Building a bank…

27 04 2019

Building a business is one hell of a challenge, so when Nick Ogden (yes, the founder of WorldPay) said to me that he wanted to build a bank, I was a little apprehensive. But before I could really respond, Nick explained that he didn’t just want to build a bank, he wanted to build the UK’s first Clearing Bank in 250+ years!!!!! I think most people would be intimidated, however, we felt that this was one of those rare opportunities that you get to re-imagine how an entire suite of services could be delivered. Back in 2015, this was the birth of Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS). 

TYou see, Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) is a technology play, it’s middleware, its banking deconstructed and delivered in granular, individual services. Plug them together, build our your capabilities and you can start to deliver banking outcomes for your customers. But Banking-as-a-Service, BaaS, is more than just technology, it’s leveraging all aspects of banking, including your balance sheet and more….

Banking-as-a-Service I feel really was born in that room with Nick Ogden back in 2015. This really was the start of our journey, the journey of building out ClearBank. Not only have we built the first Clearing Bank in 250 years, it’s the first Clearing Bank ever to join the UK’s main payment schemes all at once, the first ever to build out its own technology and the first ever to be built completely with Cloud technologies, and the first true provider of Banking-as-a-Service. A quite a few firsts there….

At the UK’s Azure User Group, I talked about some of our journey, some of the challenges and actually, how would I build a bank today…You can view the video here….

 

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Disappointed with the cloud?

12 10 2011

A recent eBizQ question has sparked this post, essentially it asked “Why are so many disappointed with the cloud?”, and this question was based on the fact that few organisations have made the move to the cloud, and those that have, many are stating they are disappointed with the results…So why would you be disapoointed? After all, it does what it says on the tin…

 

Cloud variants

A big problem is what do people mean when they say the “cloud”? If we take a look at the big players here, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, we see 3 different interpretations. Amazon deliver IaaS, which is Infrastructure as a Service. So essentially they deliver you an infrastructure for you to leverage as you please. This is very different to Microsoft’s Azure take on things, in which Azure delivers PaaS – Platform as a Service. Think of IaaS as your physical servers, all connected with nothing on them, and think of PaaS as physical servers, but running the server OS. Essentially Azure is the operating
system for the “cloud”.

Unfortunately, “cloud” is a very broad and “loose” description, so organisations must understand what type of “cloud” they are leveraging or buying into.

 

Expectations…

First off, let’s remember that the “Cloud” isn’t a solution, it’s just another platform. As a company you didn’t purchase Microsoft Windows Sever and expect it to solve all your IT needs did you? The “cloud” is a platform, nothing more, and yet as a platform it has capabilities that just aren’t available anywhere else.

Convenience, or something more?

Some argue that Cloud can be seen as IT convenience, which is true to an extent. If you view the cloud as nothing more than convenience, then you will no doubt also argue that the cloud makes far more sense to small organisations, as opposed to mature companies that have invested heavily in data centres – effectively providing them with cloud like capabilities. In many cases this is
very true, I myself have written posts illustrating reasons why the “cloud” is not applicable to some companies or IT solutions. Yet, “cloud” is more than just convenience, it’s about scalability, availability, reduced administration and reduced IT overheads. If you are a mature organisation, then no doubt your data centre will be specified to meet your maximum demands placed on it, as it
has to. For most of the time this means you have a lot of “spare capacity” and in effect, are wasting money. With the “cloud” and especially PaaS, you only pay for what capacity you need at that time. So you can quickly scale to meet demand peeks, but when you have little demand, your costs decrease as you lose that spare capacity.

We also have to look at capabilities here, using “cloud” based solutions we have a real option for continuous connected availability across a range of devices. We can share “state” between devices etc which makes it far easier to jump right back into work, where I was, even when I swap from my work PC to my work tablet or laptop at home, heck even to my Phone.

 

Security

This is a big issue, and unfortunately many security concerns are simply invalid. The cloud doesn’t mean open access to all! However, in some cases, compliance and regulatory demands mean you cannot jump to certain cloud providers or solutions. For example, for compliance you may well need to keep your data stored in your geographic location, so you can’t have it physically residing in the US when your company and the owners of the data are in the UK. That will include your data back too. So, you need to be aware just what your cloud provider is doing with your data / files, and make
sure they can meet your compliance needs.

