Platform Engineering for the Financial Services Industry
A pattern is emerging for financial services and technology companies in the adoption of Platform Engineering as a foundational approach to create self-service infrastructure services; enabling application teams to more quickly begin modernizing their application portfolio than ever before.
The concept of modernization for large organizations runs deeper than just upgrading applications, systems, and infrastructure. It’s involves evolving the culture of the technology organization… the people, process, and technology alike to thrive in an ever-changing digital environment.
As technology advances, organizations are compelled to reassess their infrastructure, processes, and mindsets. This approach — and, ultimately, the fruits of modernization efforts — will look different for every company. However, as organizations prepare themselves for complex application modernization journeys, they can rely on the standards and concepts of platform engineering to ensure they can quickly adjust to changes with the ultimate goal of optimizing the developer experience and accelerating time to value for their customers.
Platform engineering is centered around transforming the developer experience from the ground up, reducing the weeks-long wait times for development platforms to mere moments, thereby eliminating operational bottlenecks and frustration. At its core, platform engineering revolves around four principles:
- treating the platform as a product
- enabling self-service and leveraging automation
- listening for and then solving common challenges
- crafting well documented paths that support a diverse range of users within the organization
The financial imperative of modernization
Before examining the “how” of application modernization, we must understand “why” so many financial services organizations are deciding that now is the time for a modernization imperative. Modernization is a strategic top-down initiative aimed at reducing operational costs, opening new revenue avenues through growth, or improving customer experiences — all of which contribute to a healthier bottom line. Legacy systems — often expensive and inflexible — must be replaced to foster innovation and agility. As examples, the following are real-world reasons we have encountered to drive modernization of legacy applications:
- “We need to expand operations globally.”
- “We want real-time intraday trading risk analysis.”
- “We want to reduce customer wait times.”
The shift toward modernized technology is an investment in future financial health and sustainable growth. Modernization enables businesses to quickly adapt to market changes and evolving customer needs to ensure long-term financial sustainability. As we explore the role of platform engineering, remember that modernization efforts are intended to create an agile, financially sustainable enterprise.
Platform engineering as the foundation for application modernization
Application modernization demands a purposed-built foundation — one constructed on the concept of platform engineering. The initial phase starts with identification of the business need and a thorough analysis of platform requirements, beginning with understanding the application portfolio and the future-state platform features for the modernized workloads. As more applications begin to modernize and adopt the services the Platform Engineering team publishes, continuous feedback loops with the product teams ensures the platform meets real-world use cases and avoids the trap of becoming too insular and disconnected from its users’ needs.
The role of the platform team
Establishing a dedicated platform team early is a strategic move that ensures there is a group focused on orchestrating the intricacies of the modernization process. This team’s guiding principles should revolve around standardization, automation, disposability, scalability, and abstracting complexity. These principles provide a resilient framework capable of adapting to evolving tech landscapes, which is essential for maintaining the momentum of modernization efforts in a secure and compliant manner.
Assessment of application logic and portability
Application Modernization teams must meticulously assess application logic, the dependence on existing underlying infrastructure, and the complexity of moving to the desired-state platform. This planning approach is intended to ensure the platform is aspirational rather than supporting the current state, changes will likely include:
- Eliminating reliance on application statefulness to enhance horizontal scalability
- Adopting cloud service provider managed offerings to streamline operational burden
- Re-architecting to an event-driven architecture and exploring containers or serverless for greater cost efficiency and flexibility
- Embracing open-source solutions for license cost reclamation
- Utilizing application messaging to decouple workloads for improved application integration
- Making data-driven decisions based on KPIs, leveraging managed analytics to meet evolving business needs
A tailored strategy is critical to navigate the nuances of application modernization and achieve your desired end state. This comprehensive approach enables not only a successful update, but also kickstarts the evolution of the enterprise as a whole. It’s the first step in preparing the organization for future technological demands at scale.
Choosing the right platform
Once the discovery phase is complete, the choice of the target orchestration platform and engine is a consequential decision, directly influencing future scalability and performance. Popular options include Kubernetes, Amazon EKS and ECS, Rafay, and Rancher. These platforms offer unique advantages, necessitating careful consideration to align with organizational goals. Among the other factors to consider are whether the platform will be on-premises or cloud-based, as well as which supporting toolchains will be employed for configuration management, packaging and deployment, observability, security and compliance, service mesh and network, and many more!
No matter which technology option is chosen, one platform will never solve all application requirements. Feedback loops between application and platform teams need to remain open throughout the modernization journey to ensure both teams’ needs are met. Typically, platform engineering teams will have, at minimum, a virtual server, container, and serverless platform offering on the compute side, and database, data streaming, and data analytics on the data side. Networking, security, and pipeline solutions weave all these solutions together and abstract complexity for the application teams.
Creating golden pathways for app modernization
Successful application modernization involves creating repeatable “golden” pathways. Golden pathways are predefined, optimized processes and methods to guide application teams through self-service of modernization efforts to the targeted platforms. These golden pathways ensure consistency, adherence to best practices, and efficient resource utilization. This brings us to the next stop along our journey, the “pilot” phase.
This phase should involve building and deploying the right platform, followed by a simple proof of concept. It is recommended to start small with a subset of representative applications. These initial applications should reflect the broader application portfolio. Experienced application modernization team “pods” will focus on developing to your targeted platform type, ultimately providing a solid foundation for broader transformation.
Establishing golden pathways helps standardize the modernization process, particularly for different workloads and frameworks. These optimal routes shepherd development teams by setting consistent standards for application modernization, essentially serving as the “north star” to be scaled out to the greater ecosystem in this transformative journey.
Comprehensive and rich documentation, including videos and voice-overs of golden pathways is vital, as it provides a scaling mechanism and reference point to aid in navigating common complexities.
Scaling modernization efforts and ensuring platform adoption
As organizations progress through their own journey of modernizing applications, the challenge evolves from laying the initial groundwork, to scaling these efforts across the enterprise. This “scale” phase involves expanding beyond the initial application modernization pods to a holistic strategy encompassing the entire IT organizational structure.
As the modernization process scales, embed best practices into the fabric of your organization. Stress the importance of results beyond a technological change and strive for cultural transformation. Your teams should be encouraged to experiment, learn, and adapt, fostering a mindset where continuous improvement is the norm.
Consider establishing a platform adoption services team to amplify the impact of modernization and drive outcome assurance through developer adoption. This specialized group of experienced technical experts plays a pivotal role in guiding development teams through the nuances of modernization, enabling a consistent and effective approach across all projects — all the while alleviating your newly formed platform team from operational support. Their expertise isn’t just technical. They can serve as champions of change, fostering a culture of innovation and agility that is essential for modernization to take root.
The end goal is to achieve a state of self-reliance. External expertise, while invaluable during the initial phases, should be a stepping stone to building robust internal capabilities. This approach ensures your organization isn’t perpetually dependent on external consultation but rather empowered to drive continuous innovation independently.
Achieving continuous innovation via app modernization
Today’s digital advancements not only guide new operational strategies but also influence the trends and technologies of tomorrow. Organizations must see app modernization efforts for what they are. Continuous innovation is the key, and it requires a well-defined, concerted approach to keep your workload modern in today’s ever-changing technological landscape.
Is your organization looking to formalize their Platform Engineering practices, teams, and services? Let’s connect and collaborate! Contact us on Effectual.com to get started.