIX will cut costs substantially, Gal notes. "What people don't take into account is the fact that hardware itself is really a very small portion of the overall cost of operation. There's training, infrastructure, application development-a lot of those things are not taken into consideration. What I have found is that if you want to do the change for cost only, don't do it. If you want to make a change for increased productivity and improved time-to-market and for business process engineering, then yeah-by all means go and do it. But other than that, don't. It's not going to buy you the benefits you're looking for."

The Taxpayer Syndrome

The other major problem with open systems conversions, Gal says, is what he calls the taxpayer syndrome. "Nobody wants to pay for highways and nobody wants to pay for health care, but everybody expects them to just be there when you need them. That's one of the big issues that is bothering me [with IT]. Nobody wants to pay for infrastructure. People are willing to pay for specific applications, but the infrastructure itself is not adequate to support them as well, if you really want to use an object-oriented environment or reusability techniques. Nobody wants to pay a little more or do the job slower than they could, so they will turn to fast and easy solutions that will jeopardize them in the long run. Remember that quick and dirty is indeed dirty.

"What 4GL did for us is enable us to build legacy systems faster, which basically translates into creating more problems faster than ever. Only an infrastructure and distributed client/server architecture will make a big difference in time-to-market-by up to tenfold."

Gal has some of the same open-environment plans at Bank of America that he had at Wells Fargo, but again, he's taking his time. The objective is "time-to-market improvement and enabling the business to expand-that's the real goal. The B of A setup is very traditional. But I also have seen a lot of open minds. People are willing to make a change, to learn new techniques and combine their current knowledge with new knowledge."

Gal's own excitement comes in "making a difference and really helping the business make a difference," he says. "I have a lot of respect for information technology, but I never forget that I'm here for the business. Every time I talk to people that I hire, I remind them that we are not in the information technology business-we are in banking. So whenever I can make a difference for the bank, whenever the bank benefits from a new system and we can see the effect in the market, that gives me a lot of satisfaction. Another part of the satisfaction is to see people that are really excellent in their old talent converting successfully to the new knowledge and still able to take a major lead. People are the only asset we really have, so whenever I see someone who was an MVS systems programmer for 15 or 20 years and now can do the same or better in a Windows or UNIX environment, that's a great feeling."