George Marootian is the Executive Vice President and Head of Technology for US Distribution at Natixis Investment Managers. This is the final article of a three-part series that discusses the firm’s move to the cloud, continued operations in AWS and the innovation and agility the organization has benefited from since the migration.
“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
We started our move to the cloud in late 2014. Today, four years later, our company has a swift, affirmative answer to this age-old question. Yes, we are in a much better position than when we had all of our computing capabilities on premise.
We have transformed our organization technologically, effectively eliminating our data center footprint (aside from a minor footprint in a co-location facility for legacy systems and networking stack) and moving the bulk of our workloads into the cloud. We have transformed our culture to fit our new cloud-focused business model and now take a “cloud-first” approach, whether we implement IaaS, PaaS or SaaS. We have also learned a lot about ourselves along the way – from our ability to work in new and emerging ways to how we allocate “basic” tasks to machines and focus employee power on complex tasks.
One of the most important lessons we learned was how nimbly we could operate in the cloud. We looked closely at the habits we had developed during the years spent operating in a legacy environment and identified ways we could improve efficiencies, create opportunities for innovation, and help the company manage risk. Once we moved through the process of building out an Infrastructure Automation team and mapping out new processes, we realized how many improvements we could make.
We also learned that infrastructure is not – and never will be – a constraint that we will face as we create new ways to work. Having a flexible dynamic infrastructure model from AWS allows us to build and deploy solutions rapidly because we are not infrastructure-bound and do not have to acquire hardware to execute projects. The model give us the freedom to build and deploy across many new areas.
Infrastructure is part of our on-going build processes, and the infrastructure automation team overseeing our cloud, basically, deploys infrastructure the same way software engineering teams manage “code.“ We have version control on the infrastructure software we are building as well as on the scripts we are building on our dynamic infrastructure within the cloud.
Rethinking our Communication Strategy
Now that the initial cloud migration is complete, we are happy with the results. However, as with any project, we look back and consider approaches that could have eased the transition even further. One task we could have handled differently was the way we communicated how changes were going to take place. We introduced changes to the staff by rolling out groups of services – going from position X in the legacy infrastructure to position Y in the cloud. Communicating more details about the actual costs and benefits of individualized cloud services might have accelerated the buy-in process.
That said, we have seen associates become more engaged with our projects as we have moved through the process. The improvement in the cadence of activity has catalyzed a number of teams. The view that we can accomplish more in a shorter timeframe has helped employees become acclimated to the overall process.
Most of the engagement has been driven by our entry into the AWS environment, but the acceptance goes beyond that. We have pushed out several lower-level applications to other services – such as our expense management tools, travel management tools and Microsoft Office back-end technologies. The goal over time is to help employees operate in a bespoke manner instead of relying on IT to be the centralized network of all operations. It is exciting to see that shift taking place.
Comfortable in the Cloud
Early on, some associates were tangibly apprehensive of the cloud. Fortunately, that level of fear has subsided. IT deserves some of the credit, based on our ongoing internal marketing efforts, but the rise in people’s comfort levels may be more attributable to the increased exposure cloud has received in everyday media. It is one thing for IT to communicate cloud functionalities; it is quite another when Apple releases a commercial that shows individuals how to store and manage their photos in the cloud. Cloud is an amorphous term that becomes a comforting notion. We benefited from the macro trend of cloud becoming infused in the day-to-day life of the modern consumer.
One question I am often asked is whether we are able to accomplish tasks in the cloud that we were unable to accomplish in an on-premises environment. My answer is usually nuanced. We could have completed most of the tasks we have completed in the cloud with other architectures, but with less efficiency and at dramatically higher costs. Although technically feasible, some tasks would have been cost prohibitive, requiring a deep investment in increased internal staffing and manual oversight of production processes.
Two example projects come to mind:
- Without the cloud, we might not have been able to provide the machine power and communication pathways needed to create the security master database launched on AWS.
- Our enterprise data warehouse that we built up using Amazon Redshift might not have been cost-effective if built from scratch (e.g., Netezza, Oracle RAQ) to house in the data center / co-location facility.
Deploying infrastructure like software has also been a great benefit to the business, streamlining a number of operational areas. We have images of how the infrastructure needs to be deployed for any custom software being built. We are allowing our cloud infrastructure to be more fluid and malleable to align itself to the needs of the business. That type of wholesale change might be painful for many firms, but when everything is built like code, you can create a modified underlying platform next to your operating platform and quickly redeploy all your instances with no interruption whatsoever. We have cloud infrastructure capable of morphing itself with the way business moves and changes.
Looking to the Future
Migrating to the cloud created many efficiencies and improvements to our organization, but does that mean we are content in the cloud?
Anyone who has undergone a major migration knows better than to declare a single victory. We have navigated several challenging aspects, but this is not like a political campaign that ends on Election Day. I am a strong supporter of continuous improvement and believe it to be the foundation for any modern technology “shop.” We will continue to look for new ways to leverage cloud services and identify opportunities to improve the way we operate. Bottom line: Four years from now, we want the firm to be even more technologically sound than it is today.
This material is provided for informational purposes only. Natixis Distribution, L.P. is a limited purpose broker-dealer and the distributor of various registered investment companies for which advisory services are provided by affiliates of Natixis Investment Managers. Natixis Distribution, L.P. is located at 888 Boylston Street, Suite 800, Boston, MA 02199. • 800-862-4863 • im.natixis.com