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DevOps: Stepping out of the IT Shadows

Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in the ecommerce marketplace and a leader in making the digital-physical experience for customers frictionless. 

 When Warren Buffett talks about Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, this is what he has to say.

 

"We haven't seen many businessmen like him. Overwhelmingly, he's taken things you and I've been buying and he's figured out a way to make us happier buying those products, either by fast delivery or prices or whatever it may be, and that's remarkable."

 

To work at digital speed, Amazon has built an infrastructure and operations framework to manage that infrastructure faster than anyone else by embracing the motto: “You build it, you run it.” DevOps, a term not heard widely outside of the IT corridors and people managing infrastructure, has an important part to play in making Amazon the digital customer leader. 

 

So why does it matter? Simply speaking, DevOps is an approach which integrates the development (Dev) and operations (Ops) teams so that systems can be can automatically managed rather than using a manual process, without compromising on knowledge and capability. It unifies people, processes and products to enable continuous delivery of value to the end users. Or in non-IT terms, it is how you can build quicker, newer features and improvements in response to the market and ahead of competitors.

 

To truly work, it requires collaboration between operations and development engineers throughout the software development life cycle. Successfully implementing DevOps as a strategy requires organizations to define the problem, use different, flexible models – (and suitable new tools) and allocate resources accordingly.

 

As these two set of stakeholders work closely and learn from each other, DevOps becomes compelling because it improves delivery speed, reduces development and operations costs, enables early defect detection and provides the agility to innovate, among other benefits. Going back to Amazon as an example, it deploys new changes every 11.6s with only 0.001% deployment failure.

 

I’ve spoken to numerous bank executives who are increasingly aware of DevOps as a concept but are asking what it actually means for their business. For financial services firms that are dealing with customers who are increasingly expecting a faster, more coherent and consistent digital experience, DevOps can play a critical role in enabling the ecosystem to meet evolving customer expectations.  

 

DevOps experimentation using cloud-based, open source and fintech tools is already prevalent across financial services firms, but to date these experiments have been an IT-centric approach. Banks, such as CapitalOne, with primary retail operations have been on the DevOps journey for some time and have been successful in building infrastructure for a better digital experience for their customers.

What needs to happen now is for DevOps to gain higher-level visibility and board-level sponsorship to move it outside of the IT domain and into the DNA of an organization to make it real. I won’t get into the technical details around DevOps or the fact that the number of companies and tools in this space are mushrooming (we are now beyond the fruits, Apple, Blackberry, Raspberry and on to Dockers, Puppet, Jira, Slack, Crate and more!).

 

So what should executives be considering when examining the DevOps landscape? From my conversations with bank CTOs and other senior executives, there are several important factors to consider before making DevOps part of your transformation journey, including the following:

 

  1. Tie in with your digital initiatives: DevOps metrics have to go beyond IT and focus on how they improve the customer/client experience.
  2. Grassroots execution but high-level support: DevOps requires organizations to have a non-IT sponsorship along with the CIO to ensure financial and change management support within the organization.
  3. DevOps is Agile enabled but not Agile: A number of people have been using Agile in the front office development for a number of years, but DevOps means working across the silos enabling enhanced efficiency to drive customer experience and reduce costs.
  4. Building regulatory guardrails: Moving fast is good and moving fast and breaking fast to deliver continuous improvement is good, but it has to be done within the regulatory framework. The fast-paced model has landed a few of the disrupters, such as Zenefits and LendingClub, in trouble. Regulations don’t exist to prevent disruption, but to ensure you maintain customer trust.
  5. Integration with shared services models: DevOps takes some fine-tuning to work with the shared services models. Not every shared service can be “DevOped.” Shared services models bring efficiencies, but introducing DevOps across remote teams without the right guidelines is a recipe for failure.
  6. Legacy exists: Financial industry players were some of the earliest adopters of information technology. These early investments have left banks dealing with a large technical debt and systems that are not attuned to quick changes. The interdependency between legacy systems is also complex and the DevOps advantage in terms of time to market can be dragged down by your existing legacy systems.

 

 

For DevOps to truly make a difference, it needs more than IT know-how and necessitates a cultural change. Open and proactive communication combined with interaction and knowledge sharing between teams is the key to effective deployment. Teams should communicate the operational requirements, problems and proposed solutions on a near real-time basis to accommodate them in the system development process.

 

DevOps for financial services has huge potential. To deliver meaningful change, it needs to step out of the shadows of IT and prove that it is about enhancing the customer experience and reducing the cost of services instead of a back-end project for IT geeks.

 

 

 

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