Five questions for DBS Bank’s cloud guru

By Fang Shiyuan and Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Tan Choon Boon shares his biggest achievement in the past year and what innovations he is working on this year.

Tan Choon Boon is the Managing Director of Platform Strategy & Engineering and Technology Services in DBS Bank's Group Technology and Operations. He has played a key role in leading transformation across the bank, which employs over 24,000 people and generated over US$10 billion in revenue in 2016.

Tan leads a team of 200 engineers and developers in the adoption of internal and public cloud platforms. In the last three years, he helped reskill more than 200 DBS employees in DevOps, a method of rapid IT service delivery through agile and lean practices.

GovInsider caught up with Tan after he was named 2019 Professional of the Year at the recent SCS IT Leader Awards presented by the Singapore Computer Society. We discuss his work, challenges and priorities below.

What is your biggest achievement of the past year?

I think the technology that we put in place is quite complicated and I am proud of it, but also, I think the biggest achievement is to do it with the existing team of people that we have.

So if you look at many organisations, when they do transformation, they bring in external consultants. In DBS, we do it on our own. And that involves changing their mindsets, making them believe that whatever we do is possible.

We identified our own needs, we motivated our people, make them believe it, reskill them and help them create the products we have now.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

Knowing how to balance DevOps with the traditional method. A lot of people think that DevOps is the answer to transformation to the new way of consuming and implementing IT, right. A lot of people think that is a silver bullet, but it's not.

Actually DevOps is freeing yourself from the legacy thinking that you can't do certain things, and then putting the right elements together - a mix of system engineers, ecosystem engineers and good developers. And combine their knowledge to make IT more agile, effective and transparent.

What other innovations do you hope to implement in the coming year?

We're doing what we call governance automation, or governation.

If you look at traditional DevOps, people look at automating it to get the efficiency and create the speed. But governation is a bit more than DevOps. For instance, in an organisation such as DBS Bank, a lot of tasks that we do that require manual work and manual intervention just cannot be substituted.

Let's say, for example, if the CIO wants to know what is my security posture of the bank now, you have to scan a lot of networks and systems. If you look at traditional IT, hundreds of people have to run around with spreadsheets and export data from the systems, and someone will need to analyse it before feeding that information out. These can take weeks and months and by the time it’s done, the ‘war’ is over already.

Looking at a lot of all these basic hygiene stuff, things that you need to know the posture of the bank and the assurance that you need from that, how can we use automation and DevOps to make that more efficient and accurate?

Which technology trends are you most excited about?

I am equally excited in all of them, because I think a lot of technologies are here to stay, be it cloud, which I'm very passionate about; big data analytics; machine learning; IoT; all these are here to stay. And I don't think we have seen their full capabilities yet.

I think there'll be more to come. I don't think this will just end and then a new one will come.

Lastly, where would you recommend for lunch?

My wife likes Japanese food so one of the latest one that we went to was ESORA. A bit more on the fusion side, and very elaborate on the setting as well.