By Charles King, Pund-IT® September 27, 2022
When it comes to financial industry technologies and challenges, Alan Peacock has witnessed and worked with far more than most people. After graduating from university in the early 1980s, Peacock joined the Royal Bank of Scotland, eventually rising to become its CTO. Following that were CTO and CIO positions with Lloyds Banking Group, and five years as the global head of IT Infrastructure for HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, where he led a significant transformation of the company’s IT infrastructure and service management capabilities.
In June 2021 Peacock became the general manager of Delivery and Operations for IBM Cloud where his deep skills and expertise are especially valuable to IBM Cloud clients, including 19 out of the top 20 Fortune 500 banks and financial industry organizations. His experience is also well-attuned to the IBM Cloud for Financial Services and its ecosystem of global financial institutions and 90+ technology partners and FinTech companies.
As Howard Boville, IBM SVP and head of the IBM Cloud platform noted about Alan Peacock, “He understands the challenges for highly regulated industries running mission-critical workloads in the cloud, and, ultimately, this continues our mission to “de-risk” the financial services industry — delivering on a hybrid cloud environment for the banking industry.”
Pund-IT: Hello, Alan. It’s good to meet you. I appreciate you taking the time for this discussion.
Alan Peacock: Thank you, Charles. It’s good to be here.
Pund-IT: Can we begin by discussing your upbringing and education? What did you study and what were you planning to pursue after graduation?
Peacock: I was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. From a young age I was always very keen on technology. I studied Professional Banking Qualifications at Edinburgh Napier University. My father worked for a bank in their IT department (called Managed Services in those days) and he was one of the original eight people who started the IT function in his bank. He would be blown away by the scale and criticality of IT to businesses in the present day. My mother worked in the tax office, then as a housewife for a period of time and returned to work once my brother and I had completed our education. I guess I inherited my forensic numbers focus from my mother.
Pund-IT: Did you have any outside pursuits or hobbies?
Peacock: I was massively keen on sports growing up, I played a lot of soccer (called ‘football’ in my home country), golf and rugby. I was the captain of our school soccer team and our local youth team and was offered the opportunity to turn professional.
Pund-IT: What position did you play?
Peacock: I played in the center of midfield, now often known as a box-to-box midfielder. I guess I was a bit fitter in my younger days.
Pund-IT: I guess we can chalk this up to a road not taken.
Peacock: Ultimately, I decided to focus my career outside of the soccer world. Looking back, that was definitely the right decision. I joined Royal Bank of Scotland Group and, after a short period in banking operations, joined their Information technology unit.
Pund-IT: Did your father’s or mother’s occupations and experience influence your career choice? Were there any insights or advice they provided that you found especially valuable?
Peacock: Yes, most definitely. I had a keen interest in my father’s work and was always super keen to learn more about technology and how it was applied in a business context. I used to love visiting his office and seeing the early days of mainframe computers being deployed and data centers being built. I was lucky enough that my mother always provided amazing support to me in whatever I did.
Pund-IT: You spent a substantial portion of your career (starting in the 1980s) with the Royal Bank of Scotland Group spanning a period when technological advances fundamentally changed financial services and other industries. Can you discuss some of your experiences? High/low points? Lessons learned?
Peacock: I have been lucky enough to live through a rapid evolution of technology, mainframes, PCs, client/server, enterprise computing, mobile, cloud computing and the emergence of quantum computing. The pace of change, growth and breadth of technology use has been incredible during the span of my career. The use of technology transformed the banking industry, and technology is at the heart of every financial services organization now. During my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work on and lead major transformation programs. These have definitely been some of the most enjoyable periods of my career. I just love being in the middle of large, complex challenges and helping to navigate through those complexities. Seeing the positive business transformation results of large scale change programs is definitely a highlight for me. Low points would be those tough days and nights when software or hardware doesn’t quite work the way it should.
Pund-IT: What are some examples of transformation programs you have been part of?
