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A conversation with Jakub Scholz – architect of change

12 Jul 2017

A conversation with Jakub Scholz – architect of changePeople & ideas at Deutsche Börse

Jakub Scholz works in the Risk IT section from Deutsche Börse Group's Prague office.

Everywhere we turn change is in the air, with digital transformation affecting virtually every sector. Established companies, such as Deutsche Börse, in particular need to scrutinise their business models, think in new directions and explore new territory. In spite of all the technology involved, people remain at the centre of all development: on the one hand, new digital offerings must always follow clients’ needs, and on the other, every technological change originates in the human mind. Innovative change depends on our creativity, our initiative and our energy. In a loose series of interviews, we would like to introduce you to the people and ideas that make a substantial contribution to promoting change within Deutsche Börse.

One of these people is Jakub Scholz, a technology architect with passion. We spoke to him about how to efficiently turn ideas into products and services, the new Data Analytics & Visualisation service (DAVe) and the advantages of prototyping.

What is your task within Deutsche Börse. How would you describe your role?

I work as a technology architect. My role is to bring ideas for new software products to life. Within our new framework of a product organisation, which realises business objectives in cooperation with market operations, I focus on risk management products.

Identifying a client’s need is one part of it; the other is transforming it into a business solution. What is important when turning an initial idea into a product or service that profitable?

If you have an idea, it is important to define and build a minimum viable product, i.e. a product that contains a minimum set of features, as fast as possible. This will help you validate whether such a service or product is really interesting for your customers and whether they would be willing to pay for it.

And because it’s the minimum, it’s not that big. You don’t have to necessarily spend years on developing a final solution with the best possible features. Instead, you can build a kind of “quick and dirty” solution, get it out quickly to the market and see whether the customers use it or not.

So you speed up existing processes?

There are many different ways to develop software. Some of them are more efficient; some of them are less efficient. Some of them are more modern and some of them are less modern. That’s what makes the difference – and that’s where we lost too much time in the past.

Starting with a minimum viable product keeps you focused on the core features. At the same time, it makes development less expensive. That is exactly what we experienced when we developed DAVe, our new Data Analytics & Visualisation service.

With DAVe, you developed a service that gives customers more insight into their risk management data. Could you briefly describe the service and tell us how you came up with the idea?

Years ago, we created an interface called Enhanced Risk Solution, which provided our customers with near-time risk data. However, only few customers really used it. As a technology guy, I believed that the problem was a missing user interface. So I started to write one. At the same time, my more business-oriented colleagues were focusing on improving the risk data itself. So DAVe is a real team effort.

DAVe consists of two main parts: a web-based user interface and an application programming interface (API). The user interface allows our customers to analyse and visualise their Eurex Clearing risk margins to better understand them. When our customers know why their risk margins are as high or as low as they are, they can e.g. optimise their portfolio to reduce the margin requirements. In addition to the web-based user interface, the API allows you to integrate these data into customer applications where they can be easily combined with data from other sources.

What about prototyping? Can you briefly describe how this worked in the case of DAVe?

We created a quick prototype of our application and used it for both internal discussions as well as for meetings with potential customers. Of course, the prototype did not yet contain the complete application. It had no authentication, high availability or live data. The data we used had been generated artificially. However, the prototype showed the main features we wanted to sell. We created the first prototype within just two weeks, which was extremely fast and cost-efficient.

How did customers react to it?

The customers liked it a lot. So, after we had conducted some customer interviews and a result analysis, we decided to continue and bring DAVe into production. From a prototype we moved on to a demo version that was accessible to customers but still comprised artificial data. Currently, we are working on a beta version, which we expect will be available to our customers during the autumn. At this point, the challenge is to get all the approvals from security and regulators rather than dealing with technology issues.

There is a fine line between innovation and failure. Does your way of prototyping avoid flops?  Why would you recommend it?

Flops will always happen. I’m not sure if you can avoid that, and I don’t even know whether you would want to. When you try to do something new, there is always a high risk that your plans will not work out. If people tell you that they have never had any failures, it probably means that they haven’t really tried. You miss 100 per cent of the shots that you don’t take. Neither prototyping nor minimum viable products guarantee that you avoid failures. They are just a way to fail quickly and at minimum cost. That is the main difference compared to how we did things in the past.

Are there also disadvantages, e.g. by giving customers too many insights and thus influence?

We will see. When I look at companies like Google, which have been developing products like this for years, they are always merciless in killing unsuccessful ideas. If the idea doesn’t work out, doesn’t get enough customers or doesn’t generate revenue, you have to kill it. Even the unsuccessful products usually have some customers who loved them and they will be unhappy when you withdraw them. But it has to be done, otherwise you will have no capacity to work on the next idea.

You said that you are a technology guy. What kind of technologies are you using for the development of DAVe?

Our technological set-up, on which the development is based, is really modern. The DAVe application runs in the AWS (Amazon Web Service) cloud. We use Kubernetes and Docker containers. Our back-end application uses a reactive programming toolkit called Vert.x. The user interface is written in Angular 4. All of them are state-of-the-art technologies.

We also have a toolchain for continuous integration and deployment. It is a pleasure to work with these technologies – not only for me but for all my colleagues. But it is not only about fun. Using these technologies allows us to be much faster and much more efficient.

Are there other ideas like DAVe waiting for realisation?

Definitely! We have just started working on a margin estimator, which allows basically everyone, even companies which are not our customers, to upload a sample or real portfolio which they maybe have at some other clearing house. The estimator will then calculate the margins they would have to deposit at Eurex Clearing, Deutsche Börse Group’s clearing house. This will be a great step forward because it will be the first time that our customers will be able to compare the margin obligations at different clearing houses. If desired, this service can also be used on smartphones.

In your job you need to be able to come up with creative solutions fast. What helps you do that?

Technologies are not only work to me. They are part of my life. I spend a lot of time investigating new products and playing with new software. Thanks to that, I’m able to react quickly when necessary.

You view the digital transformation of our lives in a very positive light. Do you think there is an alternative?

For me, definitely not. This is an exciting time where many technologies are changing our lives. Take shopping, for example – not only online but also physical shopping. I think, the way we shop will change very dramatically in the upcoming years, e.g. with regard to augmented reality, where you stand in front of a mirror that will automatically dress you in clothes the shop may be selling. I think that many such changes will come in the next years.

Interview: Irmgard Thießen

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