 

Cloud based solutions

The big problem why organisations are disappointed with the “cloud” is the actual applications, their capabilities and user experiences. To be blunt, most cloud based “apps” pale when compared to traditional desktop based applications. Why is that? Well it’s mainly down to implementation of the software application, nothing really to do with the “cloud” as a platform.

Most “cloud” solutions are fully in the cloud, so essentially you access them through a browser. This is a massive problem and hindrance, and for business, web applications just don’t meet the needs. I don’t care what anyone says; running software in a browser is ok for only a handful of solutions – not for everything. Some of the problems with web based applications are listed below, and these are real problems and cause for disappointment with cloud based solutions at the moment:

  1. Integration – how do you integrate multiple solutions? How do you integrate a cloud solution with standard desktop bound solution?
  2. Customisation – do you really have an option to have your software customised to your needs? Again probably not, as the solution is there for “all – in the cloud”, not just you
  3. Cross platform – HTML 5 is what keeps getting mentioned, but the issues still remain about how it performs within different browsers. In addition, think a bit wider. Does HTML based apps really deliver what you want cross platform? Think “cross devices”, how can you get the best user experience across multiple devices and their operating systems. Think PC, Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone, Android, Tablets, Laptops, XP, Win 7 etc
  4. Asynchronous – many web based apps aren’t really Asynchronous, which means your user experience can suffer, especially when you are making round trips to the cloud and back (same problem applies to basic websites that are implemented poorly)
  5. Data Extract – what is available, does it meet your needs, and whats the user experience here
  6. Synchronisation – Can you synchronise between devices and return to your application in the same state?
  7. Backup – what backups and formats can you get?
  8. Application upgrades – will you be charged for upgrades?
  9. Service Level Agreements – just what agreements can you get in place?

 

Improving the cloud experience…

So I have spent some time highlighting why organisation may well feel disappointed with the “cloud”, but now I want to point out how cloud providers and more importantly, software vendors, can replace disappointment with real excitement…

First off, your “Cloud” provider, you need to choose carefully, make sure you understand what they are providing (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS capabilities) and then understand what they do to meet you compliance needs. Take into consideration what you want to deliver via the “Cloud” – does your desired solution even work in the cloud or on a particular cloud platform?

I personally recommend the Microsoft Azure platform, simply because it delivers far more than just typical PaaS, it delivers brilliant development tools, application capabilities and synchronisation capabilities (it is also tied in pretty tightly with the up-coming releases of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 – keep that in mind).

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Windows 8 leverages Cloud capabilities heavily (Microsoft's Azure)

Secondly, and most importantly, choose “cloud” solutions that leverage your devices – so that’s your actual PC, Mac, Phone etc…The big change is how we use the “cloud”, moving away from a single UI within the browser to an actual “application” solves so so sooooo many of the issues highlighted. So what do I mean?

Cloud based applications need not run in the “cloud”, they need only be distributed or leverage cloud services, data and content. So the application is installed and runs on the device, accessing cloud services, data and content. When we move to this model, you see how usability, experience, and capabilities all drastically increase. So:

  1. Integration – This is made a lot easier, real application integration can take place, be that using cloud services in another application, or actually sharing data on your device between applications (this can be taken further with Windows 8 and the use of contracts and charms)
  2. Customisation – Customising applications for a client is made a lot simpler, it becomes something that is in essence, not that different to customisation of typical desktop in house applications today
  3. Cross platform – well the iPhone has shown us that using platform specific technologies deliver the best user experience. Would you rather use the iPhone app for that, or trundle off to the website. You will use the app. So this is no different, deliver “Apps” for the desired platforms and HTML 5 for platforms where you will not support apps. (Remember, that you are not maintaining multiple versions of solution code, rather multiple front ends, nothing more)
  4. Asynchronous – Running typical applications allows developers to really use asynchronous capabilities within their solutions, improving performance and the user experience, not to mention
    dodging the browser time out issues
  5. Synchronisation – with apps you can leverage the cloud to then store your synchronisation data, which makes it possible to synchronise your applications across all your devices in real time
  6. Upgrades – these are made easier, even for customers who run highly customised applications

 

Quick finish…

Essentially, disappointment in the “cloud” is actually disappointment caused by “cloud” expectations being wrong, choosing the wrong cloud provider, or using cloud solutions that are limited, limited because they are stuck in a browser…With time, we will see greater understanding of what cloud providers actually provide, greater understanding of IaaS vs PaaS and we will see software providers delivering “apps” as opposed to just browser based solutions.

