ANZ inching towards being agile at the core

Sitting on top of CSC's Hogan core banking system is not stopping ANZ bank from embracing agile working habits, its CIO Scott Collary has said.

When a large company looks to embrace agile methods of working, it makes sense to do so in customer-facing and non-critical areas of the business, such as delivering websites and mobile applications. But when you are an approximately AU$70 billion company turning over AU$21 billion a year, how far can the business apply a philosophy of failing fast and reiterating when you need to guarantee a successful transaction every time?

According to ANZ CIO Scott Collary, it's a case of taking it slowly, and not being in a rush to head to a new core banking platform.

"We're going through the technology stack and capability, picking off the things that are more naturally aligned to that, but we'll get to them, there will be CI/CD [continuous integration/continuous delivery] in that area as well," Collary told journalists in Sydney yesterday.

"Right now, as you look at the capability we have on the core system, it's not a hindrance for us ... actual development in the core is not slowing anything down; it's a fairly flexible environment."

ANZ continues to sit on the Hogan core banking system from CSC, a platform it has been on for quite a while now, and the bank believes it will suffice for the near term.

"What you think of as traditional core, the product processor, that's just a geo-financial transaction processor," Collary said. "So the fact that we can get a lot of change running through the rest of the organisation on daily, weekly, biweekly basis in terms of updates, the core piece in terms of how it is running is not really hindering anything.

"We've actually also partnered with IBM, we have in our new mainframe operating system, we just upgraded. There's something called z/OS Connect from IBM that allows you to write APIs directly into the new CICS [customer information control system] version so that you don't have a lot of the traditional integration layers. So an API can be written directly into a core banking platform running on the mainframe in half the time for a fraction of the cost of what it to require for integration."

"It kind of mitigates the need to do anything in terms of replacing that product processor, it will continue on for a good, long time -- and it's more modern, more modular, kind of environment anyway, even though it is a few years old, it has the capability we need."

Chris Venter, the bank's general manager of Consumer Digital Technology, said that while ANZ has taken its agile methodology across the organisation, the core banking group is still able to apply some of its lessons.

"Some areas like digital, where you are customer-facing, and channels, actually run at a very different speed with true agility. For the areas that are not, though, that are traditionally core system based, there's still things you can do and practices and techniques ... so they still run their kanban walls, they do daily stand ups, they do retrospectives, they use a lot of the techniques to help with what I'd call just basic hygiene management, and we've found some great uptake in that and collaboration that comes with that has helped a lot," he said.

"But from an automation, CI/CD point of view, at the moment Hogan is not enabled to do that, so our core systems, we're a little bit stifled by the technology there, but we are pushing it as far as we can."

Collary said the bank would only look at upgrading its core banking once it hit a point where it couldn't do something or scale properly, was hitting its support end-of-life, or would slow down development of new features.

The CIO pointed to the bank's recent launch of Apple Pay and Mobile Pay, upcoming support for Android Pay, and its other ongoing technology investments as proof that Hogan is not holding it back.

"We don't have that situation," he said. "It's certainly nothing that would require us to spend AU$2 billion or five years of concentrated effort."

Collary, who took on the CIO role in late 2014, said ANZ is looking to become a more open bank, and will get there by adopting open technology.

"At the end of the day, we'll be a more open bank, that's what we have to be to evolve," he said.

"I want the inside of ANZ to look like the outside world, from a tech perspective. So more open, more standard and interoperable, as opposed to closed and proprietary, but you can't expose everything to everybody.

"There'll be some things we design for outside use, some things we design for inside, and something we design for both."

As part of increasing openness, Venter said the engineering team is now assuming the APIs it builds will be exposed to the outside world, even if they never will be.

"We're following a microservices-based architecture now for how we are enabling our digital channels through to our back end, and investing significantly in tooling and techniques to connect to our legacy platforms and expose that stuff," he said.

The company will soon launch an open-source project it calls Sysl, pronounced 'Sizzle', which uses text system definition language to produce boilerplate code and xml frameworks, as well as system specification diagrams.

"We're continuing to build this up and we've estimated through this first release, we've been able to get 15 to 20 percent productivity out of our current development processes, and with some of the new features we are putting in shortly, we think we can get that up as high as 30 percent," Venter said.

"It's been a real speed advantage."