How to build a better SunGard
As SunGard’s first ever chief technology officer, Steven Silberstein knows a thing or two about financial technology. In a past life, he was global head of prime brokerage at Lehman Brothers. He later became chief information officer at Chi-X Global, before joining SunGard in a newly-created position two years ago.
Silberstein moved to the vendor side at a turning point in the company’s history: having risen to prominence as an acquisitive business, purchasing a large number of businesses such as Infinity Financial Technology, Oshap Technologies, Comdisco’s disaster recovery business, Systems and Computer Technology Corporation, GL Trade, Strohl Systems and others.
About three years ago senior management decided it was time to take stock and consolidate the businesses. Silberstein says his role has been to find a way to bring together the expertise of the different business units in new ways.
“We wanted to use the collective intellectual property we have. The challenge is that I have about 4,000 developers and 75 product families present in 35 countries,” he says. “I can’t have everyone doing their own thing. I don’t want thousands of developers each finding a different path for every task. But at the same time, I can’t operate the entire company as though it were a small team.”
In response, Silberstein has championed two strategies. The first is to make every SunGard product and service available in the cloud as a hosted solution. The second is to develop all new products within SunGard’s businesses using HTML 5, the core mark-up language used for structuring and presenting content online. Between these two separate initiatives, SunGard aims to make both its customer-facing business and its internal development more efficient.
“The global financial markets are changing quickly,” he said. “Balance sheet is at a premium, so working fast and light is becoming more of an imperative. By building a common code base, I get knowledge that’s shareable, the clients see big changes in the timing and magnitude of new releases, and the customer experience gets better. This is not just about moving fields around – it’s about better ways to interact.”
Silberstein wants to reduce the time it takes to develop a new product or service. That is useful for SunGard’s own activities, but ASP or hosted delivery can also reduce the deployment time for customers after the service has been developed, so it is a win-win situation.
“A key part of our vision is to make all of our services available hosted and managed in the cloud,” says Silberstein. “We have our own private cloud provider for our applications. That runs all the time, rather than just on demand, because these are mission critical systems for our clients, and we provide application support. This is a work in progress, and we are still transitioning some services to the cloud. But the plan is to have everything cloud-deployable, and that is one of the key pillars of our architecture alongside the adoption of HTML 5. We probably haven’t published widely enough the fact that one third of our business is cloud based.”
Many of the changes being made at the company have been driven by the consumerisation of technology. Silberstein believes it is better to make the technology more visual, easier to use, and to that end has set the goal of having no training manuals for the company. “When was the last time you had to read a manual to understand a piece of home software?” he asks. Although he acknowledges that the company may never be completely manual-free, the intention is to move towards the ideal.
Partly to that end, SunGard is currently running a ‘codeathon’ – a competition in which staff are challenged to create a new product in 48 hours. SunGard reports that it has had 500 entrants to the codeathon this year, and the company plans to take the most promising ideas forward with investment. As an example of the changed emphasis on speed and agility, the winning team from last year’s event created a product in less than a year, which will be revealed at Sibos.
“To build something that quickly, you have to work differently,” he says. “You need to use tools that are fast to install and learn, and you’re going to have to work in a small team. We believe innovation is productivity.”