Sungard Availability Service: Mastering your complex IT in a digital world

In an environment where modern business demands place huge pressure on banks to ensure they are 'always on', Sungard Availability Services provides production and recovery solutions to keep business-critical systems and data available, secure and fully compliant. Future Banking speaks to Keith Tilley, the company's executive vice-president for global sales and customer services management, about transitioning to a fully digital enterprise with minimal business disruption and why cybersecurity is such a priority.

"Are you confident you could maintain 'business as usual' in the event of any disaster or disruption?" That's the question that Sungard Availability Services (AS) asks of visitors to its website, and it's a pertinent one. Banks are under increasing pressure to improve their digital offering and must increasingly enable customers to conduct a vaster array of services online, while capturing data, enhancing the customer experience, reducing costs and fighting fraud. In the climate of totally digital banking, downtime for business-critical IT isn't just inconvenient, it's also bad for business.

The new online environment, argues Keith Tilley, executive vice-president for global sales and customer services management at Sungard AS, is fundamentally changing how banks do business with potential customers, and the accessibility of digital services are frequently a make-or-break issue for a client.

"For a customer, back in the day, the bank they used would be the one they always used," he argues. "Nowadays, it's much more a case of 'oh, I need a loan', I'll probably go to my bank first, but equally I could just go online and go somewhere else.

"So customers have the freedom to be choosier, and you can't count on unconditional loyalty like you used to. As a potential client, the loyalty I have is based on the experience I had last time, and whether that service is still available."

Information back and forth

Sungard AS set out with the premise that 24/7 information availability is essential for business and has, for over 30 years, been a port of call for companies looking to guarantee the resilience of their critical IT infrastructure. It does this through a combination of outsourced cloud computing, data centres, networks and security, business continuity and recovery, and IT consulting services.

"Our mission is to partner with our customers to help them power their critical IT," says Tilley. "We provide services covering the recovery, resilience, back-up and production for IT, so that the customers are freed up to focus on their main activities.

"We've developed our business around supporting customers and managing their IT environment, so that they can adapt and deliver for that increasingly agile business, and maintain their resilience in production and recovery."

Operating over 80 facilities worldwide with over five million square feet of operations space, Sungard AS has helped recover more than 1,300 companies in the past 20 years, and claims to have a 100% success rate. Tilley works with a range of businesses, from insurance companies to asset management firms, but he says that banks have always been at the forefront of their business for a number of reasons.

"Financial services have always been one of our largest sectors, and at the beginning they were actually the predominance of our business," he says. "Because they were the first to understand the need to make sure they were always available."

Product of the environment

Of course, the IT environment has changed dramatically in the past ten years, with an increasing number of issues that banks must guard themselves against if they are to guarantee 24/7 accessibility for their services. There are new cybersecurity challenges: denial of service attacks, for one, which can take down crucial infrastructure at the drop of a hat, and business initiatives based on technologies such as mobile, social, web and big data can heighten risks if not properly managed, Tilley argues.

"There are a number of other things now that can affect the availability of data," he says. "And if you're affecting that then you're affecting the ability to do business. So it's a constant challenge to make sure that it's available and resilient."

Protecting clients from these threats is challenging. Sungard AS uses log and threat-management services that are designed to provide intrusion detection, while using managed firewall services that provide perimeter protection for traffic entering and leaving via the network.

"Our security operations centre is staffed 24/7 by attack detection and mitigation experts with far-reaching skills that would be too costly and difficult to maintain within a typical enterprise," says Tilley. "And customers get the benefit of upgrades, maintenance and patches to counter the latest security threats and vulnerabilities."

Burning issue

Another critical challenge for banks, and something of a recent hot topic for the industry, is the development of cloud computing, and the complex implications the technology brings. It's ushered in the age of hybrid computing, and organisations typically use a mix of IT infrastructures arising from legacy investments and the introduction of newer platforms for workloads that will evolve.

"At the end of the day, the cloud is just an infrastructure, but what it's done is made people aware of a few things," he says. "For one thing, it means people are looking for a degree of flexibility.

"One thing that cloud computing can do is offer you the possibility that you don't have to do everything yourself. You can go through the providers and very quickly have IT systems that run. But for a bank, it has to be a case of 'well that's great, but we also need to know it's secure'."

Customer demands

Sungard AS looks at the bigger picture of business drivers and demands, building solutions based on the interoperation of public, private and managed environments from a range of services. As cloud adoption gathers momentum, Tilley argues, the company's services catalogue and repeatable processes increasingly enable customers' IT departments to position themselves as cloud service brokers.

"This makes them approachable to business units for advice, facilitation and support," he says. "We help organisations look beyond the migration of existing enterprise workloads to a strategy of developing cloud-optimised applications that fully exploit the potential of the technology."

Well-functioning data centres are key to maintaining resilience, too. No business can afford to spend endless resources on maintaining them, and Sungard AS hardware offers the ability to divest routine administrative tasks without losing control of function, as well as consolidating IT equipment footprint and taming data sprawl to improve operational efficiency.

"Ultimately, they are where the infrastructure is, so for any cloud system where a data centre resides, you need to make sure that it has got the resilience and security that the customer requires," he says. "The physical security is the logical security, in other words."

All these changing priorities have had a major effect on technology decision-making. For one, CIOs and CTOs are increasingly crucial in deciding how IT infrastructure can be structured and, crucially, when it comes to issues of regulatory compliance and how it relates to data protection.

"Not everything needs to go into the cloud," argues Tilley. "And there are decisions to be made about the right things to go into the cloud; some go into the public and some go into the private cloud, and some applications still have no need to do that.

"When it comes to compliance, you have no choice but to follow the regulations. But in other cases it's more about guidelines. And, again, that's where companies such as ourselves, working together with our customers, can actually assist in their implementation."

Keep close

A key selling point for Sungard AS is the importance it places on close relations with customers, and the work it puts into tailoring specified solutions for complex needs. While Tilley admits that its services have a certain generality about them, which allows them to be widely applicable, they have to be adapted to individual needs to meet the requirements that the customers have.

This mindset also informs the range of IT consulting services that the company provides, giving customers the benefit of Sungard's expertise, says Tilley, developed over three decades in the business. New technology enables customers to consolidate resources, save money and increase capacity, he argues, but customers often come to Sungard AS requiring clear direction and a supported, methodical transition to new infrastructure with minimal business disruption.

"Our consulting services give the benefit of world-class IT management consulting expertise," he argues. "It also gives the ability to translate market dynamics and business drivers into workable strategies and tactical change programmes.

"It's far better to use somebody whose proven experience is in this arena, so that you can save your time and money and effort to focus on the elements that really differentiate you from your competition."

Keith Tilley, the company’s executive vice-president for global sales and customer services management, Sungard Availability Services.