Beyond Banking: How Continuous Integration & Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Accelerates Customer Value Creation in the Financial Services Industry
“Software is eating the world”probably Marc Andreessen, 2011
Software is eating the world. This topic seems to be more relevant today than ever before – just looking at our own daily lives, it is clear that more and more things are being done “digitally” or software-based. Letters have become emails, and even banking is now more often done via smartphone than at the branch. The production of high-quality software solutions is increasingly becoming a decisive competitive factor for companies that operate in the environment of digital technologies. Particularly in a highly regulated market, such as the financial market, very special challenges apply to the companies involved in software development.
One procedure that is frequently described here is “Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment” or CI/CD. This is a procedure within the framework of agile software development and the DevOps movement that makes it possible to accelerate the development of high-quality, customer-centric software. This acceleration is achieved by continuously making improvements to the software code, automatically merging and testing the changes made by different users (“continuous integration”), and automatically releasing the new code components for use by the customer once all quality requirements have been met (“continuous deployment”).
One financial services provider that has been successfully using this approach for three years now is Commerzbank. It even has its own CI/CD pipeline (CHAMP), i.e. an automated, tool-based and integrated approach to software development that it uses to build its own banking software. And as part of a project, we had the opportunity to explore the topic of CI/CD with them in general and their experiences and learnings in particular. The result is the “CI/CD White Paper”, which was presented at the CI/CD Tech Dialog on June 8 and is available via the following link: https://developer.commerzbank.com/open-banking. I cordially invite you all to read it.
The aim of the white paper is to provide insight into how Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment works, to present a possible implementation of the procedure with the CI/CD pipeline, and to compile best practices from three years of experience. You can find more information about the topic “CI/CD” as well as further explanations about the application at Commerzbank in the white paper.
In this blog post, I’d like to give a brief overview of the five key takeaways we drew from the white paper:
- CI/CD accelerates customer value creation in the financial services industry
As already described at the beginning, software is becoming an increasingly decisive competitive factor. In the context of the financial industry, there is the added challenge of operating in a highly regulated market – a fact that significantly increases the demands placed on software solutions. With the establishment of a CI/CD pipeline as the backbone of the CI/CD approach, as at Commerzbank, it becomes possible to provide high-quality software solutions within a short period of time. Helping to achieve this is, above all, a high degree of automation and, among other things, the continuous integration of tests throughout the development. Ultimately, it is above all customers who benefit from the fact that high quality can be guaranteed in this way.
- The implementation of a CI/CD pipeline needs to follow a set of technical principles
Building your own CI/CD pipeline is a key element in enforcing your own CI/CD approach: Since every company has its own development process and uses different software and development environments, there is no “standard approach” here; instead, integration of company specifics is required. Further, it must be ensured that the approach is scalable, complies with high data protection standards and minimizes the risk of failures. Likewise, care should be taken to ensure that any software required for the development process can be integrated into the pipeline, i.e., that it is designed to be technology agnostic. It is important to consider that building such a pipeline is an iterative process. Continuously taking and integrating user feedback during the build is a core element for success.
- CI/CD is not just about tools and processes, it is also about teams that have end-to-end responsibility
Ultimately, software development is above all a “people business”. It is about empowering people to develop high-quality software. Developers must be enabled to work without being heavily dependent on other teams and to be able to develop software from planning to deployment with the greatest possible degree of personal responsibility (end-to-end responsibility). To achieve this, developers must be enabled both technologically and culturally, for example by creating a psychologically safe environment in which team members dare to admit mistakes and learn from them. 
- An empowering CI/CD approach leveraging the strength of cross-functional teams is key
Developing high-quality software at increased speed requires the collaboration of experts from different teams. In addition to DevOps – i.e., Development and Operations – we believe that other experts should also play a significant role. We believe that “BizDevSecOps” teams – i.e. Business, Development, Security and Operations – form the future here.
- Everything as Code (EaC) as the new norm, meaning automation via software will be everywhere
EaC, i.e. the treatment of any information as software code, takes a central role in enabling collaboration between different teams. One approach to be mentioned in this context is the so-called “shift-left approach”. “Shift left” here means that software tests and quality checks are integrated as early as possible in the software development process – moving further to the left in the process – in order to detect and circumvent possible inconsistencies or errors as early as possible. Furthermore, EaC creates the conditions for considering topics such as “cmpliance as code” in the future, so that new code can be automatically checked for compliance with applicable legal regulations in the future. EaC creates the conditions for the CI/CD pipeline to be considered a “single point of truth”, as all relevant information is recorded there in the form of code.
Yes, “software is eating the world” seems more relevant than ever. High quality software seems to be more important than ever. From my point of view, none of this is all that bad. What needs to be considered is that the necessary prerequisites are created so that a company does not get lost in this development. A CI/CD pipeline creates the appropriate basis here – I have already presented our key takeaways above. Finally, I would like to highlight my personal learning from the project: Yes, CI/CD is fundamentally a technology topic – yet: software development is a “people business”. It is about empowering people to develop high quality software. The use of agile methods has proven itself here. However, “doing agile” doesn’t help at all – I can also recreate a “waterfall” with “Jira tickets”. I have thus gained agility on paper – “Yes, we use “agile tools”” – but I have not created real added value. What is important in the context of agile software development is “being agile”: living the agile values and implementing them projects. It is necessary to 1. bring people along on the journey and get them excited about agile ways of working, 2. enable them to use their potential and the potential of new technologies, and 3. give them room for error and the opportunity to try things out. To achieve this, there is certainly no “one” approach – it is more of an iterative process that needs to be designed together with all stakeholders.
In addition to the key takeaways, you will also find hypotheses on the future of CI/CD in the CI/CD white paper. Among other things, we have also included the influence of technological developments such as machine learning. Feel free to take a look and give us some feedback – I’m looking forward to the exchange.
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