Peacock: These transformation programs have covered a broad range of challenges, including large acquisitions, integration programs, some large divestments, and rolling out new transformational business applications. To share a few examples, this included Bank Branch Network transformation, the introduction of new payments systems, core banking system transformation, the introduction of new server and operating system technologies, and of course the introduction of cloud computing.
Pund-IT: Some, if not all of those events, must have required significant effort and developing new skills.
Peacock: I learned a huge amount about how to execute extremely large, complex, organization-wide change programs, including cultural change, where the alignment and focus is needed to achieve success. Alongside this I lived through the transformation, re-engineering and automation of many banking front and back office processes, such as payments processing, trading floor evolution and of course the shift from branch-based retail banking towards internet and mobile banking. Of course, along the way the complexity and scale of banks’ enterprise technology estate has continued to increase.
Pund-IT: In 2009, you joined Lloyd’s Banking Group, and in 2015 you moved to HSBC. Can you talk a bit about those jobs? What sparked your decisions to change positions? Also, that period spanned huge economic challenges across the globe. How did that impact your work?
Peacock: I decided to move jobs as I felt I needed a new challenge, the biggest technology challenge in banking in Europe in 2009 was the integration of LloydsTSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) following the acquisition by LloydsTSB of HBOS to form Lloyds Banking Group during the GFC (Great Financial Crisis). This acquisition formed the largest retail bank in the UK, and at that time, one of the largest global banks. This gave me the opportunity to utilize all the skills I has acquired in my previous roles to help drive the successful completion of the integration program. I then joined HSBC Bank, a truly global bank. This allowed me to utilize all the skills I had acquired previously to execute transformation on a global scale.
Pund-IT: When did cloud computing begin impacting the organizations you worked for?
Peacock: During the latter part of my time at Lloyds Banking Group and during my time at HSBC, cloud technology capabilities were maturing rapidly and that next evolution of technology was, for me, the next exciting challenge in my career.
Pund-IT: How so?
Peacock: I could see that the heavily regulated banking and financial services industry was slow to adopt and embrace the benefits of cloud computing and that the large CSPs were not meeting the control and compliance disciplines required to give banks and financial services organizations the confidence to move critical workloads into the cloud. I could see that IBM, with its decades of experience in supporting the world’s largest and most critical organizations, was focused on providing a uniquely differentiated solution to help organizations in regulated industries, including banks, safely migrate services to the cloud. This differentiated focus excited me. From my experience I could see how it would apply in financial services and other regulated industries.
Pund-IT: Talk about being at the right place at the right time.
Peacock: I have been lucky enough during my career that I have never had to look for my next role, I’ve been able to select the positions that I feel suit my skills, capabilities and personal ambitions. I have a history of managing large-scale global complexity, successfully executing very large and complex transformational change programs and driving operational excellence.
Pund-IT: Just over a year ago, you joined IBM as General Manager, Delivery & Operations, IBM Cloud. What led to that move? Does your role involve doing what you’ve done in the past or have you found opportunities to learn and engage in new skills and pursuits?
Peacock: I could see banks and financial services organizations moving very slowly to the cloud due to the risk and uncertainty involved. The on-premises capabilities that banks had built up over many years to meet their audit, compliance and control requirements were not all in place in cloud service providers (CSPs). This meant that significant work was required with each cloud provider to build additional capabilities to meet risk and compliance standards
IBM Cloud in conjunction with a number of Global Banks had created an industry-specific cloud, IBM Cloud for Financial Services, that helps de-risk cloud migrations due to additional capabilities that fill the gaps present in what other CSPs have. This includes uniquely differentiated security, control and compliance monitoring. I wanted to be part of building a differentiated capability that met the requirements of regulated industries, including financial services.
Pund-IT: What is IBM Cloud doing that is different or better than other public cloud platforms?
Peacock: IBM Cloud’s focus on both creating a cloud that is focused on regulated industries along with building an expert team that combines top talent from within IBM and experts from industry (including banking and financial services) hugely resonated with me and other peers in the industry that I spoke to before accepting the role in IBM. Having people in IBM who fully understand the challenges that our banking clients have to manage on a day-to-day basis builds confidence with our clients.
