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New Relic: The Financial Services CTO – Maintaining Success in a Turbulent Environment

The vast majority of CTOs’ roles have changed over the past three years, with over half citing significant change – they face a continued wave of pressures.

More specifically, CTOs that sit within the financial services industry, must grapple with different elements, such as rising customer expectations, the complexities of open banking, as well as remaining compliant with regulations.

No matter if you’re at a traditional legacy bank or a disruptive fintech start-up, dealing with clients and remaining competitive requires a level of risk and as a CTO, there is a need to demonstrate control.

Greg Ouillon CTO of EMEA at New Relic
Greg Ouillon, CTO of EMEA, New Relic

Here for The Fintech Times, Greg Ouillon outlines how CTOs can demonstrate control over their operations, as long as they’re prepared to make the right decisions and fund the right investments. 

Ouillon serves as CTO of EMEA for New Relic, a San Francisco, California-based technology company which develops cloud-based software to help website and application owners track the performance of their services.

Ouillon supports customers across EMEA as they adopt modern technologies and transform their businesses and customer experiences digitally. Prior to New Relic, Greg held leadership roles at SITAONAIR, SITA, Orange Business Services and Equant.

He managed product P&Ls, strategy, innovation and transformation, engineering and software development, technology and product lifecycle, service creation, and management. He has also led a major platform and portfolio transformation, re-factoring critical applications, moving to mobile, web and cloud, introducing DevOps, re-architecting operational and business support systems, upping security and compliance. A French national, Ouillon is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

In this guest-authored piece, Ouillon examines how providing a secure software infrastructure that can meet the needs of ongoing regulatory requirements can help contribute to success, why enabling and empowering DevOps teams to focus on banking innovation, within the parameters set by the wider business is essential and how providing full visibility into complex software stacks mitigates the risk of downtime on business-critical issues:

Of all the C-level executives, the role of the chief technology officer may be changing the most rapidly. Technology is evolving at an exponential rate. To ensure their organisations are staying ahead, CTOs must adopt technologies and practices that focus on acquiring, serving, and retaining both customers and talent.

And none are rising to these challenges quite like the financial services CTO. Not only are they working with an ever-expanding world of technical innovation, but they must also contend with rising customer expectations and the complexities of open banking – all set against a backdrop of perpetually changing regulations.

So, even though the inner functions of traditional banks and disruptive fintechs may differ wildly, the CTOs of both are linked by their need to finely balance several factors. Each must find the line between delivering innovation at pace and faultless performance and reliability, while also aligning digital stack modernisation with compliance and minimising risks. This is why modern CTOs need observability to build a strong and reliable infrastructure, boost banking innovation, and provide 360-degree real-time visibility.

Putting the customer first needs observability

With limited competition until the advent of disruptor banks, the banking industry had little incentive to focus on delivering a customer-centric service and experience. As gatekeepers to the financial industry, consumers had no option but to play by traditional banks’ rules.

But new regulations, particularly those surrounding open banking, have created space for start-up fintech companies. In the three years since PSD2 made way for open banking, there have been almost 300 new disruptor providers, and between just June 2020 and July 2021, open banking transactions increased by over 550 per cent. This has changed the banking landscape, as it would any competitive industry, paving the way for more customer-centric strategies.

Software performance is no longer only concerned with uptime, customers demand excellent response times as well as reliable and dependable performance, 24/7. CTOs must also take into consideration any issues that may affect the customer’s frictionless journeys and experiences.

It is therefore vital that banks understand their stack performance in real-time, from infrastructure and cloud resources to middleware and software, up to the customer device. Failure to do so can result in reduced customer acquisition and retention. With more options to unbundle their financial services than ever before, the power has now firmly been placed in the customers’ hands. This has certainly put observability on the CTO’s radar.

Boosting banking innovation

Disruptor banks have taken this opportunity to redefine the customer experience on new tech stacks, delivering the most tangible effects of this fiercely competitive age of banking.

Disruptors like Starling and Revolut have been hiring top developer talent, focusing on building apps and services that put the customer first. Modernising core banking and systems of record has been left to traditional banks. This allows disruptors the space to focus on developing more intuitive and reliable systems of engagement, delivering a simpler and more engaging service experience.

Creating their services from scratch also means disruptors don’t have to work against technical and architectural debt, or process and service debt inherited from inflexible legacy IT architectures. This enables them to innovate faster while mitigating risks and keeping their software secure and reliable.

