Today we are thrilled to interview Marco Tranquillin, Customer Engineering Manager at Google Cloud, FSI Italy. Thanks to his rich experience in working with the Cloud, Marco will explain to us how Google Cloud is helping businesses and financial institutions create value through a secure technological infrastructure. He will also tell us about his career at Google, one of the world’s best employers.
Good morning, Marco. It is a real pleasure to have you here. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your career? How did you end up working at Google and, in particular, in the financial services of Google Cloud?
I have been working at Google for the past 5 and a half years, but my career started more than 10 years ago.
I studied Computer Engineering at the University and, right after, I started to work at Accenture, where my role was to support customers in designing digital platforms for their businesses. After that, I decided to devote my career to the Cloud. Unfortunately, ten years ago, it would have been difficult to do it at Accenture. Hence, I decided to join a startup (Revevol), which was an enterprise partner of Google. Our role was to support customers embracing the Cloud’s evolution for their business solutions.
Ten years ago, Google’s Cloud environment was extremely thin, which gave me the opportunity to see the entire evolution of the Cloud over time. After 4-5 years, I decided to move to Microsoft, where I worked as a Cloud solution architect for about one year.
After that, Google sent me an offer to join and I moved to their post-sale division. After 3 years I moved to pre-sale and eventually, I became the EMEA Customer Engineering Specialists Manager in data analytics. The goal of my team was to support our customers in adopting our data analytics technological solutions.
In the meantime, I started to notice fast evolutions in the FSI industry. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to get back to Italy and now, I am leading here the pre-sales team of customer engineers/principal architects for the FSI cluster. I mostly work with banks and insurance companies, and my goal is to understand their business problems and advice technology solutions to speed up their time to market.
What I love the most about working at Google is our corporate culture. It is a very collaborative environment, and we love challenging ourselves and our colleagues in a positive way. We do not receive orders from the top to be merely executed, but we have the space to be independent and “challenge the status quo”. In addition, I enjoy working so closely with our customers and my colleagues.
More importantly, Google’s environment is incredibly international and diverse. Every day, you can exchange visions and opinions with people coming from all over the world, which is very rewarding from a personal perspective. You have the opportunity to see how different people approach problems and design solutions, leveraging different points of view.
What role does the Cloud play both in financial and non-financial businesses? What are the next scenarios concerning the Cloud? What will be the next paradigms of SaaS and BaaS?
The goal of the Cloud is straightforward: to enable customers to solve their business problems through technology and to speed up their time to market. Our role is to listen to the customers, understand where their issues stem from, and design feasible technical solutions.
In terms of current evolutions in place, I think that we, as technology providers, are now trying to infuse Machine Learning (ML) everywhere. Machine Learning is an amazing technology, continuously evolving, which allows us to identify patterns and information that are usually hidden in data. I am thinking, for instance, of image recognition, text to speech, speech to text, etc. This technology can generate new business models. For instance, today it is extremely common to conversate with chatbots or robots that can understand (based on the tone of your voice and the problem you present) if the system is able to give you a response or if it has to direct you to a physical employee. ML technology can improve different kinds of analysis: for example in the financial sector it is very common to see fraud detection use cases powered by such as technology that enables companies to save some money invested in checking data and transactions.
I think these technologies will be largely adopted and further developed in the future. Above all, robot communication and IoT will increase the level of automation in many different sectors.
Nevertheless, I think something will probably not change in the future, which is the human factor. Even if we will experience a huge increase in automation, behind the scenes we will always have people who know the human nature of their business and are able to manage the system from above.
How are the concerns about cyber security addressed by Google or, more generally, by Cloud service providers?
Many of our clients are really interested in knowing how much Google is investing in security. Currently, more than one thousand employees work in this sector every day, including both physical and infrastructural security, and there is no other company investing so much. For us, security is a major concern because, if we had any security issues, nobody would use our services anymore.
Granting security in the Cloud is a very complex matter. Many different problems need to be addressed when adopting a Shared Security Model. We ensure that our infrastructure is extremely safe but, at the same time, our clients (the owners of the data stored) must do their best to protect it as well, by properly configuring firewalls rules, for instance. Google provides you with all the services you need to protect your data but, at the same time, it is important that you configure them based on your needs and security policies. That is why it is called a “Shared Responsibility Model”.
