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Bank of England CIO: ‘Beware of the cloud, beware of vendors’

Old Lady grumbles about new thingy

The Bank of England is loosening up on IT delivery and recruitment, but not its resistance to public cloud.

John Finch, CIO of the UK's central bank since September 2013, Wednesday ruled out the use of any public cloud by the bank for the foreseeable future.

Cloud has however crept into the Bank’s IT margins, where it’s been working with firms on the new plastic bank notes that debuted in March from Clydesdale Bank.

“One area where it’s changed, is we have to share details on design of the new bank note with people who make the machines that process them — we have built a hybrid private cloud for them to connect to, so at the margins of what we do,” he conceded.

However, speaking at the Cloud World Forum in London, Finch ruled out any role for cloud in the Bank’s core IT systems and infrastructure, reiterating an announcement first made in 2014.

One of the purported benefits of public cloud is you no longer need to buy and maintain your own servers – they become the responsibility of somebody else.

But, Finch estimates if the reasons for going cloud is to save money, you shouldn’t go to the cloud. “Beware of the cloud and beware of the vendors,” Finch warned. “All those messages I gave a year ago, I passionately believe.”

“Make sure you understand where your data resides, make sure you understand the details of your contract, make sure you understand the security, and make sure you stay in control,” he said.

Finch has realised the cost and flexibility benefits of public cloud instead by consolidating servers and virtualisation, he told The Register.

Finch stressed the importance of getting the details right before floating and said a physical objective is vital, not a technology one.

Finch was appointed two months after Canadian Mark Carney — regarded as a moderniser, who is changing the structure and culture of the 300-plus-year old organisation — officially took over as Governor.

Under Finch and Carney, the Bank is trying to both unify and become more flexible in its IT systems.

For all the skepticism on cloud, policies intended to modernize the bank’s practices and the technology underpinning it haven’t changed.

The Bank is trying to consolidate its different data architectures into just one – and responsibility for this has fallen to chief data officer Hany Choueiri, brought in last year from HSBC and reporting to Finch. Choueiri has served as global banking and markets chief data officer for Europe and head of data quality.

Also, Finch has created a data lab and a digital lab, whose remits are to “innovate”, essentially develop, test and prove ideas that work for the business. The digital lab is already working on a new mobile strategy to replace Blackberry.

Projects are given a two-three month window to prove themselves according to a set of pre-defined goals and strategic objectives for the bank.

The bank's IT hiring policy is also striving for greater diversity – by age, sex and ethnicity – incorporating new graduated recruitment and school-leaver apprenticeship programs. In the past, he joked, to get a Bank of England job you’d need to have a first from Oxford or Cambridge, or to have been very bright at Imperial College London, and male.

“Particularly in technology we want to recruit people who we wouldn’t normally recruit – specky, geeky kids hacking in their bedroom,” he said. The philosophy is fresh thinking and ideas will flow from diversity and cause disruptive change for the Bank.

Finch admitted the work of creating a single data model is causing strains, with Choueiri's work “creating massive amounts of stress for my classic IT group,” Finch said. ®

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