Every Monday morning we fire five questions at a leading C-suite figure. Today we’re pleased to be joined by Tim Hooley, former Goldman Sachs Managing Director, Technology and now Chief Technologist, FSI EMEA, at Red Hat.
Tim – What’s the Biggest Challenge for your Clients?
Financial services (FS) was one of the first industries to invest heavily in technology-at-scale to support their increasingly data-driven businesses. Investment banks built risk and pricing platforms, insurers built risk assessment platforms, and retail banks deployed core banking platforms that required huge amounts of batch processing. Most of this technology is now old and crucially it’s difficult to change quickly.
This leads to a situation where FS firms with modern, cloud-native technology are able to move more quickly to deliver customer value, and have started to take market share from the incumbents.
Whilst the outdated technology itself is clearly a problem, arguably a bigger challenge sits with the organisational structures and cultures that have grown up around these platforms – from the programmers who work in much the same way as they have done for the past 30 years, to the operations teams who manage the exceptions and errors that have not been automated.
Indeed, it is probable that the business features that are offered to clients have been heavily shaped over 30 years by the characteristics and limitations of the platforms, and that they too would benefit from a root-and-branch review.
Using the analogy of horse-drawn carriages being replaced by internal combustion engined-vehicles at the turn of the twentieth century, when features such as overnight stays at coaching inns were no longer needed, and blacksmiths with hammer and tongs were replaced in large numbers by engine mechanics with spanners and gauges, FS firms today need to reorganise towards product-led, cross-functional agile teams, in which the developers know how to architect and build secure cloud-native applications, with full automation and both configuration and compliance as code.
This is challenging because of the regulatory constraints that need to be navigated, the career hierarchies that need to be re-imagined, and the new skills that need to be acquired. When set within the context of the very fast changing world of technology at the infrastructure (IaaS), platform (PaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) level, banks are challenged to navigate the landscape and understand the long term impact of the choices in front of them. Bold decisions will be required from strong leadership that recognises and grasps the challenge of embracing cloud-native technology alongside profound organisational change.
2. Technology that Excites you Most?
The latest version of Red Hat OpenShift, version 4.2, previews two innovations that are tying for the title of my ‘most exciting current technology’.
The first of these is OpenShift Serverless, which is based on the open source Knative project, which provides portability and consistency across hybrid and multi-cloud environments by enabling an enterprise serverless platform. It implements the building blocks for developers to create modern, source-centric, container-based applications through a series of custom resource definitions (CRDs) and associated controllers in Kubernetes. This helps to lower costs by running applications that can scale down to zero while remaining responsive to user requests and then scaling up on-demand – which may be especially suited for short-running processes. I’m excited about what this technology can offer in the enterprise open hybrid cloud construct.
The second technology of interest to me is called Quarkus. Although Java and the JVM are still the most popular programming languages, their usage isn’t as strong around serverless and cloud native microservices due to the smaller memory footprint and rapid boot time that is required for short-lived containers.
Quarkus addresses many of these shortcomings and the performance test numbers that I’ve seen are pretty mind-blowing! It is based on GraalVM – a universal virtual machine for running applications written in JVM-based languages like Java, and others. GraalVM allows you to compile your programs ahead-of-time (AOT) into a native executable, meaning that Java code can be compiled directly into a machine specific code.
Quarkus then uses GraalVM and also provides an ecosystem that supports AOT at build-time, so that native binaries can be created using Java! This is exciting for two reasons: i) it means that an organisation’s Java developers can use a lot of what they already know to build performant cloud-native apps, and ii) it means that many apps built over the last few years with languages such as Go and Java Script may be able to be re-factored to be faster. This could be applied to areas like the Open Banking, where there are lots of anecdotal reports of performance being an area for improvement.
3. Greatest Success?
Successfully moving from a CIO role at my former employer (on the ‘buy’ side of the software world), to the role of chief technologist for FSI in EMEA at Red Hat (so, on the ‘sell’ side) is my greatest recent success.
In my previous role I was responsible for a large development team, managing the overall tech budget for the business division, and for the operational running of five tech platforms covering the whole range of the business. Crucially, though, I didn’t have responsibility for infrastructure, as this was provided by a centralised function.
In my role at Red Hat I partner with a range of clients across the financial services industry to shape their infrastructure strategies and help them to navigate Red Hat products and services, and also the broader open source world. As Red Hat’s financial services dedicated vertical in EMEA is relatively new, there has been a lot of content to create and a lot of collaborations with both software vendors and systems integrators to create and foster, particularly in the open banking area.
4. Worst Failure?
I joined Red Hat in part because of my experience of using open source software in my previous role. Red Hat offered a chance to immerse in open source as everyone here lives and breathes it! What’s apparent to me now is that my appreciation and understanding of the benefits of open source was much too low and led to a missed opportunity. My old team and I had taken an open source text editor and added features that were specific to the financial services industry, such as compliance checks.
However, we did not see the enormous benefits of contributing these changes back to the community, which would have included more innovation-collaboration opportunities and public recognition for developers, and so we did not contribute, or put the mechanisms in place to do so. Working with Red Hat’s customers has shown me just how beneficial embracing open source can be – lesson learned!
5. In Another Life I’d Be…
In another life I’d be a tech-savvy, IoT-using, drone-flying, robot tractor-owning crop farmer!
Tied to a single place, rather than criss-crossing across Europe; outdoors in all weathers, rather than inside office buildings; competing with nature, rather than with proprietary software vendors…