As the global chief operations officer (COO) of investment banking for technology and operations at JP Morgan, India Gary-Martin leads the technology strategy at the financial services giant and is running a comprehensive IT transformation, in one of the most challenging jobs in UK IT.
Gary-Martin was hired by JP Morgan two years ago following years in senior technology and non-IT roles at other banks including Royal Bank of Scotland and Lehman Brothers, to oversee the strategic aspects of a transformational re-engineering programme, which was fuelled by multiple acquisitions made by the firm and is now more than half-way complete.
In addition to building new platforms, Gary-Martin’s team of several thousand staff worldwide has been busy integrating the platforms that came out of the multiple mergers and acquisitions carried out over recent years and reassessing various aspects of a very large technology footprint.
“Though [the acquisitions] meant that we had multiple platforms for a period of time, we were in the very fortunate position of being able to select best-in-class platforms from our own portfolio. Out of all change there is an tremendous opportunity, if you plan it properly," Gary-Martin told Computer Weekly in an exclusive interview.
Differentiating between fads and trends that will have staying power is an art but it is also about trusting your instincts.
“Acquiring a large portfolio of platforms also meant acquiring people with great expertise. In many ways, the firm’s acquisitive nature was a huge opportunity for us in technology and people terms – though challenging, we were really lucky in that respect."
Customer is king
One of the biggest areas of focus for JP Morgan in its investment banking division – the bank does not have a retail presence in the UK – is on electronic trade execution and its client-facing technology.
That means the key objective for the IT team is to provide a top-notch customer experience from front to back, while ensuring the integration and evolution of the bank’s legacy platforms at the same time.
“In addition to staying ahead of the needs of our client and pre-empting market trends, we are also managing a complex regulatory environment that is focused on transparency and standardisation,” says Gary-Martin.
“It is our job to ensure that our technology is in sync with, and managing to, those requirements. We have to be flexible and shrewd to deliver quality product in a timely fashion on both fronts."
From a development perspective, the main priority for JP Morgan is building cross-asset systems to support clients and staff. One case in point is the firm’s client-facing platform dubbed JP Morgan Markets, which is constantly evolving to provide real-time data that makes it easier for clients to access research and execute trades in one place.
The bank’s watchwords when it comes to technology are innovation and speed, so improvements must be carried out with the appropriate levels of control and risk management in place, as well as doing the majority of the work in-house – though the company partners with vendors for business-as-usual and industry-standard transaction processing.
“Living and breathing the business everyday allows our business-facing development functions the opportunity to innovate in a way that is more difficult to do remotely,” Gary-Martin says.
Due to the size and breadth of its technology platforms, JP Morgan employs a number of development methodologies. For example, the bank maintains rapid application development (RAD) teams using agile methodologies and mainframe-based technologies that employ a waterfall-based approach.
From techie to COO: the road less travelled
Watch India Gary-Martin talking about what it takes to succeed in IT, in this video of her talk to IT leaders at Computer Weekly's UKtech50 event.
“Given the nature of sales and trading businesses and the speed with which they operate, our RAD teams face the challenge of delivering quickly for the business while ensuring that the levels of control applied fall within the boundaries of corporate governance,” Gary-Martin explains.
"Flexibility and control can be a difficult balance to strike, but getting that balance right is entirely necessary."
Big data focus
As in many other major companies that store huge volumes of often unstructured information, JP Morgan is placing a significant amount of effort around managing "big data".
According to Gary-Martin, the bank maintains a “very robust” central reference data function that manages all of its client and internal data. She says that in the future, every application will draw upon the same “golden source “of data.
“Every large company that I’ve ever known has been focused on the provision of accurate dynamic and static data. Timing and consistency as it relates to data is the curse of every mature technology organisation’s legacy footprint,” she says.
“We – like all big players – suffer from that, but [also] have a very robust programme to resolve the issue over time. Again, we have to manage our migration to a single ‘golden source’ very carefully. Given the regulatory requirement to ensure data privacy and the requirement for accurate transaction reporting, we can’t afford to get the data wrong or report differently from one place to another. It has to be right.”
Such a vast amount of information processing also means that another area of focus for JP Morgan is around continuously evolving its infrastructure. The bank’s infrastructure team is also responsible for managing the physical decommissioning of applications and servers as an integral part of its group-wide re-engineering programme.
Gary-Martin says the advancements in the bank’s infrastructure have to consider the existing server footprint and datacentres – from both technology and people perspectives.
“Though we concentrate on traditional infrastructure to keep the business running, our business-focused infrastructure capability is a partner with both the business and development community in delivering the technology to create low latency trading capability that is the best in the market.”
With so much on her plate, Gary-Martin wants to be ahead of the curve and puts a great deal of focus on mastering being “in front of the change, instead of just being with the change and responding to it”, though she recognises that it is challenging task.
“There is a lot of trend analysis that enables you to predict what is going to happen and where things might go, but being aware of what is happening in the world around you by reading tech journals, finance publications and the papers, is key, “ she says.
To keep up with the demands of her job, the executive pays attention to what is happening in the wider business agenda that might have a tech impact; she also keeps a close eye on emerging technologies.
“For example, open source is huge these days but its easy to remember a time companies were a bit funny about Linux – especially bigger companies who tend to be late adopters with regards to unproven technology that could be detrimental to business if they fail,” she says.
“Differentiating between fads and trends that will have staying power is an art but it is also about trusting your instincts - in a big way."
Women in IT
Gary-Martin’s career spans 20 years in sales and trading, as well as technology and operations. Three years into her technology career, she moved on to project and programme management and “really began to understand what the businesses are all about. “
Despite having a solid background both in IT and other business functions, the COO says that moving into an operational role from being a pure technologist was a significant change and that she evolved over time.
“I think that strong COOs have often been technologists at one point in time, which is a good thing, because you can really relate to [technology] people, the challenges they are facing and the technical constraints they may have,” Gary-Martin says.
“That made the transition easier for me: I didn’t have to demonstrate my capabilities in tech as I had already done it, and most people knew I had. “
Gary-Martin says that being a woman never caused her any problems at work; if anything, what bothers her most is that there are so few women who choose careers in IT.
“When I started off in tech there were virtually no women, but the fact that I was one of the only ones didn’t feel like a major hurdle to my career progression. I have known some women to have a very difficult time but when I entered the workforce, I didn’t know that it should have been different,” she says.
Gary-Martin believes that the dwindling number of females in technology is a problem and does her part to revert that scenario. When she joined JP Morgan, Gary-Martin was asked to be a role model in the technology profession and is also engaged in communities that foster talent development of female professionals in IT both at her employer and across the wider community.
“All firms are clamouring to hire more women in technology, competition is fierce but the issue is the decreasing number of women in the pipeline and at the moment, everyone is pulling from the same pool of top talent. You can’t ignore there is a challenge in attracting women to the field because there is," she says.
“In a lot of ways , tech careers are extremely balanced. Depending upon the kind of role you have, you don’t need to be always sitting in an office. Technologists were the spearhead of flexible working movement. We did it first," she adds.
“At JP Morgan, we give people permission to [work flexibly] and encourage building a strong network. It can sometimes feel isolating and it is incumbent upon employers to ensure that they make it OK for people, though the best models are ones that are driven by employees themselves. “
Gary-Martin says retention rates of female staff in IT are high at JP Morgan and that the organisation spends “a lot of time ensuring that we retain our women.”
“Every organisation needs diversity of thought to be successful," she says.