Innovation through New Technologies
By Daniel Friel, CIO, International Securities Exchange Holdings Inc.
At ISE, we use cloud computing as an innovation platform to support our research and development efforts and explore opportunities before bringing them to market. Given the latency requirements around operating a financial marketplace, the cloud is not a feasible alternative for our core production trading systems at this time, but it is an important aspect in our non-trading operations. Generally speaking, the “fail fast” nature of leveraging the cloud environment is ideal for efficiently testing out new ideas. It allows us to trial new technologies quickly, see how they react, and then make a timely decision whether to implement them or look ahead to the next opportunity. Not only has this helped us to bring new functionality to our markets faster and more cost effectively, but it assures a better and more reliable trading experience for our customers.
"We have the benefit of a nimble and relatively small team, and making that cultural shift was easier for us than it might be for a larger organization"
Changing Roles of CIOs
One of my goals as CIO in years past had been to align the technology team and its initiatives with the overall business, and we have succeeded in matching technology goals to complement our business areas. The next step was efficiency. In an environment where speed and timing play a critical role in an organization’s success, top to bottom, we looked at what we could do to more accurately and efficiently execute our day to day activities.
For a very long time, our team would manually install software, copy files in, set configurations, and deploy them across several hundreds of servers; a very strenuous and time consuming process widely used by many technology teams today. We recently moved closer to eliminating that lengthy and inefficient process by moving to DevOps model. Instead of manually installing new software, the team now writes programs to automate the process. Functions that previously took hours to complete can be accomplished in minutes, with complete consistency, while virtually eliminating the possibility of human error.
Our operations team used to function in a reactive mode, monitoring their screens and addressing problems that arose. Now they are proactively scripting. Initially, I was concerned about how moving to a DevOps model would be received because we were automating everything that a person used to manually do as their job. It really takes a cultural shift and buy-in from the entire technology staff. The ISE team embraced the new structure enthusiastically. We have the benefit of a nimble and relatively small team, and making that cultural shift was easier for us than it might be for a larger organization.
Finding the Sweet Spot
There’s always a balance between cost reduction and innovation, and one without the other is a recipe for disaster. You have to find that sweet spot where you can reduce expenses and continue to innovate. We are at a point right now where we have brought our expense base down dramatically. As additional revenue comes in, it goes directly to the bottom line and we can concentrate more heavily on innovation. I believe these are healthy cycles. You have to be able to reduce cost in tougher times without fully comprising the innovation pipeline. Going through the down cycle and becoming more streamlined enables you to spend more time on innovation when the business is trending upward. This was a lesson learned by experiencing many of these cycles in my career.