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Digitising State Bank of India Enterprise with Bimodal and DevOps

Shiv Kumar Bhasin, CTO, SBI, on making the enterprise ready for rapid digital exploration and innovation.

There has always been a fine balance between doing things with stability, availability, reliability, scalability and securely, and doing things fast and innovatively. This balancing act has been massively amplified by the increasing digitisation of banking products and services, trends and expectations for digitisation.

Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery. Mode one is focused on traditional waterfall model of delivery, and the other mode on Agile – Continuous Delivery. The bimodal concept is deeply entwined with the DevOps and Agile Development philosophies revolutionising IT. The notion of coupling rapid, evolutionary application and service development with IT operations and maintenance to deliver products on a rapid release cycle.

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  • Mode 1 focuses on predictability and on transforming the legacy systems using Waterfall Model
    • Product Processing Platforms delivery
    • Core Banking, Treasury, Monolithic Payments platforms, etc
  • Mode 2 is exploratory. In this case, the requirements are not well understood in advance, during the execution things evolve and typically involves short iterations
    • Typically new electronics channels Mobile, Digital Stores, Internet Banking, Wallets, Social Media driven front ends
    • CRM, Leads Management Systems

Business change requirements for Core Banking Systems, Product Processor Platforms, Business Support Services Systems – Origination, Collections, Treasury, Risk and Compliance Systems, etc could use Mode 1, ie Waterfall delivery model. However, to keep this layer of systems sufficiently agile, publish Standard API layer of services on top of these systems, so that agility needs of channel services layer doesn’t get impacted.

To have sufficient agility and collaboration (B2B, B2C), channels services must adhere to Mode 2 using Agile/Scrum methodologies and implementation of DevOps toolsets to meet exceedingly digitisation requirements of Digital, Mobility and Payments world.

The Software Development and Infrastructure operations teams that work on the massive channels applications (Mobile Banking, Internet Banking, ATM and Contact Centre) serving 482 million accounts of State Bank of India had a traditional environment. Separate development and operations teams with traditional heavy weightlifting processes for taking the code from development to production environments used to take few days to several weeks. During olden days business needs were met adhering to such manual, monolithic, heavy weight processes. However, in the fast changing world where customers would be accessing applications from different kinds of browsers (which have several releases in a year), and different mobile OS/Browsers (which again have very agile release plan across a calendar year), Engineering teams have nightmare to certify their developments across a diverse set of ever-changing browsers and OS environments, on which they don’t have any control. Customer delight requires all of these to be supported.

The silos among SDLC (Software Delivery [not development] Life Cycle) stages—requirements analysis, development and testing—are diminishing due to adoption of agile development methodologies. Continuous delivery has blurred the silos by implementing Continuous Build and Continuous Integration, which have streamlined requirements, development, code quality and building interfaces with subsystems/peripheral systems. Continuous delivery is nothing but deployment pipeline—end-to-end automation of our build, deploy, test, and release processes has had a number of knock-on effects, bringing some unexpected benefits. Automation results into usage of tools for DevOps across SDLC stages, eg Chef, Jenkins, etc.

The primary characteristic of DevOps culture is increased collaboration between the roles of development and operations. There are some important cultural shifts, within teams and at an organisational level, that support this collaboration.

An attitude of shared responsibility is an aspect of DevOps culture that encourages closer collaboration. It’s easy for a development team to become disinterested in the operation and maintenance of a system if it is handed over to another team to look after. If a development team shares the responsibility of looking after a system over the course of its lifetime, they are able to share the operations staff’s pain and so identify ways to simplify deployment and maintenance (eg by automating deployments and improving logging).

One effect of a shift towards DevOps culture is that it becomes easier to put new code in production. This necessitates some further cultural changes. In order to ensure that changes in production are sound, the team needs to value building quality into the development process. This includes cross-functional concerns such as performance and security.

Automation is a cornerstone of the DevOps movement and facilitates collaboration. Automating tasks such as testing, configuration and deployment frees people up to focus on other valuable activities and reduces the chance of human error. Automation helps to get end-to-end processes documented and entire food chain of organisation knowing e2e processes. It brings lateral thinking to make these processes sufficiently nimble and agile. So DevOps is win-win for meeting time to market business needs and executing uniform processes repeatedly using automated tools to avoid manual errors/steps and bringing more predictability in the delivery lifecycle.

For making Bimodal and DevOps a realty, few key organisation changes needed to been done—a. Setup of services group to develop api layer around core banking product processors; b. Merging digital channels development and infrastructure teams so that automated tools deployment across teams will be supervised single-handedly and increased collaboration, cohesiveness could be achieved for success of DevOps.

The attempt is to make SBI enterprise ready for rapid digital exploration and innovation, and support a more exploratory culture, and improve engagement with the business.

Shiv Kumar Bhasin

Shiv Kumar Bhasin is CTO at State Bank of India 

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