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Capital One shifts to DevOps to keep pace with customers

Clint Boulton | Oct. 26, 2016
The banking company is building software faster to keep up with consumers’ evolving preferences for digital banking services.

Capital One is accelerating its move to DevOps, an application development model popularized by technology companies to gives engineers more control over the software they create. The bank, which manages more than 70 million credit card accounts, believes putting responsibility for code in the hands of developers will help it keep up with consumers’ preferences for the latest digital products and services.

Capital One CIO Rob Alexander.

Capital One CIO Rob Alexander.

“Winners in banking are going to be the ones that recognize that technology is really going to play a central role in how consumers want to bank in the future,” says Rob Alexander, who has been leading Capital One’s IT department as its CIO since 2007. “We’ve got to be great at building software.”

Technical debt hampers banks not named Capital One

Most banks are juggling creaky mainframe and other legacy technologies, as well as working to overcome bureaucracy that has stifled innovation. Plans to upgrade decades-old technology infrastructure often take a back seat to emerging digital imperatives that capture CEOs’ attention. CIOs often find themselves losing the budget battle with multiple stakeholders clamoring for money to throw at digital strategies.

Founded in 1988, Capital One has less technical debt and is free from the bureaucracy that paralyzes its rivals. Capital One’s executive management team realized early that it needed to think and move more like a technology company than a bank. It was quickly to embraced agile, open source, cloud and analytics.

In 2010, Alexander made changes to his engineering culture and vendor sourcing practices. Like all banks, Capital One had for years purchased commercial on-premises software packages, but Alexander said this wouldn’t suffice at a time when consumers began clamoring for online and mobile banking.

Capital One hired scores of engineers, whom Alexander co-located with line of business leaders, a departure from the business handoff stacks of software requirements and waiting for IT to complete them. These new teams, organized around digital products, began building software, releasing it early and updating it frequently.

Alexander says agile was the precursor to Capital One’s DevOps technology operating model, which it calls “Engineering Excellence.” DevOps takes the agile ethos of building software rapidly but winnows the production funnel.

Previously, Capital One developers built software and turned it over to product management teams, which would test it for quality and iron out the bugs before pushing it into production. Now the product teams continuously build, test and deploy their software, using containers and microservices. They push and run the apps in Amazon Web Services’ public cloud, a move Alexander says helped his IT team focus on their core competencies of building digital products.

 

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