Interview: Discover Financial Services, UK IT Industry Awards finalist

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UK IT Industry Awards
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UK IT Industry Awards

"Discover serves a broad market, offering easy-to-use digital banking products and a good value while providing a great customer experience."

Digitisation means that technology has shifted from being an enabler to essentially defining businesses, with automation increasingly being strategically deployed to reduce inefficiencies and drive growth. Banking and finance is an example of how digitisation can change almost everything about how customers engage with service providers. 

The UK IT Industry Awards are the largest and most well-known event in the technology industry calendar. Owned and operated by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Computing, the awards enjoy a level of professionalism and industry knowledge not seen at other shows.

This year's winners were announced at a live awards ceremony on Wednesday, 9th November.

One of the finalists was Discover Financial Services, which reached the shortlist for two categories: Development Team of the Year and Infrastructure Innovation of the Year.

Before the awards, we caught up with Simon John Williams, Director Of DevOps & Delivery Excellence at Discover, to find out what makes his company different from other technology firms.

Simon John Williams, Director of DevOps & Delivery Excellence, Discover Financial Services
Simon John Williams, Director of DevOps & Delivery Excellence, Discover Financial Services

Simon has a rich background in financial services working for high-profile Tier 1 banks and consultancies to help define and implement strategic change. His specialisation is in digital transformation, with thought leadership pieces for UK broadsheets such as the Guardian, and regular speaking events including serverless con.

He joined Discover in 2021 as Director of DevOps & Delivery to lead in the transformation of Discover's payment network to a product centric way of working - with a focus on automation, delivering process standardisation and change, and the cultural shift for product centricity.

Computing: Please provide some background on your company for our readers.

Simon John Williams: Discover Financial Services is a digital banking and payment services company with one of the most recognised brands in the US financial services. Since its inception in 1986, the company has become one of the largest card issuers in the United States. The company issues the Discover® card, America's cash rewards pioneer, and offers private student loans, personal loans, home loans, checking and savings accounts and certificates of deposit through its banking business. It operates the Discover Global Network® comprised of Discover Network, with millions of merchants and cash access locations; PULSE®, one of the nation's leading ATM/debit networks; and Diners Club International®, a global payments network with acceptance around the world.

How is your company different from its peers?

Discover serves a broad market, offering easy-to-use digital banking products and a good value while providing a great customer experience. We lead the industry with practical, innovative features like Cashback Rewards and Credit Scorecard.

We have a unique business model that is right for the times - we are the only bank that is 100% consumer focused, without the legacy of high-cost branches because we have been digital from the start, and with a proprietary payments network. We're big enough to have the resources to compete with the large banks, but small and focused enough to be nimble and innovate like our FinTech competitors.

What one company achievement in the last 12 months are you most proud of?

Discover has initiated five key strategic initiatives in the form of Runway; these objectives are to align Discover to a new product centric way of working and seismically shift the technical landscape to a simplified modern technology stack. Significant progress has been made in this area to migrate workloads onto a container ecosystem and implement a single way of working around this technology. By enabling a developer-as-a-service consumer model, it has allowed the complexity of the ecosystem to be abstracted away from the developers so that they can concentrate on delivering business value. This has led to more productive developers and happier end users.

What are you working on this year?

This year the DevOps & Delivery excellence is working to optimise the product delivery lifecycle (PDLC). This has a wider remit than the typical software delivery lifecycle (SDLC), since it includes more on the left-hand side for architecture, product owner and business collaboration.

We have been looking at the three tenants of optimisation of people, process and technology. So how do we create a process which enables best practices and standardises our procedures, how do we change culture to have a continual improvement mindset and building enterprise-wide solutions, and finally harmonising our technical stack, providing connectivity through these tools and automation around the process.

Why are events like the UK IT Industry Awards important to the IT industry?

The UK IT Industry Awards are important for individuals and teams since they can be recognised by a forum of their peers for the excellent work they are doing. This gives them exposure not just within the sector but across the industry letting them know the valuable work they are doing.

From a company perspective, it gives insight into not only what the art of the possible is from similar sectors, such as moving from legacy to cloud but concrete examples of how it was performed. Companies also benefit by seeing who their strategic partners could be, so what technology companies Discover can get expertise from, and which Vendors have performed well against their peers.

The networking aspect is also very valuable; being able to connect with technologists solving similar challenges in different sectors gives a new perspective on how to achieve excellence.

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