Barclays banks on agile and DevOps to tackle competitive threats in fintech

Barclays Bank opens up about how increasing competition in the financial services sector has fuelled its 18-month, company-wide campaign to increase its use of agile and DevOps methodologies

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Banking giant Barclays has opened up about the challenges and successes it’s had during its 18-month push to adopt agile working practices in all areas of its business.

Speaking at the Enterprise DevOps Summit in London, Jonathan Smart, head of development services at Barclays, said agile processes and thinking are being incorporated in all areas of its business – not just IT.

“We are not doing agile for agile’s sake. We are 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,” he said.

During the first 16 months of embarking on the initiative, the amount of “strategic spend” going into agile practices and processes has risen from 4% to more than 50%, and the company now has over 800 teams involved.

“That’s more than 10,000 people. We have more than 30,000 training attendances, and – far as we know – it’s the world’s largest and fastest agile adoption,” added Smart.

The financial services sector is under immense competitive pressure from new and varied entrants to the market, including mobile-only banks and the likes of Apple and Google entering the mobile payments space, he said.

“The investment in fintech [financial technology] startups is £10bn per annum, and records are being broken every single quarter for the amount of venture capital going into fintech startups,” he added.

For this reason, incumbent firms – such as Barclays – need to ramp up their ability to innovate at scale and pace for the sake of their long-term survival, Smart added, which is where agile comes in.

“There is a huge amount of disruption and innovation going on at the moment, and companies that do not change will not survive,” said Smart. “And its survival of the most adaptable.”

Harder, better, faster

Barclays is also responsible for processing payments that equate to 30% of the UK’s gross domestic product every single day, and using DevOps-style software development methods ensures its systems remain upright and operational, Smart added.

“It’s a better way of working. We don’t need any survival anxiety to show it is a better way of working. We know it reduces risk – delivery risk – and we know it increases quality,” he said.

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One of the big challenges the company faces is trying to balance the need for agility with the fact the financial services industry is one of the most highly regulated sectors in the world, he added.

“If you want to deploy a one line piece of code, you will have to fill in 28 artefacts. The average elapsed time to go through the process is 56 days, and we have a large number of project managers spending 20 days filling in forms [for a single piece of code],” he said.

Despite this, the company is now pushing out updates to around 56% of its core applications every “nought to four weeks”, and has seen a marked decline in its lead times, while the complexity of the code its developers create has also fallen.

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Smart said the company’s agile efforts have been supported by the senior management team within Barclays since the start, which he cites as critical to the success it’s seen so far.

“I speak to many people at firms in other industries and in financial services that are trying to move the needle on agile and DevOps, and they’re not succeeding because they don’t have the buy-in from the top,” he said.

Another important factor was getting support for the huge organisational change the company was embarking on from the bottom up, said Smart, which it achieved through the creation of “communities of practice”.

“We have 35 communities of practice with 10,000 members of staff, who are voluntary. We also have 2,500 people in the agile community of practice. So we have that groundswell of passionate practitioners to help us on that journey,” he said.

Next on the agenda is increasing the engagement of its middle management teams on agile matters.

Leadership training is something we’re not doing enough of – we need to do more of it. The same with any culture change – it’s the pressurised middle. Senior management get it, the troops get it, but it’s the people in the middle who have to deliver, come hell or high water, that we need to get on board,” he added.

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