Why finance needs to adopt a DevOps culture
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Today’s conventional wisdom says that in the digital age every company is a software company. But are they really? In this article, Richard Gall explains how finance professionals can adopt a DevOps culture.
In the Finance sector, things are complicated. As an industry that is essential to the functioning of everyday life — at both an individual and industrial level — it feels like there should be plenty of scope for innovation and plenty of opportunity for growth and disruption. But that hasn’t happened – at least not as much as we might have expected. This is because of legacy issues — from systems and software to mindset. The world of finance hasn’t necessarily embraced change with open arms.
Why innovation is hard in finance
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. Banking and finance are, after all, dominated by astonishingly wealthy and well-established organizations, making disruption difficult for even the smartest startups. These organizations don’t just have a monopoly on the industry, they’re inextricably bound up with the operation of power.
But more than that, there’s a lot at stake too. Security threats are particularly problematic for those in finance, which means that messing about with new systems carry a significant degree of risk. If you develop software systems that have to manage the movement of huge amounts of money, you’re going to want those systems to be robust — and once they’re there, you’re probably not going to want to mess about with them.
Not only does change and innovation seem risky to the financial industry, it also doesn’t feel like a great growth driver. When it comes to entertainment, retail, tourism, there’s a wealth of opportunity to do things differently. For established players in finance, why disrupt something that’s been working for decades?
Developing the case for DevOps thinking in finance
However, things might well be about to change. Some of finance’s bigger names are beginning to realise that a DevOps approach is necessary for growth.
Five years ago, a team of developers at Capital One took the financial service giant’s first small steps into agile development. About three years later, DevOps practices had spread across the whole enterprise, in a radical shift which saw the organisation move towards open-source and automation in an attempt to respond quicker to bugs and increase speed and repeatability. Speaking to Computerworld UK at this year’s DevOps Enterprise Summit about attitudes to DevOps within the bank, Tapabrata Pal, Senior Director of Agile at Capital One, said, “There were pockets of resistance but since we got leadership buy-in those resistances didn’t last long”.
In an organisation of Capital One’s size, this is by no means surprising – the challenge was not just to tackle existing silos, but dismantling them across a huge, global organisation.
And Capital One aren’t the only bank making changes towards a DevOps culture. In the UK, Barclays has embarked on a company-wide initiative to develop the use of agile and DevOps approaches across the organisation.
At the same Enterprise DevOps Summit, Jonathan Smart, Barclay’s Head of Development stressed the business was pushing to use DevOps approaches across the whole of the business. Speaking at the summit, he said “we’re not doing agile for agile’s sake. We’re pursuing a strategy for the whole business to exhibit agility. When I say the whole business, I mean HR, auditing, security, compliance, the investment bank, the retail bank – everything”. Now, with over 800 teams involved in some form of DevOps approach, Smart says that adopting a company-wide DevOps culture has led to “a better way of working”, through reducing risk and increasing quality. In a sector where services are in demand 24/7, banks must provide a secure and uninterrupted service – any blips in this respect can cost a hell of a lot more than a disgruntled customer.
For financial services, DevOps is the way forward in that the removal of silos and increased automation can help organisations gain visibility of their entire process, giving them more control and agility, as well as scalability. For many, this central control and streamlined approach can help them achieve growth, remain competitive in an evolving market, and ultimately offer end users the security and stability they desire.
How can finance professionals adopt a DevOps culture?
The financial services sector is finally seeing a rise in innovative solutions to banking that utilise DevOps, such as mobile-only bank Monzo and Apple and Google offering payments via mobile, meaning that there’s a need for traditional financial services to catch up. So how can finance professionals make the push towards a DevOps culture?
There’s much to be said for selecting the right tools for your organisation and its projects in pursuing a DevOps culture. As said by Smart, there’s not much sense in pursuing agile for agile’s sake. That said, taking time to test which are the right tools for your organisation’s needs is likely to be more successful than pursuing an aggressive DevOps agenda over a short period. This is mostly in part because it will hinder the progress made in the wider challenge of adopting DevOps approaches — changing your organisation’s culture.
While there’s incredible pressure on those who develop applications and updates for Fintech to do so at an accelerated pace, changing attitudes across an organisation takes time. Both Smart and Pal talk about their experiences of convincing the board to consider a DevOps approach, proving that this can be a challenge for organisations of any size. However — regardless of whether your organisation has a board that is keen to jump on the agile bandwagon, or it’s experiencing something more akin to a grassroots movement towards agility — ensuring you have a strong and ongoing commitment to DevOps practices, which is clearly communicated and allows for the right training, is vital in making steps towards a DevOps culture.