I’m part of the IT team within HSBC’s investment banking arm, working in the Securities Financing area.
Basically, that involves looking after the technology behind the trading platform that lends stocks, bonds and other financial instruments to a third party in exchange for cash and vice versa.
We often have to wear multiple hats and balance day-to-day issues to ensure timely and accurate trade capture and processing while simultaneously planning and driving delivery on a long-term strategy for the investment bank, or the ‘business’ as we refer to it.
A perfect example of that dynamic was replacing our legacy vendor trading platform with Vesper – the in-house solution we built. Off-the-shelf vendor packages can be the quickest way to deliver a solution, however, there are trade-offs. Depending on the complexity of the business you’re in, vendor packages usually require significant customisations and compromises to meet the business’ needs.
That trade-off can be compounded when the vendor has multi-year big-bang implementations when the business actually wants specific requirements and frequent releases of value over the project’s life-cycle.
As you would expect, the introduction of Vesper needed to be seamless so there was no interruption to our clients. We wanted to bring the business along with us every step of the way.
We adopted a three-stage approach.
Our design-led approach involved creating wireframes and prototypes to allow IT and the business to agree on the approach to Vesper before we got into the development stage. That meant we spent less time later on fixing or reworking designs. By continuously validating and testing designs iteratively with users we ensured the application we delivered met expectations.
Having worked for HSBC for many years I’m particularly impressed how colleagues in Technology have embraced the DevOps culture. Vesper showcased that as well as the value of the significant investments made in tooling to deliver robust, stable and high-performance applications.
Rather than creating a monolithic platform, we built sets of specific, shared functional component services that could be managed independently. By using a loosely coupled components strategy, changes to specific aspects didn’t require wholesale monolithic end-to-end test exercises. It meant change, and therefore business value, could be delivered more often with less risk.
When it came to Vesper’s implementation, our biggest challenge was ensuring trade consistency between systems so that the legacy platform and Vesper could function seamlessly side-by-side. So rather than a complete ground-up replacement followed by a big-bang user migration we took a gradual and parallel approach based on the life cycle of the gruesomely named Strangler Fig in tropical rain forests. The plants seed high in the branches of a tree and over time they grow downwards to root in the ground, smothering and eventually killing their host.
The typical ‘strangler migration’ pattern builds a facade between the user and the legacy system while in parallel building and transitioning to the strategic architecture. The front end between the legacy and the strategic platforms is delivered to capture and amend data which simultaneously feeds the legacy system as well as the other way ‘round.
This creates an environment where users can provide feedback on the new platform and build their confidence in it before making the full transition. As additional capability is delivered, more and more sophisticated users and sites can be seamlessly transferred.
There have been two very positive outcomes from the migration. The relationship with the business has developed into a strong collaborative partnership because together we built a solution from the ground up in which the business had inputs at every stage.
And for those of us in IT, in addition to how we used development languages and tooling, it has been gratifying to see how embedded DevOps and Agile are in our culture. Components were delivered by teams in India, mainland China, Hong Kong, Canada and the UK through a culture of collaboration, sharing and learning – exactly what these new ways of working provide.