The Financial Markets Authority (FMA) transitioned its entire workflow to Azure during lockdown, with no downtime or disruption to employees’ work, allowing them to be prepared for future growth and stay flexible.
Financial services is one of the most heavily regulated sectors in the world and New Zealand is no different. Each day our banks, lenders and even our insurers report back to regulators to demonstrate they are operating fairly, prudently and within the rules.
While this may seem strict, it ensures the long-term safety and security of a sector that, if mismanaged, can make or break our entire economy. That means that a regulator for the financial services sector is always on, there is always another report to be run, another audit that needs processing or company review that needs arranging.
The Financial Markets Authority is one of these regulators. One of FMA’s focus areas within this work is innovation; constantly developing new approaches to financial services and products, while ensuring that the risk of unfair, inefficient and opaque financial practices stays low for New Zealanders participating in the world of finance.
The FMA is on an ongoing journey of digital transformation, ensuring it continues to live up to its regulatory and compliance obligations throughout the process. The organisation had been operating its workflows from on-premise servers, but it quickly became clear that in order to future proof, it needed to become cloud-first.
“Security is one of our biggest concerns, so any new system had to be absolutely watertight,” says Glenn Phillips Head of Project and Digital Services at FMA. “We knew the cloud was the next step for our organisation, but it had to work for us.”
Because its work balances so many competing interests it was important to ensure the transformation followed best practices, and would be low friction for FMA’s employees and of course, be reliable. FMA’s employees are mostly accountants and lawyers who are intensely focused on systems and process, so any unnecessary changes to their workflow would present further issues. A solution which could scale quickly and ensure future proofing easily while keeping maximum security became even more important.
The FMA approached its long-standing partner Datacom to develop the strategy and put it into action.
Datacom, a Microsoft Azure Partner worked alongside the FMA and third parties to develop a plan which would transition all of FMA’s workloads from on-premise servers to Azure. The project began in January 2020, however, the timeframe for the migration was reduced significantly when COVID-19 hit New Zealand, which meant a large part of the work occurred during Level 4 lockdown restrictions.
Datacom and FMA shrugged off these challenges, working carefully, quickly and collaboratively while rarely being able to be in the same room. Collaboration on Microsoft Teams allowed for everyone involved to stay across new developments, which were logged in writing.
“It was almost as good as being in the same room,” says Datacom principal consultant Axl Mattheus. “The conversation history on Teams created a written transcript of the entire history of the project, which meant team members could get themselves up to speed quickly after starting a shift or joining the team.” While there were none of the informal conversations over coffee that are often a key part of these processes, all the necessary information was at the fingertips of the people who needed it.
Datacom made use of Azure Migrate to transition the on-premises servers to Azure in a way which allowed the systems to scale and have extremely reliable backups. FMA made use of three environments which needed to be migrated: one each for development, user acceptance testing, and production.
Importantly, the new environments were built in such a way that, for FMA’s employees, there was no change to the way they went about their work.
“It was crucial to our staff that their workdays looked the same after this migration,” says Glenn.
“Our team could get on with their work without needing to go through any extra training because everything looked the same when they arrived on Monday. They were none the wiser as to what was going on.”
Some of the core benefits provided by the Azure solution include peace of mind, ability to scale and quickly adapt, and tools for collaboration that create flexibility. After the migration of its existing systems, FMA also opted to adopt Azure Backups and Azure Site Recovery for Disaster Recovery, which complimented their existing systems by ensuring data was kept secure and was able to be recovered if anything unexpected happened.
“This project is a great example not only of Azure’s value to public sector organisations with strict compliance measures, but also how any organisation can make the most of Azure without disruption to its day-to-day,” says Matt Bostwick, Partner Director at Microsoft New Zealand. “Datacom is a partner doing consistently exceptional work in incredibly complicated sectors, delivering impressive results with minimal disruption.”
The migration allowed FMA to get the best of both worlds — the familiarity of its existing workflows, with no disruption or new staff training required, and the security and benefits provided by Azure preparing the FMA for future agility and creating peace of mind when it comes to data storage and security.
“This initial success has only strengthened Datacom’s relationship with FMA, and has positioned us to now provide ongoing recommendations and paths to further expand and better innovate their cloudscape,” says Axl.
Now they’ve built the foundation, there’s almost unlimited room to keep going.