Pund-IT: What similarities does your new role have compared to your previous roles?
My role has many similarities to my previous roles:
- It’s a truly global role. My team builds, develops and operates the IBM Cloud in multiple markets globally.
- I have a large team of talented developers, engineers and operations colleagues across many countries.
- Our top priorities for our clients are security, stability and reliability. Many thousands of businesses depend on our IBM Cloud platform every day to run their businesses and support their customers, and we are committed to delivering a seamless experience.
- My team delivers large change programs to deliver differentiated services to our clients.
- We reliably deliver operational excellence at scale, delivering the most secure, most stable and most resilient cloud platform.
All of these priorities are completely aligned with my focus and priorities in previous roles.
Pund-IT: What are some of the lessons and practices you were able to bring to IBM Cloud from working with other cloud vendors in your previous roles?
Peacock: I brought many lessons to IBM Cloud based on my experiences consuming services from other large cloud providers. While they all had some great engineering capabilities, I needed deep industry expertise – the unique understanding of what it takes to run systemically important critical banking services that require very high levels of resilience and availability. This is a very important point: Cloud native architecture and design is very different from traditional, on-premises deployments. If done incorrectly, cloud migrations can create less-stable services than organizations experienced with on-premises systems.
This is where you need people who can help partner to re-engineer business applications to utilize the great capabilities of cloud technology and to help build more resilient services. And, of course, IBM can bring significant industry expertise to assist. We have people who have previously built and run scale global operations that meet the needs of regulated industries like banking and financial services.
Pund-IT: It sounds like IBM Cloud has a clear and significant advantage in terms of supporting customers in banking and financial services.
Peacock: There is no better organization than IBM in terms of its heritage of supporting most of the world’s top companies for many decades. IBM understands how to support mission-critical workloads and has been the most trusted IT partner of many large companies for decades.
Pund-IT: That’s well-established. However, other public cloud players and cloud service providers (CSPs) have positioned themselves as equal to the task of supporting banks and other financial services organizations.
Peacock: As I said earlier, IBM has been supporting mission-critical services for a long time. We know how to do it at scale. While other CSPs are very well set up for mass market cloud provisioning, IBM prioritizes mission-critical workloads that need instant responses when there is an issue 365 days/year, 24 hours a day. Additionally, security and compliance is at the forefront of everything we do – especially as we continue to work with clients in highly regulated industries across the world. The IBM Cloud approach is to build together with clients – ensuring a secured migration that is complemented by unique capabilities, such as our Security and Compliance Center.
Pund-IT: How does your experience complement your work in IBM Cloud?
Peacock: Having an understanding of what it takes from a banking and financial services client perspective makes a huge difference. You understand the challenges our clients have in their day-to-day roles and understand how you can help.
There are many lessons and best practice operational disciplines that I built over many years in banking that I have brought to IBM Cloud. Many of the disciplines that I built over the years in large banks are just as critical for cloud providers.
These disciplines have the clients at their heart. That client focus is a real differentiator for IBM Cloud and sets us apart from others in the market.
Pund-IT: Many people consider cloud infrastructures to be essentially different from traditional data centers. Is that something you agree with? Are there practices or lessons in traditional data centers that could or should be applied to cloud? And vice versa?
Peacock: There are undoubtedly some differences but there are also some similarities. Clouds are still made up of data centers, with servers, storage, networking and software. However, one of the major differences is that, historically, business applications relied on IT infrastructure to provide resilience. In cloud native deployments, improved resilience is also built into the application software layer and not just the infrastructure layer that was often the case on premise. This is a significant change that organizations on their cloud journey need to be aware of.
Pund-IT: When you joined IBM Cloud, how did you go about assessing the delivery and operations organization?
Peacock: When I joined, I assessed a broad set of areas across the operation and defined the areas that needed focus. For example, we reworked some of our operational processes to deliver our goal of being the most secure, most stable and most resilient cloud. We have continued to be hyper focused on doing this and this has resulted in significant material service improvements.
