CW Innovation Awards: How Singapore's DBS Bank is driving IT automation

DBS Bank’s Technology Marketplace portal has enabled the bank to speed up provisioning of infrastructure and applications through automation and improve developer productivity

More businesses are claiming to be technology firms today, but not every business has the resources and organisational will to live up to those claims.

Singapore-based DBS Bank, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, is not one of those, having transformed its technology stack and constantly rethinking how it operates to optimise resources and human capital, including its developers, through automation.

Since 2018, developers, engineers and risk managers have been using a service portal called DBS Technology Marketplace for provisioning, managing and governing the use of infrastructure components and services used across the bank.

It was built entirely in-house by the bank’s DevOps team and lets users visualise their platforms and automatically provision compute, storage, networks, virtual machines, as well as more complex services involving databases, middleware, big data and security.

With various dashboards presented on a single screen, users get a quick overview of the operational health of their platforms and services, with full transparency of the resources being deployed.

The first iteration of Technology Marketplace offered mostly infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) capabilities, such as automating server builds while the second release was launched in 2020 to offer platform-as-a-service (PaaS) services, such as runbook automation.

The most recent build, Technology Marketplace 3.0, was implemented in 2022, delivering anything-as-a-service (XaaS) capabilities that enable the bank’s applications teams to adapt cloud-native applications without requiring developers to code their needs into those applications.

At the Computer Weekly Innovation Awards APAC 2023, DBS Technology Marketplace 3.0 was named Financial Services Project of the Year, which the judges had credited with driving significant impact to the organisation.

For example, the portal had helped to cut the time to provision infrastructure and deploy applications by 93% and 66%, respectively. Developers and engineers were also able to deploy releases at a faster cadence while reducing human errors and paperwork.

Being in a regulated industry, DBS is also bounded by regulatory and compliance requirements which can be achieved through policy-as-code (PAC) practices that have been embedded into the Technology Marketplace.

The bank’s PAC practices serve as guardrails to prevent users from making infrastructure changes that may contravene business and regulatory policies, through built-in constraints such as role-based access controls.

Besides applications and services, Technology Marketplace is also being used to track the lifecycle of hardware, spanning equipment onboarding into the datacentre through to decommissioning. Doing so also enables the bank to implement chargeback of equipment usage.

Today, the DBS Technology Marketplace hosts 157 products and services, 36 systems and 26 solutions, up from just 83 products and 14 systems in 2020. Adoption also grew by 30% from 1,375 to 1,790 daily unique visitors between 2020 and 2022.

The rapid pace at which new services were added was only possible by embracing agile and DevOps practices. For example, the portal’s development team ran two-week sprint cycles between two squads, with one squad looking after the core elements of the portal while the other built the tools to be onboarded.

At the end of each sprint, a release is performed based on agreed features. New features are then enabled in the production system and key information is communicated to users and stakeholders.

Using microservices, the portal’s developers were also able to focus on core business logic and leverage microservices for integration. This reduced the need for them to write software modules and functions individually, enabling reusability and standardisation.

Koh Jit Soon, managing director for cloud engineering and services at DBS Bank, said: “In the past, before all the automation that we have in place, it took us close to 40 weeks just to provision a server. But with streamlined and fully automated tasks, we can roll out applications in much less time, and increase our productivity and speed to market.”

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