by Sooraj Shah

Capital One CIO Rob Harding on Blockchain, IoT, DevOps, AI and machine learning

Sep 12, 2016
Financial Services IndustryMobile Apps

Capital One Europe CIO Rob Harding is leading a huge transformation at the company’s UK business which involves becoming more digital, agile and self-sufficient, as he told CIO UK recently when he described his six-point master plan of fusing financial services with technology.

As part of this transition, Harding has been keeping his eye on the biggest IT trends. In fact, he keeps a graph that he updates periodically of all the emerging technologies and buzzwords. The x-axis of the graph is Harding’s opinion on the importance to CapitalOne UK’s business strategy and the y-axis is the firm’s current fluency with the technology. Below we run down his thoughts on several of these trends.

The Internet of Things

According to Harding’s graph, IoT is at the furthest edge in terms of both importance and current fluency within the organisation. He sees IoT as something that will affect other industries, particularly those that deploy a lot of sensor technology, such as logistics or mining.

“At the moment nothing has occurred to me where I can see IoT being a game-changer for Capital One. If I was keeping more of my data centres in-house then I think IoT has some interesting applications for monitoring hardware and networks to avoid service outage. However, I’m looking to move more of my production load to public cloud so it’s not an area of monitoring that I’m choosing to invest in,” he says.


Harding has looked at Blockchain personally, and says that there are various groups in Capital One’s parent organisation looking at it too. Capital One did make an investment alongside Visa and Fiserv of $30m for Blockchain start-up Chain in September 2015.

“I think it will play a part; one of the interesting avenues for it, is how a ledger-type data layer could help unify a lot of customer transactions – that’s something I’ve investigated personally as a side project,” he says.

However, Harding believes that Blockchain is nearing the peak of its hype cycle.

“I’m not sure in the near-term for Capital One whether we’d see a Blockchian-based lending product. I just think we’ve got bigger trends to examine and things that are more ready but I think it will play its part in the wider transformation of banking over the next few years,” he states.


As agile transformation is part of Capital One’s six-point plan to fuse financial services and technology, DevOps is inevitably an area that Capital One would be looking at to help it on its way.

Harding says that he sees DevOps as “the last few miles of getting the product into production and into the hands of the customer”.

He adds that the company has a principle of not building ‘new stuff’ on ‘old stuff’, and that where things are new they are built with continuous integration and continuous deployment in mind, but he says that Capital One does not have that facility for some of its legacy applications, and for that reason he wouldn’t claim to have DevOps everywhere.

“We do have investment in dev-tooling and as we are writing new software, it’s one of the first things we are considering really to affect that change over the last mile of getting it out of production and being able to repeat that in an automated manner; our mobile app is the closest we are to true DevOps, but I still think we’ve got some way to go to say ‘we’re done’ on that particular journey,” he states.

One of the biggest challenges for Harding when creating his DevOps team has been the segregation of duties for personnel within that team.

“Segregation of duties was very easy in a world where you defined whether you were in technology operating or in software engineering. With DevOps, on both sides, activities become slightly greyer because infrastructure starts to be defined more as code, so there are people in tech ops that look more like software engineers now, and further along the line of the DevOps journey there are software engineers that are doing things that were historically done by the infrastructure ream,” he says.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

On Harding’s graph of emerging technologies, AI and machine learning figure alongside the more established IT trends of Big Data and cloud on the right hand side; or in other words, they figure prominently in Harding’s plans and he feels like they will have a big impact on the financial services sector.

Harding says that AI and machine learning have subtle differences despite a big overlap. With machine learning, he is excited by how it could further extend Capital One’s data science capability.

“We could use machine learning where we currently have manual intervention in aspects of our workflows, and we could even get to the stage where we use a lot of machine learning in our underwriting algorithms,” he says, adding that the company has already implemented some aspects of machine learning into its data science team, but that there is plenty to still be explored within the area.

With AI, Harding sees some real benefits for the firm’s operation functions.

“I’ve seen some early prototypes in our North American labs of virtual agents – be that chat bots, be that the recently announced integration into Amazon’s Alexa product and I think we’ll see a lot more of virtual agents in the financial services industry and other industries; I think it’s a good example of helping customers interact with financial services companies with a lot less friction,” he says.

In the UK, Capital One is further down the line at looking at machine learning, while in the US there has been plenty of research on virtual assistants, which Harding hopes to benefit from in the coming years.