The power of DevOps can reduce customer friction, bring control and simplicity, and energise a cloud-led digital transformation for an FS organisation. DevOps specialist Wael Shawareb offers his experience and advice on how this can be achieved.
Mindset not skillset
It’s important right from the outset to understand that DevOps is not about a skillset and the ability to programme or code. Instead it is a mindset that puts the customer experience at the centre of your business strategy.
In recent years there has been a major shift in financial services becoming customer centric to achieve agility. Here at Warba Bank in Kuwait, we were founded in 2010 initially as a niche bank. To give you some context, the country has 11 banks, and five of them are direct competitors as they are an Islamic Bank like us.
Because Kuwait’s population is small, to acquire a market share is extremely challenging. Nevertheless, we were not deterred and achieved success by offering a digital proposition for customers. This means aligning the technology with the financial proposition to make the customer journey easier.
By focusing on customer centricity, this enabled us to stand out from the crowd and win this valuable market share.
An on-prem strategy
In the recent Enterprise Cloud Index, over 70% of FSIs were moving back from public cloud to on-prem. We opted for an on-prem strategy due to two factors.
- The first comes down to governance because we are an Islamic bank working under the country’s central bank.
- Secondly, there are restrictive controls in place when it comes to cloud adoption, such as security, customer data and exposure.
Cloud would be a good option, but it does not apply due to the governance rules imposed on us. That said, cloud gives us a lot of leverage when it comes to delivery time and getting services up and running.
The long journey
At Warba Bank our DevOps practices have changed, and it was a long journey that started in 2013. We adopted a business strategy designed to increase the responsiveness of our services, streamline business operations, and work more for customer-focused needs.
It was not a simple undertaking as it was built from the ground up. It’s important to note that this cannot be a plug and play solution that slots seamlessly into an enterprise.
Our plan involved investing in software-defined technology – including software development, networking, storage, provisioning and security controls.
All this investment put Warba Bank in control of its services; and we created an environment where people think outside the box. With the right and solid foundations in place, the mindset and culture of DevOps was ready.
Take away the friction
When security is considered, people often talk about DevOps and DevSecOps independently – however, it’s important to note they go hand-in-hand.
To ensure the gap between development and security is bridged it again comes down to a cultural mindset. I believe security needs to be in every part of the software development lifecycle.
Traditionally in FS it takes a long time to get a product to market but you now don’t have that luxury. You need to take away the friction so you can meet and respond to customers’ demands.
In the financial sector security for us is the focus. Services must be secure otherwise you will lose customers.
With regards to DevSecOps, it was a bit challenging at first because you need every security person to merge into agile development and understand the concepts.
For example, people need to know how to integrate security controls within the code. Think about how you’re doing dynamic analysis and container security, and how you’re exposing it to the public internet. It’s crucial to create this culture and mindset right from the beginning.
Building a culture of agile development
As customer demands continually evolve, DevOps is going to need to change in line with those demands to reduce customer friction and improve customer experiences.
This means security must be built into everything you do. Tech and dev teams need to understand the security and compliance restrictions based on FS enterprises.
Speaking from my experience at Warba Bank, if you’re building a culture of agile development, then you’re also focusing on customer feedback. That feedback is a very critical part of your services as you have built processes around customer demands.
For example, we let customers use their mobile app to give specific feedback on functionality at the bank. This shows us what the customer is doing and his/her input. In turn, customers are seeing their suggestions integrated into the app. This is a monumental change for the FS sector and lets customers offer instant feedback.
The DevOps cycle needs to run at a very high pace because you have chosen to get customer feedback at every step of the service.
It’s no longer about developing a product and selling it to people. It’s about having constant agile development so you can understand and then meet people’s demands and put the customer experience at the centre of your FS business.
Challenges and opportunities
Within the world of DevOps there are naturally some negatives and positives.
Over the next few years, I see one main challenge pertaining to skillsets. You will need people with a broader exposure to DevOps, because developers will need to deal with infrastructure, automation and security. In the Middle East this type of versatile skillset is not available as much as it could be.
While there are challenges, the opportunities for DevOps to build influence over the next few years are there.
For instance, it will play a massive role in data analysis. By utilising DevOps wisely, FS firms get the ability to be more aggressive when it comes to expanding their services and understanding within data science and AI.
If each part of the enterprise can adapt to think about automation and remove friction, success can be attained. I strongly believe DevOps is the only way forward for a business to be successful.
It’s not a cheap thing to do, because you need to invest in people, technology and processes. Ultimately, the whole business must buy into this way of thinking.
Creating this right environment certainly won’t happen instantly, but the rewards will far outweigh the long and difficult journey.
Wael Shawareb is Senior Director, Cyber Security & IT Governance, Warba Bank.