Interview: John Stepper brings SOA to Deutsche Bank

At Deutsche Bank in New York, John Stepper is doing the SOA equivalent of changing an engine while the car is running.


Stepper is managing IT director of Equity Derivatives & Equity Finance. After an influential board member established SOA as an objective to improve the bank's global operations, Stepper stepped in. He kicked-off an expansive yet Agile methodology that is quickly moving the bank to a global service-orientation, with a minimum of fuss and pain.

It's still early in the bank's SOA evolution, and Stepper has a few things he'd change if he had the chance to do it all again. But the future looks promising. Moreover, Stepper's early experience reveals several lessons to heed when trying to efficiently get 20,000 feet marching in step.

Let's dive into this. Why don't we open up by just telling folks who you are, what your title is, what you do, and then we'll dive into the questioning.

Stepper: Okay. I'm responsible for application services for the investment bank. And what that really means is, it's any common software artefacts or for assets for the investment bank; for Deutsche Bank.

It's a relatively new assignment for me. Most of my career has been with equities trading technology. And within Deutsche Bank, I think it's fair to say it's been tough. To say it in a positive way, we're extremely business aligned, and as a result we've had great progress on the revenue front, but less progress on defining shared infrastructure or common enterprise architecture. And that's really my job on the software side.

Let's talk about your background first, before we get into all the nitty-gritty SOA details. Tell us a little bit about your career. How long have you been in the business? What are some of the things you've done, some of the battles you've been in?

I joined Morgan Stanley in '94. Before that I was at Bell Labs. Between Morgan Stanley, I had a brief stint at Natwest Market, when they were trying to be an investment bank. And then the past 11 years or so at Deutsche Bank. It's almost always been around equities trading; typically around risk management derivatives, execution trading, DMA, and then recently, prime brokerage. And particularly at DB [Deutsche Bank] and Natwest, it was largely about growth.

When I joined DB, we really didn't have an investment bank per se. And as an equities division, we grew in terms of revenue by more than 15 times, and became one of the top three divisions. Prime brokerage didn't even exist eight years ago as a business, compared to Morgan and Goldman, who had been around for 30+ years. But now it's also in the top three.

And so a lot of the emphasis of what we've been doing has been about growth and time-to-market, and less about building a platform for the long term. Now we're maturing as a bank, and we're absolutely ready to make that shift.

You're based in New York City?

That's right.

And you talked about business alignment being a characteristic of how the bank operates. You've been there 11 years. How was that business alignment achieved prior to SOA appearing on the horizon? Or was it not being achieved? Or was it a struggle to be achieved? Tell us a little bit about the IT environment prior to SOA becoming part of the equation.

It certainly was achieved prior to SOA. We read a lot about the importance of business alignment in the literature, but it's a double-edged sword. So for us it largely stems from the funding. Almost all of our initiatives are driven by individual business lines and their appetite for funding, as far as their bottoms-up funding cycle.

And as a result you've got teams and infrastructures that are built up specialized to those particular trading businesses. So that was great for time-to-market and agility, particularly in the early days, but [it's] almost antithetical to creating shared assets across businesses.

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