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The parable of the breakfast cereal - and what banks' Ops teams can learn from it

There’s an iconic TV advert in the UK for a breakfast cereal, where even the ‘hero’ can’t eat more than two Shredded Wheat. It was even cited by David Cameron when he was Prime Minister, when he declared he wouldn’t seek a third term. Created in the US in the 1890s, it was launched on an unsuspecting British breakfast-eating public as a “a relief from the monotony of everlasting porridge".

But why on earth am I waxing lyrical about breakfast cereals? 

Well, it seems to me as if banks’ Operations teams can learn from the parable of the breakfast cereal.

A big challenge they face is not only in the sheer volume of updates, security patches and ‘breakfixes’ that must be tested, certified and deployed, but also that this must all be done when the markets are closed.

In essence, the breakfixes have to be all done before breakfast on Monday morning when the markets re-open after the weekend.

But what of the parable?

If we take the Shredded Wheat example, then we’d know that three really is too many for one person to handle. And it’s the same with breakfixes. There is a limit to what one person in the IT department can do. So faced with multiple breakfixes, needing to be tested, certified and deployed across potentially hundreds of voice trading turrets, the only option is to have more and more people in the IT department dedicated to this task.

But this constant need for testing is repetitive and time consuming. It is, if you like, the equivalent of the “monotony of everlasting porridge”. You know it’s good for you; you know you really should eat it because it sets you up for the day ahead. But please, there must be an alternative.  

IT teams don’t want to be bogged down with these manual tasks. They want their time to be freed up so they can focus on creating value for the business, deliver innovation, play an active role in the pursuit of the wider business objectives of the bank.

But the reality is that installing a patch isn’t a straight forward job. Such is the complexity of the systems that a fix in one place can end up causing a critical break elsewhere. You can’t simply flow patches across the system and expect everything to be ok. They have to be tested, certified, deployed – and all when the trading floor is closed.

The very nature of the highly regulated, compliance-bound trading floor is such that the infrastructure behind it has to be tested to within an inch of its life. 

In many cases, a bank will have multiple pre-production environments, taking weeks or even months for any changes to move into the production environment – and even then they can still be plagued by last minute problems.

The solution, until now has been for all this to happen first in the lab, and then only be rolled out into the live trading floor over the weekend, with the Ops team having to quite literally walk the floor to check every voice trading Turret and Dealerboard.

Back to our parable and we can see that if you want to kick the porridge habit but still have a healthy heart perhaps the answer does indeed lie in a different high fibre breakfast cereal.

As it happens, there is another iconic high fibre cereal which, much like Shredded Wheat, sets you up for the day ahead. 

“Have you had your Weetabix” isn’t just a marketing strapline – it’s something my parents asked me every morning at breakfast and which I now find myself asking my children.

So what’s the role of the Weetabix in this parable? [It’s a good and fair question!] 

Well, for starters Weetabix makes no claims about three being too many. What’s more, yes it’s high fibre and good for you, but you still can fill your bowl with lots of fruit to have with it. It means not only no more being a prisoner to porridge but also more choice, flexibility and enjoyment … or as the slogan goes, you can enjoy it ‘any which way a bix’!

For the IT department, if manual testing is their porridge, Weetabix is automation. It can augment their manual testing, accelerating time to deployment, freeing up finite back office resources, and unlocking the ability innovate and create value. 

Don’t believe me? I’m sure Jack scares away the giant atop the beanstalk with the words Fee Fi Fo Fix, I’ve automated my breakfix!

 

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