Why do financial and non-financial businesses choose the Google Cloud Platform? What kind of services are they looking for, and how does Google help the banking and insurance sector in the digital transformation?
Financial service providers choose Google for many reasons. First, we invest a lot of attention and resources into high-level security. Secondly, we ensure compliance and regulation. For instance, lately, in Italy we have invested in making our platform compatible with the guidelines issued by Central European Bank and Banca d’Italia. Regarding the cloud infrastructure, we will be able to physically store all customer data in Italian data centers, which will allow banking institutions to feel safe in supporting our Cloud environment and enable us to sign big collaborations with Italian banks.
Another important reason for adopting the Google Cloud is that we provide our customers with many tools to collect and analyze users’ data in large numbers. The companies that do that need to generate a lot of reports for legal reasons to show compliance. In the past, they used to leverage legacy technology running in on-prem datacenters, but the cost to run those services was extremely high. Thanks to the Google Cloud platform, these services are offered at a much lower cost.
Moreover, thanks to Machine Learning, we offer solutions that allow customers to grasp a better understanding of the business and gain deeper insights. In order to extract significant insight from raw data, you need to have access to advanced know-how and technology. Data scientists and business analysts love to work with the latest technology available on the market, but banks usually don’t have this technology. Therefore, they can leverage our Cloud solutions also to collect and retain talents, which is an extremely important element to consider.
Do you also have clients that are not traditional banks, such as digital native banks or Fintech firms? What is Google’s strategy to address those customers’ needs, especially considering that not all your clients have the same starting level of digital transformation?
Obviously, the way you approach those customers is completely different than traditional banks. The main concern of the latter is how to digitally transform their legacy environment to adapt to the future. On the other hand, Fintech firms are interested in how to accelerate their growth 10x, how to speed up their time to market, how to become the next unicorns etc.. We showcase to them how to leverage the Cloud technology to become players in a broader ecosystem. In this ecosystem, they need to connect with other companies and exchange data with them, in order to accelerate growth and achieve their business goals.
The Cloud is an enabler of inter-firm communication. As a matter of fact, in my experience I could witness that the most critical part of a digital transformation is not limited to the core banking system, but how to connect it with the entire ecosystem of services gravitating around that. Eventually, being able to connect many additional services to the core system of financial institutions generates a win – win situation for everybody, including the final user.
When I interact with a Fintech firm or a financial institution, I first need to understand their needs. If they want to develop their solutions faster or to grow faster, the Cloud can help very easily. However, one needs to address other questions, such as how the Cloud will change their way of doing business and how it will allow them to build strategic partnerships with other firms that use the same Cloud service. Generally, these firms are also interested in knowing how we helped other customers in the past.
Regarding legacy banks, what are their priorities and the first things they want to change when they approach the Cloud?
Very often, their priority is to reduce costs. A substantial part of our discussion with the client is to show them how our solutions can help them save money.
From a managerial perspective, when running your own data center, you are increasing your Capex (capital expenditure) since you need to purchase physical machineries, while through the Cloud you are just increasing your Opex (operational expenses) since you don’t need to purchase assets but you just pay for the usage of the service provided. This creates an economic benefit to the customer who can save resources that can be invested into something different.
Another extremely important point is related to ESG. A lot of companies, especially in the financial industry, are investing a lot in environmental sustainability, and they know the Cloud can help them achieve this goal. Google has publicly announced that it will be carbon-free neutral by 2030 (https://sustainability.google/commitments/). We make our customers aware of the amount of CO2 that our data centers are emitting when developing their infrastructure, which helps them make more informed decisions.
One last priority of theirs is to be able to target the modern user i.e., younger generations, through modern services. Young people are the future big spenders, so they want to build services that are closer to them, rather than continuing offering the same old model. They need to speed up their process of developing new services, to test them, collect the feedback from users and continuously improve and evolve their applications. To do this, they need to adapt their technological infrastructure accordingly, including, for instance, CI/CD technology or SRE approach to control the status of their application. The Cloud is what enables our customers to easily implement such changes.