Pund-IT: Those are impressive results in such a short term. How did you and your team accomplish it?
Peacock: This was achieved through some focused investments, increased process rigor, improved Key Performance Indicator (KPI) metrics and forensic analysis of where we needed to improve.
Pund-IT: Broadly speaking, what were your strategic imperatives for IBM Cloud?
Peacock: The following were the key priorities. 1. Setting the tone from the top was vital. Ensuring Security and Service Stability were and still are our top priorities. 2. Being close to and listening to our clients’ feedback to guide our focus. 3. Focusing on operational excellence. 4. Ensuring that we continue to build new features aligned to our clients’ priorities 5. Supporting all of the above was creating a culture that supports learning and continuous improvement.
Pund-IT: How did you go about addressing those points?
Peacock: You might call it an unceasing hyper focus on clarity and priorities. First, I established clarity of our mission and accountability, established a rounded set of baseline KPIs so that we could measure our improvement progress and therefore focus on areas where we needed to improve. It is then a case of relentless focused execution and discipline whilst creating the right culture of learning and innovation. As part of our mission and execution focus, operational excellence and continuous improvement are key elements.
Pund-IT: What are some of the results of those efforts? How long did it take to achieve tangible results?
Peacock: Improvements were rapid. To give a few examples
- We have reduced our significant incident volume by 91% year-on-year, alongside reducing disruption time by 88%, and we didn’t start from a high baseline to begin with
- We have significantly improved the velocity and discipline on hitting feature and function delivery dates
- We have hugely improved the quality of change we are delivering, whilst delivering a 110% increase in the volume of changes delivered year-on-year. We are implementing a change on average every 10 to15 seconds somewhere in our global estate.
So in summary, great progress.
Pund-IT: In practical terms, how does IBM Cloud compare to/contrast with other public cloud platforms? What are its greatest strengths?
Peacock: Whilst providing a secure, stable resilient platform, IBM Cloud differentiates itself versus other general purpose CSPs due to its additional security, control and compliance capabilities over and above general mass market CSPs.
We have developed capabilities that provide the required controls necessary to meet financial services compliance and control requirements. We developed this set of controls in consultation with multiple global and regional banks using their existing control frameworks to create a best-of-breed cloud set of controls that accelerates and de-risks the migration of services to the cloud.
Many of these controls are codified to automate monitoring and compliance evidence capture automatically, significantly reducing the manual effort burden on customers to meet control monitoring, audit and regulatory requirements. As well as the control benefits, this creates significant cost efficiencies for organizations.
Pund-IT: It sounds like what IBM Cloud has done for banks and other financial services organizations could be replicated for other vertical industries.
Peacock: Although developed for financial services, due to the regulated nature of the FS industry, the control framework also hugely helps other industries to have confidence in migrating workloads to the IBM Cloud with lower risk.
For example, IBM works with numerous industry-specific ISVs to certify that their SaaS products meet the necessary security, compliance and controls required to operate safely in the cloud. This helps to accelerate the adoption of SaaS products and helps clients gain benefits faster, whilst being comfortable with the Security and Compliance controls that are in place.
This significantly helps organizations that are concerned about 3rd and 4th party risk, and again is a major differentiator for the IBM Cloud versus other cloud providers. Also, through the input of more than 100 Global CIOs, CROs and CISOs who participate in the Financial Services Cloud Councils, IBM Cloud continues to enhance our control framework.
That control framework is something that no other CSP has and provides a significant accelerator for organisations that are nervous about security and compliance controls in general purpose CSPs.
Finally, as regulations change and as we continue to learn and collaborate with the Global and Regional Financial Services Cloud Councils that have been formed and the regulators around the world, we in IBM Cloud will continue to enhance our capabilities to meet the needs of our clients and differentiate ourselves from other CSPs.
Pund-IT: Thank you, Alan. I appreciate you sharing your time and insights.
Alan Peacock: You’re very welcome, Charles.
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