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Capital One's cloud strategy advances to tap emerging tech

Capital One's cloud strategy continues to evolve as the financial powerhouse taps into emerging tech to improve customer experience. Read the step-by-step details of its journey.

To ready itself for microservices, machine learning and rapid software development, Capital One embarked on a cloud-first strategy that thus far supports more than 8,000 applications and services in the cloud.

The massive migration, however, was never just about being technology-ready, said Capital One's vice president of cloud strategy, Bernard Golden. Capital One's cloud strategy was designed from the get-go to align with long-term business goals, in particular, the ability to provide innovative products and services.

"Cloud allows us to apply new technologies to do things better, faster and cheaper, which then serves the customers," Golden said.

Golden joined the company in January 2018 and was tasked with advancing Capital One's strategy, which was launched in 2015. It was then that Capital One announced it would run new applications in the cloud and rearchitect existing ones to move there, as well.

Bernard Golden, vice president of cloud strategy at Capital One, describes the financial services firm's ever-evolving journey to the public cloud. Bernard Golden

Bank officials said the move to the public cloud, specifically Amazon Web Services (AWS), would allow the company to focus its resources on customer-facing innovations instead of infrastructure. This approach made Capital One an early adopter of the public cloud among both large companies and financial services firms, many of whom hesitated to make the leap due to security concerns.

Transformational change

Four years after Capital One's foray into the cloud, Golden said the power of the platform cannot be overstated.

Capital One is a very strategy-driven company. Its history is to assess where things are going and move aggressively toward those things.
Bernard GoldenVice president of cloud strategy, Capital One

"My view about cloud computing is it's a profound transformation that enables and forces disruption in industries. It's a new platform that changes the rules about how infrastructure is obtained, provisioned and used," Golden said.

"The friction of obtaining and using computing resources is virtually gone," he said, noting that the infrastructure needed for application development and deployment is now available in minutes vs. months.

For Capital One -- which now positions itself as a "technology company that offers financial services" -- mastering cloud's promise of frictionless computing gives it the ability to continue to transform services and increase the speed at which it can deliver them.

"Every company has to figure out how to take advantage of this capability," Golden said. "Every industry and every company has to say, 'This is such a profound change, so how do I look at how I do business, at my products and at my services and rethink them?"

Capital One's strategy journey, step by step

Capital One started its cloud journey by tackling the issues around risk. It built a governance framework that created the same security and compliance standards for the cloud that existed in its on-premises environments. Company leaders then developed a five-year roadmap that aligned its cloud strategy with its business goals, thereby helping to get buy-in for its cloud-first approach.

Capital One also scaled up its technology team, adopting Agile and DevOps for application development as part of that effort.

Golden said the company saw those as critical investments, as it recognized cloud would fuel its future.

"Capital One is a very strategy-driven company," he said. "Its history is to assess where things are going and move aggressively toward those things."

Indeed, Capital One's cloud strategy has taken another turn, as emerging technologies are enabling more innovation in the company's products and services. To that end, Golden has been instrumental in bringing in advanced practices and technologies, such as service mesh kinds of architecture, containers, SRE [site reliability engineering] practices and machine learning.

"All of these things are required for or enabled by cloud computing," Golden said.

For example, he said Capital One's cloud strategy now includes the ability to use machine learning to deploy applications and operate them more efficiently. The company is also looking at how it can use machine learning to do a better job of credit assessment, credit granting and fraud detection. And it's examining how machine learning can help customers get responses to inquiries faster.

Cloud journeys come in 4 phases -- Where's your company?

Despite being around for more than a decade, cloud computing is not universal, with studies showing many organizations are still on the journey and not at the destination.

Take the findings of CompTIA Inc.'s "2018 Trends in Cloud Computing" survey. CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association, found that 91% of the 502 companies surveyed use some form of cloud computing, but it also found that:

  • 26% of businesses have 30% or less of their IT systems based in the cloud;
  • 45% have only 31-60% of their IT systems in the cloud; and
  • only 29% have 61-100% of their systems in the cloud.

Moreover, while the report noted that the cloud is an enabler of emerging technologies, it also found that many companies are working on the basic block and tackling of moving to the cloud.

"Integration is still the main challenge," the report stated, "but the next two (workflow modification and policy change) highlight organizational issues that follow initial technical efforts."

Seth Robinson is CompTIA's senior director of technology analysis.Seth Robinson

Seth Robinson, CompTIA's senior director of technology analysis, said the results are not surprising. Each organization faces its own challenges when moving to the cloud, with large companies -- despite having more resources -- often facing the most significant hurdles on the journey.

"It's not about forklifting into the cloud and we'll all just be there," Robinson said. "There's a lot of orchestration between all the applications. And the more complex you get, the more orchestration is required."

CompTIA research shows that the cloud journey typically comes in four phases: the experimentation stage; the migration stage -- putting noncritical applications in the cloud, thereby gaining experience; putting mission-critical systems in the cloud; and operating a full-fledged computing model, such as a hosted infrastructure, private cloud or public cloud.

Robinson predicted that the move to the cloud is really, despite the hype, still in the early days. As he concluded: "We don't think that a full cloud environment is likely for most companies for quite a long time -- if ever."

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