When it comes to financial industry technologies and challenges, Alan Peacock has witnessed and worked with far more than most people.
After graduating from college in the early 1980s, Peacock joined the Royal Bank of Scotland, eventually rising to become its CTO. Following that were CTO and CIO positions with Lloyds Banking Group, and five years as the global head of IT Infrastructure for HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, where he led a significant transformation of the company’s IT infrastructure and service management capabilities.
In June 2021 Peacock became the general manager of Delivery and Operations for IBM Cloud. His deep skills and expertise are especially valuable to IBM Cloud clients, including 19 out of the top 20 Fortune 500 banks and financial industry organizations. His experience is also well-attuned to the IBM Cloud for Financial Services and its ecosystem of global financial institutions and 90+ technology partners and FinTech companies.
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Some highlights of a recent interview with Alan Peacock:
Pund-IT: What is IBM Cloud doing that is different or better than other public cloud platforms?
Peacock: IBM Cloud’s focus on both creating a cloud that is focused on regulated industries along with building an expert team that combines top talent from within IBM and experts from industry (including banking and financial services) hugely resonated with me and other peers in the industry that I spoke to before accepting the role in IBM.
Having people in IBM who fully understand the challenges that our banking clients have to manage on a day-to-day basis builds confidence with our clients.
Pund-IT: What are some of the lessons and practices you were able to bring to IBM Cloud from working with other cloud vendors in your previous roles?
Peacock: I brought many lessons to IBM Cloud based on my experiences consuming services from other large cloud providers. While they all had some great engineering capabilities, I needed deep industry expertise – the unique understanding of what it takes to run systemically important critical banking services that require very high levels of resilience and availability.
This is a very important point: Cloud native architecture and design is very different from traditional, on-premises deployments. If done incorrectly, cloud migrations can create less-stable services than organizations experienced with on-premises systems.
This is where you need people who can help partner to re-engineer business applications to utilize the great capabilities of cloud technology and to help build more resilient services. And, of course, IBM can bring significant industry expertise to assist. We have people who have previously built and run scale global operations that meet the needs of regulated industries like banking and financial services.
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Pund-IT: How does your experience complement your work in IBM Cloud?
Peacock: Having an understanding of what it takes from a banking and financial services client perspective makes a huge difference. You understand the challenges our clients have in their day-to-day roles and understand how you can help.
There are many lessons and best practice operational disciplines that I built over many years in banking that I have brought to IBM Cloud. Many of the disciplines that I built over the years in large banks are just as critical for cloud providers.
These disciplines have the clients at their heart. That client focus is a real differentiator for IBM Cloud and sets us apart from others in the market.
Pund-IT: Many people consider cloud infrastructures to be essentially different from traditional data centers. Is that something you agree with? Are there practices or lessons in traditional data centers that could or should be applied to cloud? And vice versa?
Peacock: There are undoubtedly some differences but there are also some similarities. Clouds are still made up of data centers, with servers, storage, networking and software. However, one of the major differences is that, historically, business applications relied on IT infrastructure to provide resilience.
In cloud native deployments, improved resilience is also built into the application software layer and not just the infrastructure layer that was often the case on premise. This is a significant change that organizations on their cloud journey need to be aware of.
Pund-IT: Broadly speaking, what were your strategic imperatives for IBM Cloud?
Peacock: The following were the key priorities.
1. Setting the tone from the top was vital. Ensuring security and service stability were and still are our top priorities.
2. Being close to and listening to our clients’ feedback to guide our focus.
3. Focusing on operational excellence.
4. Ensuring that we continue to build new features aligned to our clients’ priorities.
5. Supporting all of the above was creating a culture that supports learning and continuous improvement.
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Pund-IT: How did you go about addressing those points?
Peacock: You might call it an unceasing hyper focus on clarity and priorities. First, I established clarity of our mission and accountability, established a rounded set of baseline KPIs so that we could measure our improvement progress and therefore focus on areas where we needed to improve. It is then a case of relentless focused execution and discipline while creating the right culture of learning and innovation. As part of our mission and execution focus, operational excellence and continuous improvement are key elements.
Pund-IT: What are some of the results of those efforts? How long did it take to achieve tangible results?
Peacock: Improvements were rapid. To give a few examples
- We have reduced our significant incident volume by 91% year-on-year, alongside reducing disruption time by 88%, and we didn’t start from a high baseline to begin with.
- We have significantly improved the velocity and discipline on hitting feature and function delivery dates.
- We have hugely improved the quality of change we are delivering, while delivering a 110% increase in the volume of changes delivered year-on-year. We are implementing a change on average every 10 to 15 seconds somewhere in our global estate.
Pund-IT: In practical terms, how does IBM Cloud compare to/contrast with other public cloud platforms? What are its greatest strengths?
Peacock: While providing a secure, stable resilient platform, IBM Cloud differentiates itself versus other general purpose CSPs due to its additional security, control and compliance capabilities over and above general mass market CSPs.
We have developed capabilities that provide the required controls necessary to meet financial services compliance and control requirements. We developed this set of controls in consultation with multiple global and regional banks using their existing control frameworks. We have created a best-of-breed cloud set of controls that accelerates and de-risks the migration of services to the cloud.
Many of these controls are codified to automate monitoring and compliance evidence capture automatically, significantly reducing the manual effort burden on customers to meet control monitoring, audit and regulatory requirements. As well as the control benefits, this creates significant cost efficiencies for organizations.
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Pund-IT: It sounds like what IBM Cloud has done for banks and other financial services organizations could be replicated for other vertical industries.
Peacock: Although developed for financial services, due to the regulated nature of the FS industry, the control framework also hugely helps other industries to have confidence in migrating workloads to the IBM Cloud with lower risk.
For example, IBM works with numerous industry-specific ISVs to certify that their SaaS products meet the necessary security, compliance and controls required to operate safely in the cloud. This helps to accelerate the adoption of SaaS products and helps clients gain benefits faster, while being comfortable with the Security and Compliance controls that are in place.
This significantly helps organizations that are concerned about 3rd and 4th party risk, and again is a major differentiator for the IBM Cloud versus other cloud providers. Also, through the input of more than 100 Global CIOs, CROs and CISOs who participate in the Financial Services Cloud Councils, IBM Cloud continues to enhance our control framework.
That control framework is something that no other CSP has and provides a significant accelerator for organizations that are nervous about security and compliance controls in general purpose CSPs.
Finally, as regulations change and as we continue to learn and collaborate with the Global and Regional Financial Services Cloud Councils that have been formed and the regulators around the world, we in IBM Cloud will continue to enhance our capabilities to meet the needs of our clients and differentiate ourselves from other CSPs.
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