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Covid working: why the cloud is the silver lining

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Summary:  Ashok Kalyanswamy, Chief Information Officer for Saxo Bank, explains how Covid-19 has accelerated the transition to the cloud and three steps to set firms on the path to successful adoption.

If the pandemic had hit five years ago, financial services firms would have found the sudden shift to working from home much more difficult. In such a crisis where face-to-face interaction with your clients and co-workers is challenged, the products and services we offer have to be completely digital. The pandemic also created a lot of sudden turmoil in the markets with a lot of volatility, and systems came under a lot of strain as it was not planned for by all. With this backdrop, an invisible but hugely important change has quietly evolved to become the unsung hero of the Covid-19 crisis: cloud technology. 

Cloud technology connects us regardless of where we are in the world, gives us access to critical applications and innovative services, forges partnerships inside and outside our organisations, and allows us to scale quickly and cheaply on demand to enhance our business’s offering. 

While an increasing number of financial services firms have migrated to the cloud over the years, the pandemic created a sudden necessity for a greater use of the technology and firms that had not started this journey rushed to adopt it. The sudden switch to going digital at scale, handling volumes on demand, offering services and products quickly generated a huge load on infrastructure. Some systems strained under the weight of demand, sending an abrupt wake-up call for providers. 

What the crisis has demonstrated is the necessity of this technology but also the work that needs to be done by firms and providers to equip them for this new way of working. While some firms were well prepared, others were at far earlier stage in their cloud journey when the pandemic hit. The adoption of cloud and digital services may appear to be a simple process – like buying cloud storage on an online store – but the reality is far different. The change does not just lie with the technology, tooling and fundamental Architecture alone, but requires a far greater cultural and operational transition. So how do firms at the beginning of their cloud journey or those yet to embark on it go about making this transition? As an early adopter of the cloud, at Saxo we know the challenges of transitioning a large, complex organisation. From experience, there are three critical steps:

  • Understand the ‘why’: One of the main barriers to adoption isn’t a technical one. We are creatures of habit and it takes time to train and for new habits. Before a firm thinks about the technological challenges, senior decision makers who don’t necessarily work in technical roles and employees must understand the ‘why’ and ‘what’s in it for them’. To the uninitiated, the cloud can seem an extra layer of complexity and could even seem disruptive at the early stages of its implementation. Those driving the project must articulate why this significant investment is critical to the operation of the business, what is required of the business and, importantly, the end goal and how it takes the firm to the next level. 

  • Manage risk and controls: Risks and controls are vital and require careful consideration and the development of tailored technical and organisation infrastructure. The cloud is a borderless, but firms with a global presence must be cognisant of is the potential differences in regulation and compliance in the countries they operate. Firms need to build relationships with these parties to ensure they understand what is required of them in different jurisdictions as well as consider data security implication to avoid being caught out by regional rules. 

  • Drive cultural change: For it to be successful, using the cloud needs to be as normal to employees as using email or phones. As with any new tool or skill, training and workshops are central to this change. A workforce that believes in the efficacy of the technology and become habitual users will ensure the business gets the most value from the infrastructure, limit the risk of human error and drive return on investment. 

Without these three steps, a programme will fail to produce the expected benefits. Without education, staff will struggle to adopt the technology and without a focus on risk and controls, the board and regulators will not be happy, and the project will be dead on arrival.

The pandemic has catalysed the move to the cloud. In the new world of work, not planning on how to migrate to the cloud could be fatal – business should see it as an inevitability that must be sooner rather than later. Providers are also adapting to the huge changes of the past year, resulting in rapid innovation in cloud technology and its applications - standing still means falling behind. In years to come, we’ll look at this transition as important as the move from typewriters to computers, or letters to email. Whatever stage you’re at in your journey, there’s never been a more important time to formulate a coherent strategy on how to get the most from the cloud. 


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