How do IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS solution differ in terms of creating value for your customers? How do they differ and what are the main features of each?
Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Service are three different services that Cloud providers offer to their customers. Each of them allows for different levels of customer ownership and control over the digital solution.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service is like giving our customers a virtual machine that runs in the Cloud. We provide our customers with the infrastructure and allow them to access a huge number of virtual machines with one click, so that they don’t have to worry about purchasing more servers for their data centers, maintaining or powering them. All the datacenters are taken care of by us, but it is up to our customers to decide what to do on top of that. They need to install their own applications and maintain their own operating systems updated with security features, which they are responsible for.
IaaS is the perfect starting point for a customer who first approaches the Cloud, because the transition from the “old model” to the “new model” is smoother and faster. A project that aims to move virtual machines from On-prem to the Coud is usually called “lift and shift”, which has a similar meaning to “copy and paste”. Obviously, the transition is not so trivial, but the customer will continue to manage their infrastructure in a similar way.
The second step is to move to Platform-as-a-Service. With PaaS, customers don’t have to think about the underlying infrastructure nor have to deal with installing and maintaining middle-ware and operating system layers. To give you an example, let’s think of a bank that develops an application to allow the users to access their bank account information. Deploying that app leveraging an IaaS model implies selecting and installing the operating system and scaling the infrastructure as more customers use the app. What happens, instead, with PaaS is that customers simply develop the app, deploy it within the provided platform environment, and the service automatically understands the fluctuations of amount of power needed. The infrastructure behind the scenes will automatically scale based on their needs. In this way, the users will not experience data corruption or service interruption, and our customers will be happy because they don’t have to manage anything behind the scenes from an infrastructural viewpoint.
But the benefits of PaaS go beyond this, generated from the huge potential of leveraging our development platform ecosystem. For instance, in Google we have a service that allows to crunch terabytes of data in seconds, without the need for the client to set up anything.
The last step is Software-as-a-Service. It provides all the benefits of a Cloud infrastructure, such as scalability and security, while offering the comfort for users who don’t need to import the service, which is already there backed by a Cloud infrastructure. One example is Salesforce (a CRM SaaS company), which allows its customers to just use the software while the infrastructure scales automatically, without the need for them to implement anything.
Usually, banks start from IaaS and then transit to PaaS or SaaS. However, during my experience in the financial sector, I could see that there is not one unique model that suits everyone and every situation. Instead, it looks more like an “ecosystem” of different models backed up by the Cloud infrastructure.
We are mostly students of finance and business management, and many of us would like to join a tech company. What advice would you give us? What competences do you think are necessary to work for a Big Tech?
I think that working for a Big Tech is fantastic and the opportunities you have here are awesome. We work in a very diverse environment, which is enriching from a personal viewpoint. The people at Google come from many different backgrounds because it is extremely important to have different points of view when reasoning on a specific issue.
My advice is to focus on soft skills especially because, as students, you don’t have a huge track record and a lot of years of working experience. There are three main soft skills that will help you get your way into a tech company:
1) The ability to listen to the customers, understand their needs, translate them into business solutions, and link business solutions to technical solutions.
2) The ability to work in a dynamic environment and to adapt to fast changes, as you may need to change roles and responsibilities in a short period of time.
3) Curiosity about the company you are working for, and the ability to offer original perspectives when dealing with specific problems in that company.
Obviously, soft skills are not the only thing you need. Depending on the role you are looking to apply for, you must also possess specific hard skills, which vary greatly for different jobs. For instance, the hard skills you need to work in sales include the ability to prepare business cases and to understand the return from investments. To work in finance, instead, you must be able to read and dig into the data, transform them, make graphs etc.
Depending on where you want to work and on your specific role, you may also have language requirements. Google is a very international environment. Therefore, also non-Italian speakers have the chance to apply for some roles in Italy, especially the ones that do not require a close contact with the customers. If you work closely with them, it is pretty important to know Italian.
Thanks, Marco, for your answers and your time. You have been enlightening in explaining to us how Google Cloud is helping its customers embrace the tech revolution. You have also been inspiring in showing us how rewarding it can be to work for a Big Tech. We hope to see you again soon!