Infrastructure

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Colin Beasty, Advanced Systems Concepts
Colin Beasty, Advanced Systems Concepts
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A New Approach to Real-Time IT Automation

Financial services firms need to move away from point scheduling and to an architectural approach for IT development.

In the world of financial asset and investment management, timely data equals money. In 1815, Nathan Rothschild famously proved this when he used carrier pigeons to report the news of the Battle of Waterloo to create one of the most famous banking investments in history. Nearly 200 years later, the same still holds true for investment firms -- only applications and systems are now delivering the data, and it's the job of IT to ensure the processes delivering that information are executed in a timely manner.

Colin Beasty, Advanced Systems Concepts
Colin Beasty, Advanced Systems Concepts

As a result, in today's 24/7, real-time financial market, IT automation is becoming a catalyst by which investment and trading firms continually update the infrastructure and systems on which their analysts. The ability to process and analyze data in real-time and/or overnight, both from internal systems and from third-party sources such as Bloomberg or overseas markets, is a crucial competitive differentiator. The problem, however, is in the growing complexity and distributed nature of today's IT organizations, combined with increasing volumes of data. In order to more efficiently automate the underlying IT processes that support the 21st century investment and trading firm, IT organizations must take an "architectural approach" to IT automation.

When a task needs to be automated in a financial service IT organization, the traditional answer is to bolt on the answer to the existing system. For example, if someone needs to automate a managed file transfer, a backup or an ETL, a script is written or a job is scheduled for that task, usually on a platform-specific tool such as Windows Task Scheduler, Cron for Unix, or SQL Server Agent.

This "elemental approach" involving some combination of coding, a "point" scheduling tool, or simply one more addition to the processing schedule, is understandable. But it's outdated. While point solutions for point problems are expedient in the short term, over time they create significant cost and complexity. Within a few years the IT organization's landscape is a mix of patched-together automation solutions that are unwieldy, outmoded and insufficient for the current environment. The organization's reputation suffers as a result.

Most importantly, it makes it nearly impossible for an IT organization to effectively pass data and manage dependencies between systems and process types -- and it creates a fragile automation network that is prone to failure. When there is a problem, a quick response/resolution to ensure data upkeep for the trading desk becomes an issue because the IT organization lacks a central point of control and monitoring.

The more modern alternative to the elemental approach is the "architectural approach." This notion, which crosses the boundaries of physical assets, technologies, geographies and work methods, puts processes and systems first. Nimbly responding to business requirements, policies, SLAs and standards, the architectural approach goes beyond point solutions by placing individual tasks in the context of the broader computing landscape. This holistic approach saves time, reduces cost and simplifies management versus the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of point solutions that have been bolted on over time.

As a single solution, workload automation can dynamically manage any number of point automation solutions while addressing service level objectives. IT is able to more dynamically manage the complex workloads and batch processes that pass data from both external and internal data sources, process that information and update trading systems.

Moreover, IT becomes more proficient at responding to, and reporting on, the value of services it provides. Visibility and control improves across the organization -- and better overall governance is the result. For example, a central point of automation provides a central point of auditing in an industry where regulation has become commonplace. Rather than failing to comply with an industry directive because an employee makes a change to a production script residing on a disparate server, workload automation provides the catalyst auditing and compliance.

Adopting an "architectural" mindset allows the strengths of IT automation to really shine. Instead of simply automating tasks, which tacitly set resource boundaries, workload automation solutions means rules and strategic priorities, rather than schedules and structure, govern how resources are assigned, tasked and then de-assigned.

With all that is impacting an IT organization in today's financial markets -- real-time/near real-time, self-service computing, mobile device proliferation and more -- process automation requires a dramatic shift in mindset. It's time to stop allowing personnel to think in silos, or tasks and workflows to be ruled by point scheduling and automation solutions. It's time for the elemental approach to be replaced by the broader, architectural approach. For financial services firms, workload automation can make it happen.

About The Author:
COLIN BEASTY is product marketing manager with Advanced Systems Concepts, Inc. and is responsible to ActiveBatch Enterprise Workload Automation and Job Scheduling messaging and positioning. Colin has 10 years experience in the enterprise software market. Colin can be reached at CBeasty@advsyscon.com.

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