See the cloud as a platform, nothing more, and choose solutions based on their capabilities for meeting your business requirements. Good cloud based solutions, that leverage apps, will not only meet your expectations, but will offer you more features, more functions, less administration and ultimately run at a cheaper cost for you…





BUILD and Windows 8…

19 09 2011

So last week saw Windows 8 developer preview being shown off at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and well, there was a lot to take in. BUILD was also showing off Windows Server 8 and a host of other Microsoft initiatives / solutions, including Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Azure. With all that being shown off, it was hard to keep up and understand what exactly Microsoft was telling us about their future products and services. Unfortunately, as with most things Microsoft does, this meant that there was a lot of “dodgy”, to put it politely, blogging and tweets being thrown around. Essentially many tweets and blog posts were simply wrong, or written by pure Microsoft haters, so the messages coming out from BUILD did get a little lost for some…

Anyway…Let’s have a look at Windows 8 and what it could mean to consumers and businesses…

Metro

Well this is the new interface style if you like, what Windows now looks like by default. Metro is something Microsoft has been pushing, but it’s essentially a design look and feel. Many people see this as
primarily just for tablets, but I disagree. I like the idea of switching on my PC to see the “live tiles” environment, allowing me to peer into applications without needing to open them. It’s a feature I like on the Windows Phone 7+ platform, and I personally think it works really well for the PC, laptop, tablet market. Metro applications also look and behave great, and I have no problem with moving away from “chrome” based windowed applications.

Windows 8 new Metro UI. It's Alive...

The “Metro” side of Windows 8 only supports “metro” style apps and HTML running in IE10 (currently no Silverlight or Flash in the Metro browser experience). Metro also provides a design methodlody for applications, and as such, a framework for developers to work within when delivering “apps”.

There are also “contracts” in place between applications, allowing them to share functionality via “charms”, such as the “search charm”. What does that mean, well it means you can search inside your app from the standard search dialogue. Even better, you can share content between apps using the “share” charm, so I am in one app, and I wish to share some content, I can click on the system charm and simply share it with another application. This provides a real slick feel to using the system, as if the Apps are part of Windows 8, as opposed to a single bit of software that simply runs on Windows 8. There is quite a difference there…Essentially metro and charms all adds to the user experience, and rich environment, Windows 8 aims to deliver.

Charms in action

Using "Charms" with touch screen keyboard to search within apps

Many though have stated, why ship Metro style for the PC if you are also supporting the more traditional “desktop” look and feel, which essentially is Windows 7 updated. There have even been calls for supplying metro only for tablets, and desktop view only for traditional laptops and desktops, a bit like Apple shipping iOS for tablets and full on Mac OS for Mac Books. Well to these people I simply say “you don’t get it”…

Flexibility, choice and function is what people want. If I own an iPad and I want to edit some pictures by using Photoshop, I can’t. That means switching over to my laptop, Mac book, PC whatever to do that work, not great if I am at the mother in-laws for example. So why not deliver a tablet that can allow me to do that work if I want? What’s wrong with having the flexibility and option there? Nothing…After all, I don’t have to go into the standard desktop if I don’t need to…

Native Desktop

The native desktop is still there, essentially it looks and feels like Windows 7, and there is nothing wrong with that. The native desktop is used to support more complex applications, applications such as Photoshop or Visual Studio, applications that need lots of tool bars, need to show lots of actions and functions to the user. There is nothing wrong with these types of applications, and not all applications could be designed the “metro” way (nor should they).

The native desktop is just that, it’s everything Windows 7 is right now, so all your legacy / business applications that have gone before will run fine on Windows 8.

 

Tablets, Laptops, Netbooks, PC’s, Phones…ARM, the lot…

One of the big things with Windows 8, and something Microsoft kept on pushing at BUILD, was that Windows 8 is for all devices, and that means all forms of hardware. So Windows 8 runs well on my fully blown development beast of a PC, yet it works just as well on a small wafer thin tablet running an ARM processor. This is actually great, it means I have a single experience across all my devices, while Microsoft needs only support a single platform.

