Financial Services Company Overcomes Cloud Cost Challenges by Establishing and Maturing Its FinOps Practice

“We’re seeing hard savings that come from optimization. We’ve seen increases in business generation right at the end-user points. We’ve seen faster responses to the regulators. We’ve got faster risk assessments and, of course, greater capacity to scale”

Managing a fast-growing public cloud program can be a challenge for any organization. But it can be even more difficult for large, global enterprises.

Making banking easier and more secure for their customers is paramount to this company. The company strives to bring the best digital banking to the marketplace through innovative technology. “Technology underpins everything we do,” said the director of operations for CTO shared services and cloud. “Our public cloud journey will increase our ability to scale, reduce our time to market, and increase our efficiency, innovation, and flexibility.”

The challenge

From 2018 to 2019, public cloud usage doubled at the company. Moreover, the company had a pipeline of more than 600 projects for the cloud through 2020 and beyond. And cloud consumption was forecasted to continue doubling year after year.

According to the director, the growth in consumption and the on-demand, elastic nature of the cloud presented several challenges. The company used multiple cloud service providers and needed consistent cost transparency to manage those costs, provide accurate chargebacks to business units, and optimize their environments.

At the time, the company was using a spreadsheet-based process for financial management. The director and her team tried to continue using the same process as cloud usage grew, but soon, the company needed a better approach. Monthly cloud bills exceeded 100 million lines. And trying to manage the complexity of the showback, chargeback, and forecasting processes for 12 global businesses and global functions (GBGFs) using spreadsheets became overwhelming.

TBM adoption

The company’s IT Infrastructure Division embraced Technology Business Management (TBM) with Apptio in 2016 to overhaul its financial processes, which led to greater agility, transformed dialogue with business partners, and improved financial planning and governance. In late 2018, the company started changing its public cloud environment by implementing a new cloud FinOps operating model. The director’s core FinOps team now consists of 20 people and resides within the technology organization. Each of the 12 GBGFs also has a designated FinOps Champion within the business unit who works with the core team to implement their cloud financial management discipline and provide recommendations for their respective area.

In addition to changing the operating model, the company implemented Apptio Cloudability to replace its ineffective spreadsheet-based process with a cloud cost management optimization solution and create a more robust, scalable, and best-practices-led approach to FinOps.

According to the director, these changes have given her what she needs to manage the company’s growing cloud costs. “We now have an industry-leading cloud financial management tool and an excellent team to manage our cloud financials,” she said.

The result

Better cost transparency

Before implementing cloud FinOps and Cloudability, the company struggled to allocate cloud cost data across its business units. As a large, complex organization, the company had more than 700 cloud engineers managing over 3,000 accounts. Monthly bills were long and detailed, and each cloud service provider had its way of charging for services. That meant the director and her team had to manipulate the data manually. “It took a great deal of manpower to try to align all the billing to the various businesses and functions,” she said.

By implementing Cloudability, the director and her team can see detailed cloud consumption data from all of the company’s cloud service providers organized and allocated in one place. This enables them to get a clear picture of their cloud costs and provide actionable insights and rightsizing recommendations to the engineers and business owners to pursue optimization efforts.

Increased visibility for optimization

Because cloud costs are available and transparent in Cloudability, the company can use customized views to drill down on cloud environments, analyze data, and identify actions for optimization, which the team could not do using spreadsheets.

“Cloud optimization and cost optimization are key functions for us,” said the director. “We’ve been able to take advantage of things like power scheduling, vendor purchase commitments, and rightsizing that we were unable to do previously.”

In addition to some straightforward optimization tactics, the company has used Cloudability to do in-depth analyses in targeted areas to find even more optimization opportunities.

“We’ve been able to do deep-dive experiments based on observing detailed spending data,” said the head of FinOps and cloud economics. “One example is BigQuery costs, comprised of query time and storage costs. We were able to look at things like rates of access for that storage data, how those queries were written for the query time, identifying the biggest outliers, and then working with the specific engineering teams to understand what changes could be made and then validating the impact of those changes.”

According to the director, the ability to identify optimization opportunities using Cloudability has been a big benefit. Effective cost management is imperative because her team manages over $200 million worth of cloud spend a year. “We’re always looking at optimization methods and metrics,” she said.

Faster decisions that accelerate business outcomes

Decision-making is another area where Cloudability has had a tremendous impact. Over the last four years, the company has steadily moved workloads to the cloud. As a result of better cost transparency, the team has made faster decisions regarding deployment and scaling of services than they ever could have made for on-premises decisions.

This has helped accelerate the company’s move to the cloud and ultimately helped realize many business benefits, including increased customer acquisition and retention, faster analytics, faster intra-day calculations, and more timely management and customer information.

“There have been numerous benefits realized to date and many more planned in the future,” the director said. “We’re seeing hard savings that come from optimization. We’ve seen increases in business generation right at the end-user points. We’ve seen faster responses to the regulators. We’ve got faster risk assessments and, of course, greater capacity to scale.”

Better forecasting on cloud spend to enable growth

FinOps practices supported by Cloudability have given the company much more insight and control over cloud spend, helping the company more accurately forecast future spending to support business growth.

“By implementing industry-leading cloud financial management tooling and a new target operating model, we can utilize a lot of the information — the facts we ingest — and provide numerous business insights across technology,” the director said. “It helps us to better predict our strategic planning cycles in terms of predicted spend. And it enables a more proactive approach to look at future migrations and our overall technology estate and where we should potentially be targeting certain transitions.”

Improved relationships across the company

According to the director, FinOps with Cloudability has led to better, more effective relationships between Finance and key stakeholders across the company. She and her team now have a seat on various steering committees, both on the business side and in technology, and the information and analysis her team produces are widely used.

“Our reporting cadence is almost daily, and our optimization recommendations are constantly being looked at,” she said. “Relationships with our business partners, stakeholders, engineers, and financial colleagues across the bank have improved exponentially.”

Advice to others just beginning their FinOps journey

The company has made tremendous strides since beginning its FinOps journey in 2018. As the director said, “We’ve come a long way and learned a lot.”

She said one of the things that helped them was getting advice from other companies before them. And now, she is pleased to pass some of her learnings on to those just starting their journey.

“My advice to others is to be tenacious,” she said. “You need to keep at it. You need to keep pushing. It’s worth it at the end of the day. You will see the benefit far sooner than anticipated.”

The director also emphasized being collaborative. “You need to work with the engineers and encourage them into action,” she said. “And share your experiences with everyone across your organization through forums where you can meet, present the benefits of what you’ve achieved, and share best practices regarding what some of the more mature functions in your organization are working on and implementing.”

Education, the director said, is another key to success. “There are numerous forums and foundations you can join where you can share experiences, learn from others, exchange templates, and get advice for success,” she said.

Lastly, the director emphasized the importance of getting senior management support. “Your senior management needs to understand that this is a journey, and they will need to support specific changes within their organization and that the benefit realizations will be not just of monetary value, but of revenue, flexibility, and innovation. And they will continue to be realized with time,” she said.

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