A conversation with Technology and Cloud Expert, Shamla Naidoo The Importance of Cloud Adoption for Financial Services Firms: The Benefits, Challenges and Considerations

May 2022

Straight To The Point

The Big Data movement continues to shift the pendulum for financial services organizations. More than ever companies are looking to add value through data to improve agility and their ability to deliver high-quality products and services. This is putting increasing pressure on legacy information-technology (IT) infrastructure and the teams that manage them. Transformative digital solutions are no longer a mere consideration, they are becoming critical to be competitive in today’s market. Cloud computing, in particular, has taken center stage among technology teams building for the future.

Reference Point recently sat down with Shamla Naidoo, a Senior Advisor and member of the firm’s Advisory Board to discuss this important trend. Shamla has an extensive background on the subject, having served as a Managing Partner at IBM until June 2021, where she advised CEOs, Board Directors, and other C-suite executives on effectively creating and securing their digital transformation. Before that, she was Global CISO for IBM, where she was responsible for protecting IBM's brand and reputation, intellectual property, and corporate and customer data. Her mandate included creating and influencing the security culture of 500,000 employees and partners and managing the risk of cybersecurity threats while supporting innovation and business growth.

Shamla naidoo, senior advisor and advisory board member

Where do you see the most benefit to financial services organizations that embrace more widespread adoption of the cloud?

Shamla: The cloud is important, not just to financial services, but to all businesses. It's like gravity. It's going to happen. Everyone is going to leverage the cloud in the end because we don't want to buy real estate, or city blocks of servers, and other devices to support our business needs.

Today, businesses want to be agile. They want to build capability that’s both modern, fit for purpose and fit for the future. Innovation also needs to be stood up and running, very quickly. When you think about the cloud, someone else has built all that infrastructure. Someone else has put all the bits and pieces and parts together to create a foundation from which you can build your capability. That means, when financial services go into the cloud, one of the things that happens is that they now don't have to focus on those rudimentary, basic, foundational services like building servers, building storage, building infrastructure to help them. What they can focus on is how to integrate the cloud in a way that will offer wonderful beneficial capability for customers and the overall business. 

Importantly, it can be customized the fit every organization’s needs. They can buy the infrastructure and build capability on top of it. They can buy the entire platform and build capability on top of it. How much the cloud provider does is dependent on what a business wants and how quickly they want to move forward. The level of cloud usage is also dependent on what technology an organization wants to keep as proprietary. Once an organization has that strategy in place, it can focus on building and scaling the business knowing that the infrastructure will be there when it is needed. In short, there are huge benefits for speed and scale when using cloud services.

What's your point of view on multi-cloud strategy?

Shamla: Multi-cloud strategy is a given. It's inevitable because some cloud providers provide some services and not others. And all organizations need holistic capability to run their businesses. In fact, there's so much benefit to multi-cloud strategy that I don’t see any cons. If businesses try to build out their workload among a single cloud provider, it’s going to limit what they can do, what they can build, and what they can use.

Furthermore, a multi-cloud strategy enables organizations that want to innovate with a whole world of opportunities and the ability to embrace all kinds of services. Developing a multi cloud strategy is essential to giving an organization the flexibility to quickly capitalize on opportunities at hand without being limited.

Can you talk a bit about Hybrid cloud?

Shamla: Hybrid Cloud is a very different strategy to multi cloud. A hybrid cloud is a type of computing environment that allows data migration between public and private cloud infrastructure. This dynamic approach allows companies more flexibility. It allows a company to have some things in the cloud, some things on premise, some things in third parties, some things that are outsourced, and some things that are managed services. This dynamic approach will become more mainstream because of the flexibility it provides, especially to financial services organizations that likely want to continue to leverage applications they have already built. 

This is also an environment where second and third line of defense is extremely important and probably more important than it has ever been. There needs to be this mix of capability, technology, controls, features, and functions. In the end, whether a company adopts multi-cloud or hybrid cloud, it should be looking closely at the security layer in each of those environments to ensure they have the right level of visibility and control.

Additionally, data is key. We live in a data economy. Everyone is collecting data all the time and data is the lifeblood of how we make decisions. How we protect that data is critical because it holds enormous value for our businesses but also for hackers and malicious parties.

As a company is transforming to the cloud, it's important for us to ratchet security protections around data, because it’s one of the most valuable business assets that a business holds today.

How can companies best manage the cost of cloud transformation?

Shamla: Of course, there's always a pressure to move to the cloud in the most cost-effective way and we want to be responsible. But businesses need to shift their mindset to considering transformation as an investment. Modern businesses require new architecture. We want to integrate our services with others in the marketplace. We want to use APIs. And we want to adopt SAS services. Then we need to bring all these together in a way that allows us to give our customers the best services, and the best products. The only way for us to do that is to have modern architecture that everyone can connect to

Technology is an investment that will future-proof your business and considering it as that will help to better understand the cost associated with it.

How should organizations be thinking about the cloud with regard to various areas of their business? For example, operations, risk management, cyber? Is there anything in particular with each of those areas that you think stands out?

Shamla: I think every CEO will tell you that they are on a journey to the cloud in some capacity. Whether that's them embracing email from Microsoft or whether they are embracing large scale service transformation. I think every function in the company can benefit from embracing cloud services. The question really is where do you start with adoption? Cloud services can help various of the business become more effective and efficient. And while cloud services have made operations better, they also increase the burden on risk management, and on security.

From a risk management perspective, the dynamic has changed quite substantially with respect to on-premises technology and the risk related to what you build and what you configure and what you consume when you put it in your own data center. You no longer own or have built all of your systems. In the cloud you have networks that you didn't build, devices that you don't own and data that's everywhere. This creates an environment that needs to be analyzed in a very different way.

The risk team will have to be prepared to consider how technologies were built, how they are structured, where they live, who has access to them, and what they do to properly manage the risks in that environment. So, risk management, in particular, is changing and organizations moving to the cloud will have to think about risk differently.

From an IT perspective, this enormously beneficial black box that we're using is also creating challenges on the security side. In merging to the cloud, it’s critical to be very mindful of how we secure these environments and how we can continue to have controls in that environment even if we don't own it.

Because we don’t control the technology, we really have to rethink how we can abstract the security from those particular services into an environment that is in a different layer that we do control. This way, we can continue to provide customers and executives the assurance that their technology is still under the watchful eyes of the security team.

As companies drive towards cloud adoption, there's obviously a lot of new dynamics at play. How should banks and other financial services firms be thinking about upscaling their work, [and] upskilling their workforce?

Shamla: We have to recognize that we're not going to be able to build a workforce that has all the skills we're going to need for the future. Attracting and retaining talent is already a challenge. So, one of the things we can do to retain talent is we can develop the talent. We can create more specialty. We can help them to develop more skills. We also need to recognize that in some cases buying the services is a better option.

When everyone brings their knowledge, their experience, their skills, and their specialties together, we can obtain immensely powerful business outcomes. So, we want to encourage our people and develop them. But, but more importantly, we want to encourage them to build out better capability and to make it available in a way that leverages others and makes the ecosystem stronger. This combination of developing talent and adding capability will create an integration that generates measurable results.

Follow Shamla on LinkedIn


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    Reference Point is a strategy, management, and technology consulting firm focused on delivering impactful solutions for the financial services industry. We combine proven experience and practical experience in a unique consulting model to give clients superior quality and superior value. Our engagements are led by former industry executives, supported by top-tier consultants. We partner with our clients to assess challenges and opportunities, create practical strategies, and implement new solutions to drive measurable value for them and their organizations.

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