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How to achieve success with cloud adoption in the financial sector

By Roberto Mircoli, CTO, Virtustream

Today, in order to maintain competitive advantage, financial institutions need to be increasingly agile and quick in how they respond to fast-changing customer expectations and ultimately beat their competitors.

To this point, last month the EBA – European Banking Authority - published a report on the Prudential Risks and Opportunities Arising for Institutions from Fintech. The report provides an analysis of the risks and opportunities relating to the adoption of new innovative technologies, providing seven Fintech use cases, one of which is focused on outsourcing core banking and payment systems to the public, hybrid and private cloud.

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The report looked at how cloud computing, which is an important enabling technology, is being leveraged by financial institutions to deliver innovative financial products and services. In particular it highlights that in recent years there has been increasing interest from institutions in working with cloud service providers. And although that interest was initially focused on migrating non-core applications to the cloud, the EBA found that many financial institutions are now exploring how to migrate core mission critical systems to the cloud. The report goes on to talk about how flexibility, scalability and agility are seen as the main benefits of public cloud, but adds that most cloud services have been standardised in order to allow services to be provided to a large number of customers in a highly automated manner on a large scale.  
 
The underlying concern of course is that in such a security intensive and highly regulated industry, no one size ‘cloud’ fits all. So while it’s key that cloud providers standardise to very high service standards, those who also provide specialised service offerings and keep themselves open to individual use cases and customers’ requirements – e.g., for mission critical workloads clearly have an edge. This is precisely what Virtustream was built for, combined with a very high level of automation which reduces human intervention in the most complex IT operation processes, increasing efficiency and lowering risk exposure.   
 
The EPA report goes on to outline two main criterion that need to be met to ensure financial institutions are making the move to cloud correctly. These include “choosing the right cloud service partner (CSP) on its journey” and “ensuring the internal organisation can meet the needs for this transformation alongside its CSP partner”.
 
Choosing the right CSP
 
Financial institutions must carefully select the CSP that is right and suitable for their needs. This will depend on the project in question, the institution’s overall strategy and the regulatory requirements that the organisation must meet. The organisation must also consider what data is appropriate and necessary to migrate to the cloud; remembering that they don’t necessarily need to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach to cloud services. Likewise any CSP that an institution works with must have a firm understanding of the relevant compliance landscape. It is important to be able to demonstrate that a judgment call can be made when required. For example this involves documenting the reasonable action that has been taken to prevent or mitigate a data breach or loss, creating a full ‘audit trail’ and evidence of the company’s compliance.
 
This is where the CSP must have the deepest and broadest expertise on what it takes to migrate complex mission critical systems to the cloud, as we know quite well at Virtustream, having undertaken thousands of such migrations including the creation of an L3 extension of our users’ private data centres into our cloud nodes and integrating with their existing system monitoring and management tools via a broad set of APIs.
 
Likewise it is really important that the CSP is not only experienced but has a robust methodology and operating model. For example, in addition to our advisory services at Virtustream we also take a greatly optimised approach to cloud onboarding, migration and operation that includes:
 
•    Assessment - Identifying all workloads across the application landscape, in order to analyse system configurations and interdependencies with an estimate of initial cost benefits.
 
•    Onboarding - Project planning and management, documentation of all applications and workloads, determination of the move sequences and thorough testing in order to identify any risks and issues, in order to finalise a full cutover plan.
 
•    Migration - The actual migration of production systems, technical checks for data consistency, conversion to production operations. GoLive™ migration checks, handover and transition to steady-state. 
 
•    Managed Services – A range of flexible choices which include infrastructure managed services and application managed services.  We also have expertise in a wide variety of databases, these include physical to virtual and virtual to virtual migrations, and database management.
 
The role of IT teams 
The report also went on to outline how the role of IT staff in financial institutions could possibly undergo a significant transformation with increased cloud outsourcing services, whereby roles convert into support and consultation for cloud service selection, engagement and management. This is where the adoption of an enterprise class cloud provider with managed public cloud services that deliver private cloud attributes is really important, as this strategically enables a new operating model for IT; one that is based on business outcomes and has close alignment between IT and the business. 
 
What I mean by this is having an operating model in place that delivers the ability to quickly implement new ideas so that the organisation can tap into new revenue streams and acquire new customers; a model that lowers complexity and – with that   also actively improves the risk posture. 
 
Adopting a cloud operating model across all areas of the business is probably the most difficult part of the transformation. The key aspect to remember here is that it means working more closely with the business; it means adopting an IT operating model that is services and software product-oriented, not technology or project-oriented. 
 
Looking to the sky
As cloud services become more integral to the whole organisation, so CSPs are going to quickly become part of the financial/banking infrastructure. However the risks involved in outsourcing data to the cloud carry wider potential consequences for any financial institution. This is why it is so important that regulatory bodies such as the EBA are able to respond to changes in the use of cloud and can continue to place strict compliance requirements on financial institutions and their partners. To their credit many CSPs have started to accept this as part of their ‘joint responsibility’ when they engage with a financial institution, but as cloud adoption continues to grow, financial institutions will need to carefully plan for and monitor their compliance, while CSPs look to provide an adaptable framework – one that is agile and able to flex to meet the ever-evolving needs of the finance industry.

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