Equifax's CTO walked us through a Google Cloud migration that's addressing security concerns, cutting $240 million in costs, and helping speed up new product launches

  • Bryson Koehler, chief technology officer for Equifax, detailed the digital transformation the consumer credit-reporting giant has undergone over the past two years.
  • Equifax has put a "significant" amount of a $1.25 billion investment towards full adoption of the public cloud.
  • Koehler said the firm has already decommissioned 10 data centers and is on pace to save $240 million.
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It took Bryson Koehler all of two weeks to realize what changes he wanted to make when he arrived at Equifax in June 2018 as its chief technology officer.

The consumer credit reporting giant was roughly a year removed from a security breach that allowed cybercriminals to access personal data for over 145 million Americans. In the wake of that, Equifax had pledged $1.25 billion towards a digital transformation.

Koehler, who came from IBM where he served as CTO for IBM Watson and its cloud platform, immediately had an idea where he wanted to invest a "significant" amount of the resources: the public cloud.

"Coming in and looking at, 'How do we make sure that we position Equifax for sustainable leadership in technology, data, and analytics, with a heavy focus on being world class from a data-security perspective,'" Koehler told Business Insider. 

"It became clear to me that the best way for us to achieve that goal was to do a complete cloud-native rebuild. Not a lift and shift. Not a hybrid model. But to really go all in," he added.

See more: From Deutsche Bank to CME, Google Cloud has nabbed a string of big financial clients. Here are 3 ways it's making its pitch to win over Wall Street.

More than two years later, Equifax is reaping the benefits of the move. According to its second-quarter earnings report, the company is on pace to realize $240 million in cash savings from its digital transformation by the second half of 2021.

Equifax has already decommissioned 10 data centers thus far, Koehler said. And by the end of the year a majority of its North American data estate and customers will have migrated to the public cloud. 

But it's not just about cost savings. Koehler said Equifax has also been able to increase its speed of innovation. In 2019, when the transformation initially began, Koehler said roughly 90 new products were launched. This year, he expects that number to increase to more than 100. 

"Being able to simultaneously rebuild, migrate customers, and launch new, to me that is the proof of now you're taking advantage of real cloud scale that you really wouldn't have been able to do if you had done it the old way," Koehler said. 

Koehler said there's 'no doubt' the public cloud is more secure

It is notable that a company that dealt with one of the most public data breaches in recent memory has adopted a technology many are still hesitant to store sensitive data in. For all the progress and adoption the public cloud has seen in recent years, some firms, particularly those on Wall Street, still stop short of parking customers' information on the public cloud. 

Koehler, however, said there is "no doubt" a cloud-native approach is more secure that data that resides on premise. 

"To think that I could make a capital investment in an on-prem data center that I need to run for five to seven years to get that return on," he said. "To maintain that in a constantly-evolving, evergreen, state-of-the-art way, versus the cloud where every time I deploy I can choose to be on the latest and greatest. I just can't compare those two."

Read more: Google Cloud just poached a long-time Citi exec. Here's why public-cloud giants keep adding Wall Street veterans to their ranks.

To be sure, Koehler said it's not just a matter of set-it-and-forget-it. While the public cloud gives a company the ability to be more secure, it needs to build in additional frameworks to ensure it is able to take advantage of those benefits. 

Koehler made that very pitch to Equifax's board when explaining his reasoning for making the move. And while it took more than one conversation to detail the plan, Koehler said it wasn't a hard sell. All of Equifax's US customers have also greenlit the move, he added.

"We've sat down with the CTOs, CIOs and CISOs at many of our customers and gone through our plan. There's, as you can imagine, lots of questions and lots of back and forth and lots of education, which we love," he said. "We find those conversations good and exciting. They learn something, and we learn something."

Equifax adopted a destroy-and-deploy model

While Equifax is taking a multi-cloud approach, its primary public cloud provider is the Google Cloud Platform, which has gained momentum over the past 12 months nabbing several financial firms as clients. 

For Koehler, relying on Google Cloud for the majority of the transformation boiled down to its expertise dealing with data.

"Equifax is mostly a data and analytics company. I believe that Google Cloud offers a differentiated approach to data that was completely unique and wasn't available at other competitors," he said. 

See more: Wall Street is finally willing to go to Amazon's, Google's, or Microsoft's cloud, but nobody can agree on the best way to do it: 'If you pick a favorite and you're wrong, you're fired'

More broadly, Koehler explained the transformation about giving Equifax a "destroy and deploy" mindset. By having an infrastructure that was entirely code-based, the company had far more flexibility. 

Staying on the cutting edge is nearly impossible when you're forced to constantly update and rework older tech stacks, Koehler said. And even if a company is able to, it's unlikely it'll have any time for meaningful innovation.

The migration was about making a clean break from years of legacy tech that had built up over time, he added. 

"We're not patching systems anymore. We just destroy and deploy new ones. and that mindset is so important when you think about creating a sustainable operating environment for data and compute," Koehler said.  

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