1 October 2014

Intelligent innovation

SWIFT CIO Mike Fish believes that SWIFT's critical importance to the global financial infrastructure is no bar to mastering the latest technologies.

At Sibos last year, Mike Fish, CIO, SWIFT described the three key priorities for the cooperative’s information technology as continued operational excellence, smooth delivery of major new projects, and cyber security. Since then, there has been no deviation from those priorities. Nevertheless, says Fish, “To make us more resilient and secure, we’ve adopted many technologies on the cutting edge.”

He offers the example of SWIFT’s deployment of hardware security modules (HSMs) – digital keys used for authentication. “We were probably the first major financial infrastructure to adopt widespread use of HSMs,” he says. “HSMs offer perhaps the most ironclad way of ensuring integrity of a message when it leaves the customer site and they’ve now become the gold standard.”

SWIFT’s successfully completed distributed architecture initiative and its on-going FIN Renewal programme are further examples of resilience and innovation working in tandem. Under its Distributed Architecture programme, SWIFT introduced two processing zones, the European zone and the Trans-Atlantic zone, with separate operating centres storing the message traffic for each zone. This architecture has allowed SWIFT to increase processing capacity, as well as enhance resilience and security.

SWIFT is also well into a four-year initiative to renew what Fish calls the “crown jewel” of SWIFT – its FIN messaging platform – in a way that will strengthen SWIFT’s operational excellence without disrupting customer message flow.

Technology Forum

A strong focus on resilience and security notwithstanding, Fish says that, with appropriate safeguards, SWIFT is able to engage fruitfully with technological developments of the kind discussed at this year’s Sibos Technology Forum. The Forum that took place on Monday and Tuesday provided an opportunity for IT professionals to discuss the impact of issues such as big data and cloud computing on their operations.

“There is no precise definition of big data,” says Fish, “but typically the term refers to data sets that are not only very large, but also complex and unstructured.” He points out that SWIFT traffic data sets, while large, are in fact highly structured. Using existing technologies, SWIFT is able to provide comprehensive insights to customers through its business intelligence offering. In addition, he suggests, big data could bring significant benefits to SWIFT’s own operations, particularly in the domain of security. “We have an array of firewalls and intrusion-detection systems running across our operations,” Fish explains. One use of big data for SWIFT would be to look across its various security implementations and mine the data for any correlations that might indicate an issue to be addressed.

Cloud technologies also continue to hold promise for the industry, but here, Fish highlights an important distinction between the concepts of public and private cloud. “I would never run our systemically critical messaging services in a public cloud,” says Fish, pointing out that such services offer ‘commodity’ levels of security and resilience that do not meet the needs of systemically important services like SWIFT messaging. “For us that’s a no-go,” he says. “However, a private cloud is a completely different situation. It’s your infrastructure and you can control how it is deployed and managed.” Indeed, SWIFT already offers services through a community cloud, including connectivity and shared value-added services. “Banks trust those services because the SWIFT brand is behind them,” Fish says. He points out that SWIFT’s traditional messaging services have been ‘cloud-like’ for decades, but SWIFT strictly controls where the computers and operating systems are located.

“Our mission for the last 40 years has always centred on being one of the most secure and reliable infrastructures in the world, but the fact that we are extremely prudent doesn’t mean we can’t innovate,” he says.

For more SWIFT news stories from Sibos, visit the Sibos webpage on swift.com.