Beyond the Hype: Responsive Agile for Financial Services

Related Topics: Agile DevOps, Digital Strategy, Financial Services

by Debashis Rana and Jeff Kish – 

As technologies continue to advance, modern delivery paradigms like Agile and DevOps provide IT organizations the framework to deliver business capabilities in efficient and sustainable ways. However, without a business-focused implementation strategy and roadmap, a lot of the hard work often gets laid to waste. This is especially critical for a Financial Services Organization (FSO) that continues to face uncertainty and change.

Agile saw its popularity rise about 20 years ago and has maintained a robust industry presence instilling I focus on mechanics like the Scrum methodology, cross-functional teams and prioritized product features. According to Harvard Business Review, Agile is a philosophy whose proper adoption requires changes to the overall business operating system, rather than just IT. It requires leadership that mandates active and sustained involvement of the C-suite. Given the level of disruption that Agile causes, it is typical to use it for strategic initiatives that support transformational change. This places additional stress on executives, whose attention must now be divided between Agile initiatives and business as usual.

Similarly, we have been in a DevOps world for a little more than a decade now. DevOps allows better coordination and communication between software development and maintenance teams. It addresses automation and sustainability in a proactive way, which minimizes downtime for production solutions, thereby increasing the quality and reliability of business capabilities enabled by these solutions. Companion disciplines like DevSecOps, DevTestOps and DataOps make IT operations even more efficient by ensuring that security, quality engineering and the nuances associated with data-intensive efforts, respectively, are not afterthoughts, rather they are dealt with early and consistently.

The Financial Services sector has always been an early adopter of new technologies and methods compared to many other industries. In some sub-sectors like mid-sized retail banks, competency in Agile and DevOps is a matter of survival in a brutally competitive marketplace. Regardless of where an FSO positions itself, recent changes in the global geopolitical landscape has caused shifts in fiscal policy that they have had to deal with. Furthermore, some of these changes are ongoing, which has forced the FSOs to build adaptable frameworks to accommodate them. This calls for the business to have reactive capability in addition to being proactive. Last but not least, the novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted the Financial Services industry just like it has any other vertical. Given that there’s always a financial value chain underlying any business, it exacerbates the impact to FSOs since it is not native to their industry alone.

While it is true that Agile and DevOps provide efficiencies, they are focused efforts that are myopic by design. Without appropriate directional guardrails and the understanding of critical path dependencies, teams utilizing such delivery paradigms run the risk of not satisfying business needs at a particular point in time and feature delays. This is why it is critical to develop an implementation strategy and roadmap that aligns business needs with delivery capabilities. This is very helpful to Agile leadership as described earlier because it provides concrete and actionable steps that ensure business and IT alignment. The implementation strategy and roadmap provides:

  • Business agreement on needs and priorities
  • Prioritization based on value, dependency, and achievability
  • Confirmation that the right infrastructure (People, Process, Technology) is available to deliver
  • Framework for communicating strategy and for coordinating and developing business and technology initiatives/improvements

It is important to note that this is not the same as a business strategy, rather it draws from the business strategy to establish delivery priorities in a methodical way.

For FSOs that are early in their adoption of Agile and DevOps, the opportunity is ripe to take advantage of a business-focused implementation strategy and roadmap. For organizations with maturity in these disciplines, efforts should be made to ensure alignment with business objectives and refresh their existing implementation strategy and roadmap based on the findings from the alignment. According to Citi Ventures, the “move fast and break things” model that is ingrained within Agile has never really gained traction in Financial Services because of privacy and regulation. Given that Agile and DevOps are culture-changing, they are impactful and expensive, which is all the more reason for FSOs to protect their investments. The need for FSOs to leverage a business-focused implementation strategy and roadmap to accommodate a constantly changing business climate – along with a process to keep them refreshed frequently – cannot be overstated.

In summary, Agile and DevOps are two approaches that speed up the ideation to reality timeline.  These two approaches bring cross-functional teams together to hasten the time to value.  Agile processes include the targeted end users to ensure what is designed is fit for purpose and generates the desired outcome. Both of these approaches need an implementation strategy and roadmap to ensure that the process doesn’t divert focus from business outcomes. This is especially true in the Financial Services industry that continues to undergo tremendous transformation on several fronts.

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