Observability boosts this innovation across the software lifecycle. By cutting out the guesswork, CTOs and their teams can now focus on identifying and fixing issues and friction points with data-driven insights and software telemetry.

The importance of observability for innovation is widely agreed upon, with nine out of 10 IT leaders believing it is important and strategic to their business. As a result, almost all C-suite executives are expecting to increase their observability budget in the coming year, and 20 per cent of those are expecting the rise to be significant.

DevOps teams’ practices are also bolstered by observability, which allows them to continuously measure, monitor, understand, and improve software and services along the entire lifecycle. As their velocity increases and they deploy new software more frequently, they need to instrument, measure, and analyse their software stack in real-time at all stages of development.

This is vital to ensure they can deliver on reliability, performance, customer experience, and business impact. This same observability helps CTOs understand exactly how the DevOps team affects the stack and the business.

This furthers their ability to make the correct strategic decisions and know where to make the right technical investments that drive continuous improvement for the whole organisation.

Also, working from a single, shared observability platform removes data and organisational silos, boosts collaboration, and helps resolve issues faster, improving the end-to-end performance and experience consistently and coherently at scale.

Building a strong and secure software infrastructure

Despite a massively changing industry, traditional banks, as well as disruptors, are both aiming for growth. But as with any organisation, increased size equates to increased IT stack complexity. The software needs to be scalable, incorporating architectures that can manage growth and meet the needs of ongoing regulatory requirements.

Traditional banks also have to modernise their existing core banking infrastructure and adopt new cloud platforms, all while taking new regulations into consideration. In contrast, digital disruptors can design and build their systems of engagement with these factors in mind. However, to level the playing field, they need to acquire regulated banking licences their traditional competitors already possess if they want to expand their service portfolio. Without those, they cannot scale their system of records or front-facing products, and they will hit a growth ceiling.

For CTOs of legacy banks and fintech start-ups alike, observability plays a key role. Full visibility of software telemetry exposes exactly how complex and fragmented systems are interacting and aids in the management of end-to-end service digitalisation across the full stack.

This means that once risky, yet essential, operations like migrations to cloud or SaaS, or adopting new microservices and API-based software architectures, are made safer and faster. Mitigating the risk of downtime or business critical issues also helps banks to comply with operational resilience regulations, making observability a core component of any modernisation or scale-up strategy, whether the cloud or on-premises.

Providing a complete overview of your IT stack

Observability has allowed CTOs to take a holistic view of their IT stack. From one central platform, teams can collect real-time telemetry data to view the behaviour and performance of all their services, detecting and resolving errors before they impact customers.

Overall, this helps to master the end-to-end customer experience, improving every aspect. Forty-two per cent of IT decision makers (ITDM) believe observability helps digital transformation, with 23 per cent noting it helps deliver improved digital experiences for end users. In short, observability is protecting organisations from financial and reputational damages and helps business conversion and growth.

But even more than that, it provides CTOs and their teams with a greater knowledge of their organisation’s health and status as a whole. The importance of observability is being increasingly recognised by ITDMs across the financial sector. Ninety-one per cent see it as critical throughout the software lifecycle, particularly within planning and operations, with 25 per cent believing it helps organisations be more cost-effective and 27 per cent citing how it increases deployment speed.

CTOs who adopt observability can also provide real-time visibility at the business level. This helps all stakeholders in the company understand how their software and digital services impact business performance.

Observability and the CTO: The perfect marriage

Financial technology has moved forward at lightspeed over the past decade. And as a result, the role of the CTO has become increasingly central, particularly within fintech firms. The pandemic only served to accelerate digital adoption, triggering a new era for the industry.

These changes have further pushed CTOs into the spotlight, giving them the opportunity to position themselves as key leaders within the financial sector. Observability has the power to help them meet the needs of ongoing regulatory requirements, reducing the risk of downtime and focusing on business innovation and growth. But the business impact of observability goes beyond the purely technical side. As much as FinServ is now a competitive industry in terms of customers, so too does this apply to employees.

CTOs must work to attract and retain top talent and offering them leading-edge technologies that help ease their workloads and focus on innovation is a key part of this. Allowing their teams to work faster and smarter gives FinServ organisations the boost they need to stay ahead of their competitors and build state-of-the-art platforms. Collaboration is essential to innovation, and observability helps bring teams together.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that CTOs harness its power.


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