Why technology change is slow at larger firms

Firms that commit to a single cloud provider and a lack of investment in improving developer productivity can drive up costs and slow down the pace of change, technology leaders say

Technology change often takes place more slowly in larger organisations than desired due to higher technology costs and other organisational challenges, according to technology leaders at some of the world’s largest financial institutions.

Speaking on the opening day of Singapore Fintech Festival this week, Joanne Hannaford, chief technology and operations officer at Credit Suisse, said even as an organisation tries to be more innovative and productive with the cloud, it has to “deal with the fact that the cost of technology is rising”.

Hannaford noted that the rising cost of technology was more pronounced for organisations that had marched to the cloud and implemented cloud migration programmes that focused too much on the number of applications moved to the cloud.

“Those companies which adopted the cloud wholesale became particularly dependent on a single cloud provider and found themselves in a situation where they’ve realised that there are other cloud providers they could use, but they can’t gain access to them because they’ve rebuilt their application specific to a single cloud provider,” she said.

Hannaford added that while there are commercial benefits of scale and having a single data fabric by working with just one cloud provider, things can get more expensive over time. “You really want to think about the best place to commoditise your software – it could be a hybrid cloud, multicloud, but it could also be your own datacentres.”

These decisions should be driven by outcomes, Hannaford said, noting that Google Cloud customers are often drawn to the supplier’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities while retailers that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) would want to see the product recommendations that AWS provides.

“The question is about the outcomes you are driving, but certainly, the cost and return on that cloud investment for many firms that become committed to a single cloud provider has become much more prohibitive than they thought,” she added.

Just as important is developer productivity, where developers are empowered with capabilities to “write a piece of code on Monday morning and have it in production on Tuesday morning”, said Hannaford.

“Making developers more productive and giving them the tooling they need is something organisations typically do not invest in, and this change of software is very expensive as a result.”

Andrew Lang, chief technology officer at JPMorgan Chase, said the investment bank and financial services company adopted a multicloud strategy to leverage the capabilities of major public cloud providers.

As for developer productivity, Lang said his organisation tries to abstract away the underpinnings of its cloud platforms, which developers and data scientists do not really need to understand to do their jobs.

“We’ve created what we call our OmniAI platform, an environment for our data scientists to find the data they need, understand what the data is, and how they can leverage it to create models.”

Lang said JPMorgan Chase has also implemented policy-as-code and infrastructure-as-code to support and speed up application deployments. “We are doing that in a way that allows us to migrate an application or workload to a different cloud if we feel that’s necessary.”

Such efforts to optimise for speed have become a priority and competitive advantage for the firm, Lang said, adding that “everything we do within our environment is to reduce that friction to enable our software engineers to deliver products faster and our data scientists to deliver models at a higher pace”.

Meanwhile, innovators in engineering across the industry are creating “profound cultural changes” within their organisations, said Hannaford.

“That’s certainly my aspiration for Credit Suisse, which has been in Singapore for 50 years. We have one of the biggest engineering presences in Singapore, and you can feel the impact they have culturally on Credit Suisse globally through their work in tackling some of the big business problems.

“When I think about firms which have adopted technology and responded to innovations, like the cloud, it’s really the engineers that are driving that conversation and firms need to be open to their voices,” she added.

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