How DevOps helps banking and finance firms succeed

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Tech start-ups are relentless in disrupting incumbents and are predicated on moving fast and breaking things. They have no fear in experimentation and face no real consequence for failure; this leads to pressure on enterprises to modernise.

However, many tech start-ups stumble in their attempt to remould because they neglect to recognise the limitations of their specific industry, business, and technical environment. What works for young industries simply does not translate to the traditional enterprise or century-old bank.

Moving fast and breaking things do not necessarily apply to the banking and financial industry either. Banks and finance firms are subject to sanctions and penalties if they make even the smallest error. Given its nature, this industry needs to balance the need for speed and autonomy with the requirements of governance and compliance.

That is where a platform team approach comes in handy.

How to make DevOps work for banking and finance

The DevOps movement began from a desire to shorten the software development lifecycle by enabling collaboration between development and IT operations teams, but this was left open-ended. There has never been a prescriptive model for DevOps.

That’s fine for a tech company whose entire business model is rooted in risk – but enterprises need a roadmap. The “two pizza team” ideology coined by Jeff Bezos simply doesn’t translate to a 200-year old, 10,000-employee bank that must abide by strict regulatory requirements and meet compliance and security standards. Amazon was building a platform, whereas enterprises and banks are largely seeking to build applications for external users. Initially, adopting a DevOps strategy may have worked for some enterprises exempt from governance, but ultimately, this approach could not scale.

So how do we successfully leverage a DevOps mindset within the banking and finance industry? With a platform team approach that delivers infrastructure to product teams in the form of self-service products through an API.

In other words, the platform team manages all back-end infrastructure, abstracts away implementations and operational management, and bundles it behind a self-service API. Crucially, this must be done with a product mindset, by which it means the platform team must constantly interact with the product team to incorporate feedback and optimise their user experience. This requires empathy, patience, and commitment.

Furthermore, it requires a cross-functional team of people with skills in software engineering,  and infrastructure and operations. They are responsible for managing the entire platform, as well as building the APIs that expose it to the product and application delivery teams. That way, the organisation can ensure the cross-functional team is aligned on shared outcomes.

This team must also have access to an automation platform that is flexible and opinionated, in order to solve configuration drift issues and simplify operational tasks.

Critically, the platform must receive continuous investment from management. Data shows time and again that top-down support enables transformation. A product manager for the platform must be empowered by the organisation to prioritise features for the platform, assess both legacy and greenfield environments, and evangelise the platform throughout the organisation – in other words, to ensure teams are actually using the APIs being built by the team.

They must also have the authority to sign off recovery and change actions as they are in the best place to understand the impact to customers and the business, instead of the traditional outside recovery management and change approach.

Why does this approach work?

Taking a platform team approach centres developer teams and is ideal for a highly regulated industry like banking and finance. One of the motivations for this is having a single point of control, thereby making governance, compliance, and auditing more efficient and cost-effective.

An instrumented platform means that banking and finance organisations know exactly when it is feasible to eliminate little-used functionality, keeping operations lean and efficient.

A platform team approach also delivers a great developer experience, aiding velocity, quality, and retention for your development teams. The platform team can iteratively replace legacy infrastructure layers with more modern ones as appropriate, but because the infrastructure has been abstracted away from the user interface, customers are unaffected.

Platform engineers have a clearer sense of purpose than your average banking IT operations engineer; they know who their customers are, they know what success looks like, and they’re not hamstrung by organisational silos around monitoring, networking, or operating systems.

Experiment safely with platform teams

The DevOps movement has been enormously successful for organisations who have adopted these practices, but a lack of a single, agreed-upon definition has limited that success within industries that need structure, such as banks and financial firms.

Platform teams are a proven way to apply DevOps principles within a defined structure, enabling banks and financial firms to adopt these practices and discover new ways to balance speed and autonomy with the requirements of governance and compliance.