The modern enterprise must be intelligent and adaptive to survive in today’s fast-changing business ecosystems, and the C-suite can draw inspiration from the Bangladeshi people. Assailed by rising waters and global warming, families move up to 30 times in a lifetime, convert flooded rice paddies into shrimp farms or floating gardens, and educate children aboard boats.

These are creative measures in extreme circumstances, with traditional skills of farming and husbandry adapted to survive, even thrive, in a new environment. While husbandry lessons may not be very practicable for C-suite readers, the story of Dan Phelps, chief architect at Travelex, will more likely resonate. The global foreign exchange giant decided three years ago that it would need to move to the public cloud to gain scale, agility and efficiencies, and to remain competitive.

Phelps joined the Travelex team at a time when back office, non-business-critical systems such as human relations (HR) were moving to the public cloud. By contrast, “all the trading systems remained on-premises in data centres,” says Phelps. However, with metaphorical waters of competition rising around them, and financial service front-runners such as JP Morgan committing to the public cloud, Travelex realised it too would have to move more of its business.

Phelps recalls how the organisation approached the migration to public cloud and used its intelligence to support the necessary new direction: “We built a payment solution as a greenfield public cloud pilot and worked in a bi-modal operation for that piece: We used current corporate IT policies [to keep public cloud data and systems in the same governance regime] and ran them alongside the traditional operating mode for legacy data and systems.”

In financial services there has been a strong strain of caution about the public cloud, and Phelps had to work hard to overcome some engrained resistance: “At that point, I had to evangelise the public cloud to the board and the rest of the business. Partly, the name public cloud is problematic: People envisage it is very public, worry anyone can access it, and doubt the level of bespoke business and control that can be imposed.”

It took Phelps 6 months to get buy-in from the board members, and a key tactic in winning their confidence was operating a bi-modal strategy. Travelex opted for a bi-modal approach, taking the pioneering work done by the digital team and applying the process across the rest of the estate. Phelps’ major role has been to serve as the bridge between digital product engineering and the rest of IT and the business.

It helped that Travelex was not alone on the journey to public cloud, with challenger banks talking about their own stories and financial regulators’ endorsement providing another boost, concedes Phelps. But retaining and trusting in the bank’s own intelligence in the form of a bi-modal approach was a key piece in successfully navigating to a new digital model.