British banking group CYBG, which encompasses Clydesdale Bank, Yorkshire Bank, B, and Virgin Money, has turned to Red Hat to unify its digital banking systems under a single platform, which the organisation hopes will help it better roll out changes across brands.
Speaking with Computerworld UK, Fraser Ingram, the interim COO at CYBG explained how the open source Linux vendor underpins the bank’s modern platform-as-a-service (PaaS) approach to delivering consistent digital experiences across its brands, all starting with its digital-only brand B.
Ingram joined the bank a little over three years ago as director of innovation, technology and change management, soon after the firm had separated from the National Australia Bank – and its subsequent float on the London Stock Exchange. His mandate was to separate its enterprise systems and drive a broader digitisation effort across the group.
What is the iB platform?
The platform itself is called iB, and it essentially acts as a testbed for new digital features and capabilities that can then be packaged up and deployed across the bank in a simple way, thanks to the embracing of microservices, APIs and the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform.
Formerly known as OpenShift Enterprise, the OpenShift Container Platform is Red Hat’s own PaaS offering, which brings together Docker-based containers, Kubernetes orchestration and Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux. Crucially, it can be run in the private cloud, on premise or with a public cloud provider. For CYBG this helps the business to deliver software in a consistent way across a hybrid cloud infrastructure and to deliver services to customers more quickly.
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“OpenShift allows us to take that single platform and extend that across all channels,” Ingram said, “so starting with B and expanding across brands, so a bit like a jigsaw where you start with the bottom corner until you cover the whole estate.”
For example, B introduced a mobile cheque clearing capability which was then rolled out to other brands. Similarly, budgeting and saving tools will be built for B and then packaged together to be easily rolled out onto the apps of other brands when the appetite is there to do so.
But how does the bank decide which capability to roll out next?
“We work with [the brands] on key priorities and work out the roadmap,” Ingram explained. “We have also moved to funding for capability and releases, instead of individual things and projects, so we fund on an annual basis to get releases out that create value across the business.”
“It would have been very difficult to extend that capability without [Red Hat],” he said. “Previously we had separate mobile, internet banking, telephony and business internet banking solutions, traditionally banks deploy separate solutions with separate code, using a defined set of technologies.”
What the OpenShift Container Platform allows is for greater portability of code across a complex estate, without touching those core systems.
“It effectively allows us to insulate the core banking platform which processes lots of transactions,” he explained, “and put the iB platform in as a layer for a unified – and hopefully great – customer experience where we can expand quite rapidly, without touching the core bank.”
Ingram wanted a system that allows the bank to build a common set of reusable features, and not “building for every channel, because it is too expensive to build multiple times”.
“We don’t so much measure in terms of return on investment as we do on the capability it would give us and pace of deployment, which knocks on returns,” he said. “The cost savings will come from not having to maintain six different platforms.”
As well as the jigsaw analogy, Ingram also talks about building blocks, allowing the bank to quickly integrate a payments function into a brand’s app.
“Take the Faster Payments API as an example,” Ingram explained, “the one that was built on iB platform initially was not PaaS, so we translated it and now effectively it can work in almost any application as a microservice depending on the use case.”
This approach also gives the bank better scalability. The B platform was originally handling 40,000 customer logins per day, but now that it underpins a variety of CYBG operations this has scaled up to 1 million digital banking customer logins per day in the past year. Now the bank is planning to migrate 80 percent of its systems to the new platform by 2020.
So, why Red Hat?
“I really respect the expertise when you bring a partner like Red Hat in. The risk if you don’t is you start becoming expert amateurs and start make your own mistakes,” he said. “What is often lost is how to go about it and even with the best platform and technology capability, if you don’t deploy in the best way, you lose all the benefits.”
Now that the platform is in place Ingram is focused on launching new capabilities for its business customers, which includes better support for digital invoicing and budgeting. “So that just plugs into the platform,” he added.
He is also focused on “finishing the store and branch rollout and then we will change its colouring and make it Virgin-red, and roll it out to Virgin Money in 12-18 months – that’s the plan.”