Over 20 years ago Eric Raymond wrote a philosophical essay on a technical subject – software engineering. His story centred on two distinct styles of development:
The Cathedral, where software is carefully and quietly crafted by individuals within an isolated, mostly secret development team.
The Bazaar, where chaotic, babbling open source development, miraculously coherent amongst both the signal and the noise of the crowds.
Inadvertently, his essay and follow up book, aptly named The Cathedral and The Bazaar kicked off an era of massive global technological advancement and progressive innovation. Open Source development (along with its bedfellows – lean methodology and agile development) lies at the heart of almost every personal and business application at use on mobiles, PCs, and a wide variety of devices used today.
Using these arguments, it is hard to see how any organisation could prefer to develop innovative products and services in a so-called ‘Cathedral’ rather than the more fun, and often cheaper ‘Bazaar’. However, traditional financial services and banks have been slow to leave the cosy confines of their cathedrals and venture out into the scary world of the marketplace – which can be populated by both professionals and charlatans alike.
This was the theme of our recent FTT Virtual Focus Roundtable asking the fundamental question:
When will banks stop worrying and learn to love Open Source?
An excellent panel came together to lead the roundtable discussion. They included:
- Piotr J. Puczynski, IT Architect, Danske Bank
- Kim Prado, Managing Director, Global Head of Client, Banking and Digital Technology, RBC
- Nigel Abbott, Regional Director, North EMEA, GitHub
- Brent Beer, Senior Solution Engineer, GitHub
The hour-long roundtable discussion brought up a range of issues that looks at some of the reasons why banks feel insecure about using Open Source for software development. It also touched on cultural and political strategies, technical tools and frameworks, which can serve to ease many traditional fears rooted in financial services.
Human resources and providing clear guidance and frameworks for development teams was a major discussion topic. Organisations need to ensure that their staff feel safe. Teams need to know that the code they are accessing is safe for the bank, but also that they won’t be fired for contributing code that bank deems proprietary.
Keeping a close eye on regulatory concerns and working to balance those with innovative development practices was also mentioned as a way to help teams feel secure and confident.
The need for a strong and connected Open Source evangelist was also brought up as part of the roundtable. This ambassador would need to be able to communicate clearly the benefits (and costs savings) for Open Source development to senior management. For example, smaller banks – working with fewer resources and smaller IT budgets – could accelerate their product development by accessing and using code libraries from larger institutions who are further along in their development lifecycles. Those Open Source champions also need to be able to navigate the organisation beyond department silos in order to find the best support and guidance for these projects.
Industry-led consortiums, such as FINOS – the FinTech Open Source Foundation, had a shout out during the roundtable as an organisation that offered confidence to banks when examining and engaging in Open Source development. While many banks still feel protective of their own proprietary development, seeing their peers engaged in a global consortium gives the development method legitimacy – which in turns makes banks feel more secure.
Despite being late to the party that is Open Source development, most software developers and financial institutions are engaged in accessing, sharing and contributing code. Open Source is a fact of life for most software development no matter what the product, application or industry.
Banks may not be afraid of Open Source development anymore, but they are still working on methods to feel more secure. Banks are no longer hiding in the cloistered confines of the cathedral. The church doors have been opened and much of the congregation is wandering down the steps towards the delights of the Bazaar.
Ever the ambassador, Kim Prado, Managing Director, Global Head of Client, Banking and Digital Technology, RBC, writes on LinkedIn following the roundtable: Today I had a great discussion about the many challenges banks face when using Open Source at the FTT Virtual Focus powered by GitHub. The default answer may be no, but it is a great way to maximise resources and collaborate with others. #FINOS