Among a slew of technology projects, the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) shifted its entire workflow to Microsoft Azure during lockdown with no downtime or disruption.
Referred to internally as the "Azure IaaS lift and shift" project, the effort was part of the financial market regulator's digital transformation programme, initiated at the request of FMA's audit and risk committee in response to concerns over cyber security.
"Through late 2019 and early 2020, the FMA established that its risk profile was changing and hence accelerated its adoption of cloud solutions," a spokesperson told Reseller News.
The FMA had been operating its workflows from on-premise servers, but it became clear that in order to future proof, it needed to become "cloud-first".
The regulator set an initially ambitious timeline for the $453,000 cloud shift but then, as the pandemic struck, implementation partner Datacom requested its resources be diverted to high priority health response projects.
The FMA paused some of its own work by two and a half months to facilitate that. The project was then delivered within budget and achieved its objectives.
While the term "lift and shift" seems somewhat agricultural, the work had to balance competing interests and goals.
The FMA used three environments which all needed to be migrated: one each for development, user acceptance testing, and production.
“Security is one of our biggest concerns, so any new system had to be absolutely watertight,” said Glenn Phillips, head of project and digital services at the FMA.
“We knew the cloud was the next step for our organisation, but it had to work for us.”
Innovation was another goal -- developing new approaches to financial services and products while ensuring the risk of unfair, inefficient and opaque financial practices stayed low.
It was important to ensure the transformation followed best practices, but it also had to be "low friction" for employees, mostly accountants and lawyers who were intensely focused on systems and processes.
Unnecessary changes to their workflows would present further issues.
Long-standing provider Datacom, a Microsoft Azure partner, developed the plan and put it into action starting in January 2020.
Not known at the time, that would mean a large part of the work would have to be done during Level 4 lockdown.
Collaboration on Microsoft Teams allowed everyone involved from Datacom and the FMA to stay across developments.
“It was almost as good as being in the same room,” said 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.”
Datacom made use of Azure Migrate to shift the on-premises servers to Azure allowing the systems to scale and delivering reliable backups.
Importantly, the new environments were built in a way that there was no change to the way employees went about their work.
“It was crucial to our staff that their workdays looked the same after this migration,” said Phillips.
“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.”
Core benefits included peace of mind, the ability to scale and quickly adapt and tools for collaboration that created flexibility.
“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,” said Matt Bostwick, partner director at Microsoft New Zealand.
COVID-19 led to delays in other FMA projects as well, in part due to a postponed start date for the Financial Services Legislation Amendment Act.
New processes and systems including a new financial services provider register were delayed as was a financial management system replacement project to replace the regulator's Sage software.
A cloud infrastructure project to provide a modern automated virtual private network for FMA staff was also delayed, this time by five months, again due to resources being diverted to the Ministry of Health.
The design of a wide-area network connecting the FMA's offices to its new Azure virtual datacentre infrastructure was also delayed.