How Slack has helped HSBC speed software development and incident management

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 20, 2021
As HSBC goes digital, it's been on a journey to agile software development and faster incident management, with Slack playing a big role in easing communications

HSBC sign above bank branch - Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash
(Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash)

Like many financial institutions, global banking giant HSBC is moving fast to adopt digital solutions, and diginomica has frequently reported on HSBC's digital journey over the years. Its software development and incident management processes have had to evolve to keep pace, and this week, Jamie Newham, Digital Collaboration Tooling Lead at HSBC spoke at Slack Frontiers Europe about the bank's use of the messaging platform to speed up collaboration within those functions.

Newham heads up the team responsible for rolling out Slack globally across HSBC. It's been in use at the bank for around two years and there are currently 12,000 active users, who send close to half a million messages every day on the platform. Within the software development function, Slack has played an important role in the move to more agile processes, integrating with tools such as Jira and Jenkins. He states:

We've actually shipped around two to three times more customer features over the two years that Slack has been in the bank than we than we had previously ...

It's definitely put us through processes quicker and also made us change a bit more how we work, from perhaps more classic waterfall processes, quite linear, to being able to speed up and work in a much more agile fashion.

There's a stark contrast with the before times, when there were frequent gaps in communication between development and delivery teams, or with senior management, who didn't have the visibility into what was happening. He sums up:

We struggled a lot with speed, to get things through the process quickly enough and ultimately make decisions and collaborate across the wider areas of the bank, to be honest.

Incident management

There was a similar improvement after bringing Slack into the incident management process. This was previously a heavily manual process that was highly dependent on email, which made it very difficult for service desks and end users to track progress and follow issues through to resolution.

With everyone now on the same platform, there's been a huge drop in the number of duplicate tickets being raised for the same incident — one team has seen an 80% drop in duplications thanks to the improved visibility and communication. There are also direct connections from monitoring and management tools AppDynamics and xMatters into Slack, so engineers get notifications as soon as anything comes up. Newham says:

Instead of engineers having to rely on email, they're getting CPU usages, or API calls, and all alerts directly to them within Slack. So they can jump on and address incidents much quicker. And of course, that's also teamed up with the war rooms and communication channels, so we can actually deliver this information straight to the end users, the customers ...

It's really helped a lot — gets us back to production much quicker and in a much smoother process.

As well as much faster speed, that open communication has also helped to break down boundaries between separate teams. He comments:

Another great thing, especially in an industry such as finance, is a bit of a culture change that Slack has helped promote — breaking down those silos and really opening up the communication to everybody. There'll be teams that will have previously never have even known each other existed within the bank, purely due to the size. Opening that up and really taking forward to adopt the agile methodologies and sharing of information, I think has been a huge thing.

Lessons learned - start small

One of the lessons learned in rolling out Slack at HSBC has been to start with just one or two limited use cases and make sure they're working well before broadening the scope. Get the basics right first, says Newham, such as making sure channels are set up correctly to serve the various teams and topics people need to follow. He comments:

There's loads of functionality within Slack. But perhaps start a bit small and don't try and do everything on day one. That's really been helpful to kind of chip away and increase the functionalities as you go and build more and more things in with the platform, over the two-year period.

It's also advisable to work with the teams and get their engagement in designing some of the specific processes they might want to do in Slack. This was particularly successful with the incident management rollout, he says. This has included automated processes that have been created using Slack's no-code workflow builder to help prioritize and assign issues rather than relying on email or notes added to Jira tickets to do escalations. He says:

We allow now the customer who raised a request to also request an increase in priority, for example, and then the workflow builder can follow through and send that to the right person, directly within Slack. So they can make a quick decision, see who it is, take it up against the priority, and process that through much more smoothly.

The next step will be to make incident management fully mobile, to better accommodate people working from home. Another project currently in the works is the launch of HSBC's own private marketplace where its developers will be able to create and share Slack bots and apps on demand. Hosting this privately allows the bank to give developers more freedom to show what's possible, while staying compliant with regulatory constraints.

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