Visibility: The formula for success in financial services

In this Q&A, Information Age and Ron Lifton look at how technology is leading the continuous transformation of the financial services industry; typically a front-runner in innovation.

How is digitalisation affecting the financial services industry?

The need to stay in step with the latest trends in digitalisation and evolving consumer behaviour is radically transforming the way in which the financial services industry operates. Visa, for example, recently published a global study into the continued rise of digital payments and the potential for a cashless society, while Mastercard has won a patent for managing cryptocurrencies.

Meanwhile, the convergence of blockchain and IoT is happening at a rapid pace with smartphones delivering new levels of convenience and protection like embedded wallets, to thwart cyber criminals.

In an effort to achieve the level of agility needed to build and sustain a global presence, financial service providers are increasingly moving to the cloud which, for many traditional organisations, can represent a massive change to almost every aspect of their business. It’s also an area in which they must tackle disruptive FinTech firms such as the mobile-first bank Monzo, which uses sophisticated algorithms, AI and machine learning solutions to approve or decline online loan applications in real time .

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Lifton believes that the financial services sector needs to make the most of DevOps and DevSecOps to ensure that they don’t suffer a service outage, ensure they are constantly innovating and deploying new services whilst meeting the requirements of their customer.
Lifton believes that the financial services sector needs to make the most of DevOps and DevSecOps to ensure that they don’t suffer a service outage, ensure they are constantly innovating and deploying new services whilst meeting the requirements of their customer.

What is the impact on IT teams?

With growth in hybrid cloud and multi-cloud continuing to surge, financial services providers are becoming increasingly reliant on DevSecOps. This emerging paradigm demands that developers, IT operations, and security specialists work closely together to continuously develop and deliver ever-higher quality, secure applications and services at ever-faster speeds; a series of processes respectively referred to as continuous integration, delivery, and deployment. DevSecOps teams must deliver high performance applications with the confidence that services meet customer demand, and above all, are secure.

Financial services providers rely on hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments where the applications and infrastructure are extraordinarily complex. Unlike life before the cloud, the rate of deployments has increased substantially, with DevSecOps teams expected to push out thousands of flawlessly executed micro-services in rapid order. Such success depends on the ability to assure reliable application performance and service delivery.

For this, a holistic view of the IT infrastructure is needed as DevSecOps teams must have visibility into each transaction no matter of where it takes place. Failure will see business disruption and financial losses.

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Why is service assurance so important?

Finding the root cause of application performance degradations and service failures can be tortuous when businesses rely on machine data to obtain this insight. Machine data, which by definition, is low-fidelity as it comes from many sources, but lacks a common language to simplify analysis. Aggregating this data to derive useful service assurance information requires not only sophisticated algorithms, but also significant human interaction to find the “needle in the haystack”.

As cloud migration and expansion accelerates, this approach, without any built-in service assurance context, will create visibility borders, ultimately resulting in dampening a business’ agility by increasing Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR).

In such an environment, where split-second timing is essential to delivering the desired customer experience, outages cannot be allowed to happen, and any degradation of services must be addressed before they become a business problem.

For businesses to capitalise on the wealth of opportunities the cloud brings, it is imperative that they have complete visibility into their entire cloud infrastructure, and all the interrelationships between applications, protocols, networks and servers involved in service delivery. This will enable them to assure efficiency and optimise their MTTR.

If a financial transaction or a global service fails, whether due to a DDoS attack, an application crashing, database server failure, or any number of unplanned infrastructure and system events, it’s important to quickly identify and understand the reason behind it.

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How can services be delivered without disruption?

Continuous monitoring of the performance and security of any application or service running at a worldwide level, on-premise, and in private and public clouds, is essential for financial services providers.

Continuous monitoring also perfectly complements the DevSecOps processes of continuous integration, delivery and deployment. It improves the effectiveness of operations by enabling the root cause of any issue to be quickly identified, and provides developers with a feedback loop that allows them to understand what’s happening with an application, including how it’s performing in a production environment.

Of even greater value, however, is the ability of continuous monitoring to take each and every IP packet that traverses the service delivery infrastructure and, by analysing them in real time, businesses can obtain valuable smart data that will deliver the insights needed into application performance whilst being able to identify any potential service delivery issues.

Unlike machine data, which can restrict visibility amongst DevSecOps team members, the IP packet or wire data is derived from transactional conversations directly from business applications.

Often referred to as “the ultimate source of truth”, wire data is extremely high fidelity and delivered in a common language suitable for analysis. By continuously monitoring wire data and getting access to condensed, actionable and intelligent datasets on events as they happen, DevSecOps will have smart visibility, common situational awareness and a more efficient and holistic service assurance solution.

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What is smart data and why is it strategic for financial service providers?

Smart data is a term that refers to metadata based on the processing and organisation of wire-data, or IP traffic flows, at the point of collection, and optimised for analytics at the highest possible speed and quality. With smart data it is possible to have logical, contextual workflows from dashboards, to service dependency maps, and session analysis. This not only cuts time to discovering the true source of errors and disruptions, but can also provide businesses with the visibility needed to cut through the complexity of the cloud and turn it from a utility to a strategic asset.

An organisation’s success now hinges on its ability to successfully harness the cloud. Smart data enables smart visibility, and leads to visibility without borders. With better visibility, companies can deliver services without disruptions and reap more benefits from the cloud.

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How will continuous monitoring help with security?

The convergence of continuous performance and security monitoring is becoming increasingly critical. The financial services sector is the most frequently targeted by cyber-criminals, with sometimes catastrophic results; for example, a coordinated DDoS attack in 2017 forced seven of the UK’s biggest banks to shut down or suspend operations.

However, while analysing data after a breach is fine for troubleshooting the problem, knowing in real time which flaws or vulnerabilities have been exploited is considerably better for an effective feedback loop between operations, developers, and security, so they can deal with any issues effectively at the source.

Continuously monitoring wire data and forging it into smart data during the development cycle and beyond will provide unrestricted visibility into all applications and services across the entire infrastructure and deliver meaningful and actionable insights for DevSecOps teams. Using a service assurance solution centred around smart data, financial service providers will enjoy greater speed and agility, and be confident that any issues that arise will be dealt with before any harm comes to their brand or their users’ experience.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.