By Owen Morris, Operations Director at Doherty Associates, experts in building cloud-based modern workplaces for the finance industry
Before the first UK lockdown, 43% of companies had no intention of migrating to the cloud completely, although many if not most had migrated some services to the cloud. However, spurred on by the rapid digital transformation throughout the pandemic, half of businesses including those in the finance sector, are now streamlining their migration plans amid the growing hybrid workforce, rising cyber-attacks, and the need to drive employee engagement and collaboration.
For most banking and finance firms, we believe that hybrid working is here to stay, and the most common state will be users working partly from home and partly from the office – driven both by hard-won experience of this way of working during the pandemic and a realisation that productivity can be maintained or even grown through digital initiatives.
In order to achieve the same employee experience wherever the person physically is, applications and data need to be available identically whether in the office or at home. In many ways, the home worker was treated in the past as a second-class citizen, with those able to contact servers across local networks getting a much better experience to those without. Achieving parity of experience requires solutions that take connectivity to resources away from the office or datacentre. A great way to do this is to move them to the cloud.
Start with the User and Device
It may sound counterintuitive to start with users and devices when reading an article all about getting rid of servers, but the location of our users or those of our partners and suppliers has been the biggest change brought about by the pandemic and the subsequent move to hybrid working. It has been a long while since finance professionals only accessed systems from offices, but we must now assume that our applications and data will mostly be accessed from devices located in insecure locations such as employee’s homes, while travelling and at public locations without the benefit of corporate firewalls, and at great risk from theft or data loss.
Fortunately, cloud management software and next-generation antivirus products can help finance firms implement strong controls so that we can know that the people accessing our data are who they say they are and are accessing from devices that meet our compliance goals.
Virtual Desktop environments can sometimes provide a more managed experience and can be heavily locked down but do rely on a network connection and will not support offline scenarios (such as travel).
By controlling the device and user we can implement controls that ensure that finance professionals have the right level of access to systems wherever they are. For example, we can mandate that users are using multi-factor authentication, so we can be sure they are the actual person, are running the most recent patches to avoid drive-by attacks or have encrypted disks so that we can be sure our data is safe on the machines.
Different systems and data can also have different sets of controls applied – for example, highly sensitive information might be restricted to corporately provided devices, from specific known locations or for a restricted access period with logged actions.
Look at your data
The quickest win for firms in terms of ease of use is often getting ‘unstructured’ data into cloud storage – this means the files and documents that we all generate day to day hosted in cloud storage. Doing this means that employees always have access to the data they need immediately, from financial models to merger and acquisition contracts, across multiple devices and can share and work collaboratively with colleagues no matter where they are through features like multi-user editing. Being able to search quickly across your company data through the platform’s search engine is a real productivity benefit.
We find that many finance firms accumulate data such as information about companies, market intelligence and their previous work for clients, without really considering what use the data could be put to later. A cloud migration can be a good opportunity to decide what data should be kept and what is important to the business. When migrating data, consider your retention policies defined under GDPR and enforce them using the capabilities of your cloud storage platform. For cost reasons, think about what data might need to be retained but accessed infrequently and consider whether this could move to a second, cheaper storage platform in the public cloud.
Triage your applications
The flip side of the coin to data is the systems and applications in use. A review of the application landscape is a good place to start when looking at these types of projects. A 2×2 matrix based on the age and business criticality of the system can be a good place to start. Old and business critical applications are often resistant to transformation, and it may be worth looking to make few changes to how the system operates when looking to migrate them to the cloud. Non-critical applications might instead be replaced cost-effectively with commercial Software-as-a-Service systems.
Application quick wins
Migrating existing systems to SaaS cloud hosted versions of the same application can be a good method of achieving a quick migration and vendors will often offer a migration as a paid engagement.
Legacy applications are often difficult to transform so one very successful approach is to migrate the applications wholesale into the cloud, using migration tools to quickly setup identical resources in the cloud. This can also be a quick way to add extra resiliency through removing single points of failure – for example, replicating servers or databases to standby systems in other locations using public cloud technologies.
Once the application is migrated, there are often ways to improve the way users connect to the application. This can allow the same set of security controls (such as enforcing multi-factor authentication, allow connection from trusted devices, etc) to be applied to older applications that would not support these controls. One common way is by putting an appliance between the user and the application that applies these controls before passing the traffic through (for example a proxy server or using remote desktop technologies).
Long term transformation & exploiting new capabilities
Once applications are in the cloud, they can be exposed to a wider range of capabilities that are present in cloud platforms or through public cloud services. One example is the use of cloud integration tools can be used to connect seamlessly to the data and move it between systems in order to produce combined data sets. Cloud based data can be extracted and exposed to manage, self-service visualisation products. This allows financial executives to get better insight into how their businesses are working. Lastly, business users (‘Citizen Developers’) can use low-code tools to create new applications operating on the data.
Following these steps will not only ensure that you finance firm can reap the rewards of a ‘serverless’ office but transition safely, securely and cost effectively to a continuously available and equal employee experience whether working in the office, remotely or a blend of both.