Now, throw into the mix Microsoft’s investment into the cloud and Windows Live, and you start to see added benefits of this kind of thinking. You can have all your devices understand “state” between them, so understanding where I am in an xbox live game for example, or where I am in terms of a business process. That makes life a lot easier and flexible. Simple things such as changing my “Avatar” on my PC is replicated across all my devices, which is a great touch…

For quite sometime I have wanted a tablet that allows me to install everything I may ever need on it, so that includes development studios, it includes database administration suites, it includes photo editing software etc etc and I simply cannot do that with a tablet. So that means I lug around a great laptop just in case I need these things, yet I mainly use that to search the web, run some power point presentations, check email etc etc. With Windows 8, I can get my PC on a tablet, and use it as a tablet, until I need to use it properly, and in such an event, I can…

 

WinRT, .NET, WPF and Silverlight

Ok, now this is where many bloggers etc really annoyed me, especially those saying “Microsoft has killed .NET and Silverlight”. The essential truth is that many “components” that make up the .NET framework (and therefore the Silverlight framework) have been incorporated into WinRT (which is the metro side of Windows 8 libraries – if you like). Metro apps run either XAML or HTML 5 (note that if you are familiar with WPF and Silverlight that XAML is the front end of those technologies) but don’t run what we could term “native WPF or native Silverlight” applications. Metro apps “managed code” environment is either C++, VB, or C# (oh that’s just the same as WPF and Silverlight), and pretty much everything is the same. If you have an old Silverlight or WPF app,
you do need to make a few, and I do mean few changes, before it runs in the metro environment. I personally don’t see the big problem with this. Sure if you have a business application running on Silverlight, you now need to change it if you want to run it in the Metro world, however, you can always run it in the desktop environment…If you want to migrate, make the few changes and away you
go, and you now have a Metro application. Those changes are essentially a few include changes, and that’s it…

When you look at “Metro”, you see that it really is just an update to Silverlight / WPF, actually the whole of Windows 8 looks and feels like a Silverlight / WPF.

 

HTML 5 and scripting languages

HTML 5 is now supported along with Javascript in Visual Studio 2011, now I don’t think this shows any movement away from Microsoft technologies (such as XAML), rather it shows Microsoft’s aim of allowing as many developers as possible to develop great applications for Windows 8.

From some of the videos I have watched, I would suspect that using XAML is better for Metro applications (well delivering some of them), however, HTML 5 is going to do more than adequate job.

 

Windows Azure

There was a lot on Windows Azure, especially when we start looking at how Windows 8 synchronises between all your devices. Now I am not one who has shouted about the cloud from day 1, I have often spoken of some of the issues regarding compliance and many issues with the cloud. However, that being said, Microsoft uses Azure very very well with Windows 8. They have also gone through a lot of work of exposing may Azure interfaces to developers, allowing them to take advantage of the power of Azure across all devices. Great thinking…

I also liked a lot of things being done with Azure, and how Microsoft have really addressed compliance issues that do raise their head when we think of cloud computing. If I am honest, I think the stuff I have seen on Azure of late has me praising the concept of the cloud so much more. Though I feel that’s more aimed at “Azure” than cloud computing in general. I still have issues with IaaS and concepts of cloud applications running in my browser (I hate that, I want a real user experience, a real application, and guess what, with Metro or the desktop and Azure, I can get that very easily).

 

Developers, developers, developers

BUILD was all about developers, and that means putting them at the forefront of Windows 8, giving them the tools they choose to develop with and allowing them “sell” to potentially millions of customers. On that note, there was a lot made about the sheer number of devices out there that will be running Windows 8, and just how big that audience is for developers. I know that Apple has gained traction here; I know that Android has gained traction too, but at the end of the day, if you develop for Windows you have the biggest audience out there. And that is a fact…Throw into the mix Windows 8 capabilities on tablets and the deal with Nokia, and I think you see that Microsoft is working hard to get even more devices running their software.

 

Much more I have missed…

There was simply so much at BUILD that I can’t possibly start talking about all the things I am aware of, nor did I fancy writing multiple blogs on essentially a platform that is only at developer preview stage.  I didn’t touch on Windows Server 8, nor other features such as NFC enablement, but there you go. Go visit Channel 9 and watch the hundreds of hours on BUILD.

Essentially, Microsoft has been working very hard, it has taken on board the need for touch, and the fact that mobile and tablets are becoming must have devices, and as such, Microsoft should have Windows running on them.

I personally think Microsoft has done a great job with Windows 8 and Azure, and I can really see them taking Apple on head to head in markets where Apple currently dominates. Is this Microsoft getting back to their best? I think so…