Product Development, Enterprises, and Emerging Technologies

An Interview with Karl Brock

Product development, especially software, has rapidly changed in the past 15 years. Karl Brock has seen that change happening at various organizations including Capital One and Fannie Mae. Recently, he came on board to FINRA as Vice President of Application Platforms. We sat down to hear more about opportunities in enterprise software and emerging technologies.

What areas do you want to focus on? Where do you see opportunities for growth and innovations for enterprise solutions?

This is an exciting time to be in Technology at FINRA. Innovation in cloud computing is making new approaches to application development and architectures possible. In the area of Application Platforms, we are in the process of moving to a microservices architecture in which we will build single purpose API-accessible applications. Those API-accessible applications can then be orchestrated and composed into larger applications that deliver workspaces optimized for particular business functions.

This approach will allow us to deliver customized experiences for business groups without developing monolithic applications. Under the covers, the approach will focus on common management of our data, both structured and unstructured, to enable us to distill relevant knowledge and provide targeted analytics to users.

Do you think open source models help enterprises like FINRA? Why or why not?

Open source benefits FINRA in many ways. Open source results in cost savings. Open source usually isn’t truly free but in most cases it is substantially less expensive. The open source approach produces better software. Instead of relying on a single vendor to build a product, the developer community can identify and address problems quickly. It also improves business agility by allowing us to react to demands quickly speeding the pace of software development.

Another import benefit is that open source reduces dependence on a single vendor or group of vendors, which reduces business risk. Over time you become dependent on a product. In the marketplace when a company, that markets product we depend on, is acquired, the new company often decides to stop working on the product. This doesn’t happen quickly in the open source community, provided the community is sufficiently large. Also the decentralized nature of open source further mitigates this risk.

At FINRA, we not only use a lot of open source technology but we have also open sourced a number of our internal projects on Github. We believe these projects will be beneficial to others and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the community to take them to the next level.

How can managers be effective in a world of cloud technology, rapid innovation, and more reliance on open source solutions?

The software development community seems to experience disruptive events frequently. Most of us are used to these kinds of things happening. The real question is: how can we benefit from disruptive events?

It was Harvard professor Clayton Christensen who coined the term disruptive innovation. His central premise was that a change in technology can completely transform the basic economics of a business. Disruptive innovation provides unique opportunities to improve the systems we develop by leaps rather than the usual gradual improvements.

The cloud might just be the largest disruptive innovation that we have ever experienced. FINRA is on the leading edge of cloud adoption and pushing the limits of the technology. There are incredible benefits, both technical and economic, that we are realizing. The cloud technology is making thing possible that were impossible just a few years ago. For managers to be effective, they must foster an environment of innovation so that the company can take advantage of and embrace disruptive innovation.

What emerging technologies are you most excited about? Why?

Microservices Architecture — In this model, developers tend to build applications from services rather than building larger more monolithic applications. These services are microservices — single purpose, API-accessible applications built to become building blocks of larger applications.

This is reminiscent of the SOA trend of a decade ago and a microservices architecture may sound familiar. The main difference is that microservices architectures look at services from a developer’s perspective rather than an enterprise architect’s perspective, so the services are finer-grained. Also communication among services is simpler, and heavy-duty middleware is not part of the deal.

Containers — Containers enable you to package applications so that they’ll run in the containers built into the Linux kernel. This is a huge deal because it means genuine application portability — using lightweight package instead of full VMs. This technology has accelerated the microservices trend by providing an easy way to package and deploy them.

Cloud — Public and virtual private clouds are now mainstream. Amazon Web Services is leading the way. This is where the action is in tech innovation. The cloud is a disruptive innovation that is forcing innovation in many other areas. This is completely changing how we think about building and deploying business capabilities. Developers are freed to focus on business value rather infrastructure.

Machine Learning and Analytics — With the convergence of cloud computing, high-quality open source, and advances in the big data space, machine learning will become mainstream at FINRA and other organizations giving users targeted knowledge that helps them be more aware of correlations and relationships they couldn’t easily see otherwise.

Want to learn more about our application development? Learn how we created a big data application for analysts.