Implementing DevOps In Banks As The First Step To Agility

by Mrutyunjay Mahapatra, CIO & Dy Managing Director, SBI

Growth riding on technology, Business outcomes, Quicker time to market, Data and insights-driven strategy are some of the prominent buzzwords in the Gartner’s 2017 CIO survey. ‘Digital-at-the-core’ philosophy is leading the transformation of technology from a business enabler to a business driver. As IT becomes an integral part of the core organisational strategy in Banks, the main challenge organisations face is to adopt and evolve organically at a rapid pace. Technologies in Banks have to find and enhance capabilities to deliver at scale and at speed, many times collaboratively with business and partners. Challenging and meeting potential disruptors require thick integration and collaboration across IT and Business, and Banks like SBI are deploying many new age tools and frameworks to achieve this. The DevOps discipline is the leader among such frameworks, deployed at various levels of maturity in Banks. Indian Banks typically follow waterfall discipline for IT projects. Numerous iterations, manual hops, failure of codes in testing, scope creep in projects mar timely IT delivery resulting in badmouthing of IT and of course, sub-optimal business outcomes. For last few years, SBI is following DevOps discipline, which has resulted in substantial gains in all the quality parameters and reduction in problem areas. It is instructive to analyse the concepts, used cases and tools of DevOps as a discipline relevant for banks in India.

At its heart, DevOps is a cultural shift. It requires merging of operational aspects of IT like testing, quality assurance, performance tuning and system integration with the software development cycle itself. In Banks, many of these steps are conducted as discrete, vendor specific or at many times, as a blend of in-house and externally sourced activities. Every step, as a result, becomes a dependency, requiring supervision and monitoring; many times, leading to chain effects and multiplication of problems and delays. Common sense points to greater collaboration between steps and its responsibility holders along with ongoing, effective and efficient methods of communication as first step to resolve the ills of ‘step by step’ or ‘waterfall’ method. Broadly, the forging of collaboration and simultaneous working on dependencies is known as Agile. Implementation of agile has been done in many ways and DevOps is one of the most popular and effective of them. In DevOps, there are few critical disciplines and for mature organizations, many advanced practices and protocols. In the interest of space and as, generally most of the Banks are at initial stages of adoption, this article deals only with the basic ones.

The first step in Agile is the choice of tool-sets and putting them to a sequence or a chain to deliver. These tools could be a combination of software, people, process, and technology. Ability to assign tasks, forging collaborations, tracking and reporting, identification of delays and bottlenecks and initiating timely interventions and escalations are key elements. This is typically referred to as ‘Toolchain Orchestration’.

The traditional methods of Build, Test, Configuration and Release are followed in Banks, who probably have achieved a significant degree of success in getting efficiencies using tools. DevOps brings all of them together, by automating the processes through interfaces, workflow and pipeline management, activity management and reporting, connecting people.

The broader aim of DevOps being efficiency and agility of release cycles, it requires faster production in smaller increments. Banks’ IT deployment machinery must also change their work habits to deal with almost on-going and continuous deployment as opposed to cycles of deployment generally followed.

Another key element of DevOps discipline is much more frequent business impact analysis and putting the findings into a feedback loop for development and release management. In Indian Banks, the customer-facing applications are seldom tested rapidly for business outcomes. However, In SBI for example, deployment of data analytics and DevOps tools of co-creation and user experience have been able to achieve this.

As IT gets more expensive, IT assets must be sweated more, duplications must be avoided, value needs to be measured credibly and people and skill gaps must be analysed and remedied. DevOps as a discipline through its collaboration forcing and facilitating devices, could help banks to achieve this. The evolution of DevOps tools with mobility, automation of steps in DevOps coming a big way, adoption shall be easier and faster.

The beauty of DevOps is the technology and sector agnostic application of it. It could benefit and better a Bank’s mobile or digital strategy as much as it could improve efficiencies in a manufacturing company. Tech giants have been using these techniques to deploy thousands of codes per day without compromising on stability, reliability and security. Banks today are labelled as IT companies in the banking business. This requires a mindset and cultural change. Given the depth of the change management and organization-wide impact, commitment and buy-in of the senior leadership of Banks are essential to deploy DevOps beneficially in Banks.