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HSBC: Why machine learning is accelerating cloud adoption

Matthew Finnegan | May 10, 2017
Machine learning, along with cloud-first strategy, helps bank understand huge amounts of data.

"The answer to those three was, the first two a very firm yes, and the third one a very, very strong yes. It was enormously easier to build this stuff, basically because we were just consuming a set of services sitting on top of the cloud infrastructure that already existed.

"We found that by using the cloud, we are taking a huge amount of friction out of the process, and basically all the people who are focused on deriving value from data really do data science or software engineering rather than infrastructure managing and provisioning and procurement and all that kind of stuff."


Machine learning tools maturing

Google is not the only large cloud provider offering machine learning tools, with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure selling their own services, but Knott found that the search giant had a clear advantage in this area. "They invented this stuff," Knott says.

HSBC had previously trialled machine learning tools within its organisation. However, the tools available were difficult to manage and the success of the initiatives was limited.

"A year to 18 months ago, we did have a number of smaller companies selling machine learning solutions into us, and they were fairly niche and they were quite difficult to adopt and consume. You kind of needed real hardcore AI PhDs and people like that to really get to grips with it," he says.

"What we have seen is that, not just on the cloud but generally some other more commercial platforms as well, we have seen a realI hesitate to use the word democratisation, it is more commercialisation and industrialisation of that marketplace, to actually make it consumable to normal engineers.

"So as one of the people I work with has put it: 'you don't have to learn how to build machine learning from the ground up', you now have to learn how to use machine learning - there is still learning to do, but that is a much more doable proposition."


AI expertise

He says that the number of tech staff working directly with machine learning systems is "probably in the 'tens'" at the moment. However, he says HSBC now recognises the need to "establish the ability to use machine learning as a core competency" within the organisation. Knott expects the number of staff with knowledge of machine learning systems to expand into the hundreds quite swiftly.

Knott acknowledges that accessing skills is a challenge in a fast growing area.

"We look at different ways to get hold of those skills, including training programmes and scholarships," he says. "But to be honest it is a young industry - AI and machine learning have been around for decades, the new generation of machine learning is still very new, and I think there is a distinction between those.


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