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"We'll transform the market completely." Hendrik Nehnes, CTO at Regis24

23. September 2019

deutsche VersionHendrik Nehnes

 

Hi Hendrik! You’ve been at Regis24 since 2017. Given that you’re still with us, can we assume you’re still enjoying it here?

Yes! I really enjoy working with my teams. We’ve got a couple of very interesting projects, and we’re ready and able to completely transform the market for credit agencies. I would like to highlight especially the openness for innovative technologies at Regis24 and our ability to apply them. The most important point, however, is that I have already made a lot of changes at Regis and have never encountered organisational or political blockages. Most companies don’t grant you that kind of freedom.

Oh, and the view from our office is spectacular, too!

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Proof: our HQ facing Berlin’s historical old town. (Photo: © Aurica Voss)

What did you do before joining Regis24?

Before moving to Berlin, I worked at Wieland Werke in Ulm, where I was responsible for their terminal servers. After 2008, I worked at Zanox as Team Lead and later Head of the IT department before working at AWIN AG in the role of IT director. We handled thousands of servers in different data centers and started to move some services to a cloud-based system. At the same time, we needed to make sure that our services were available at all times and at the utmost capacity—like for example on Black Friday.

What do you like about working at Regis24? What do you think could be improved further?

First of all, the size of Regis is a stark contrast to Wieland (6,000 employees) and AWIN (1,000 employees). Here, everyone knows each other and can simply walk over to their table to discuss something or ask a question. That way, we’re able to make fast decisions and to work at a high pace. In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure if I would be enthusiastic about working at a credit agency. But with our vision for the future, I no longer doubt that we’ll transform the market for credit agencies completely, and thus the public image that comes along with it.

After starting as our CTO, you reorganized the IT department thoroughly. You dissolved the separate teams (developers, testers, and admins) and transformed them into cross-functional teams with the ability to code and test. Additionally, a few system administrators switched to coding while some admin tasks are now being handled by the production team. Why did you make all those changes?

When I joined the company, I saw a lot of old and rigid structures. Kevin, our Agile Coach, had already begun to dissolve them. Therefore, a lot of preparatory work had already been done when I started. In cooperation with all the teams, I just went on from there.

However, it’s also important to note that some of our decisions turned out to be inadequate and were reversed, like transferring support tasks to one of our development teams. Trying to work on both coding and support caused split focus and too much unplanned work for every sprint. In the second iteration we established a different system. Now we have some production employees doing first level admin tasks and the admins handling the rest.

I plan to continue handing over more and more responsibilities to the teams and keep trying out new things to develop us further as a company.

So where does the IT department stand at this point? Where do you see potential for growth or future challenges?

We’re still looking to fill some positions, like testers, developers and product owners, to complete the existing teams. We’re also thinking about having product teams instead of IT teams in the future, with marketing and sales specialists joining development.

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Other than that, I’m very happy with the department. We’ve tackled the biggest challenges and established the best practices and tools to work efficiently. We’ve also created new solutions for handling personal data that are unique and that will give us a huge technical advantage in the future. It's not all my ideas alone; they came and still come from the teams who can now implement them much better and faster because artificial barriers have been torn down.

The way I see it, the biggest challenge is to keep an eye on regulations and to speed up our pace, both at the same time. We also need to further increase communication between the IT teams and our customers.

What does a day in the Regis24 IT department look like? Which methods and tools are being applied? How do you communicate with each other, or with the rest of the company?

I'd say, there's no such thing as a typical day. The processes in the teams are designed in such a way that they fit the respective team. Of course there are a few regular appointments for everyone—for example, daily standups, SoS (Scrum of Scrums) and bi-weekly sprint reviews.

Also there are groomings, retrospectives and so forth, but that’s something every team decides for itself. We no longer have any fixed team meetings because cross-team communication has vastly improved. Information is shared efficiently, and teams get together spontaneously, whenever necessary.

Most of the teams work with SCRUM, while the admin team currently is trying out Kanban. Within the company, our main communication tool is Microsoft Teams. That’s where we share information, have discussions and also involve people when they’re working from home.

To create concepts, we use Miro—a virtual whiteboard. Our tickets are maintained within JIRA with the corresponding documentation happening in Confluence. Another thing we’ve changed is how we handle infrastructure. In the past, our admin team had to provide it, whereas now we’re using Terraform and AWS within the development teams.

One of the major innovations you’ve initiated and implemented was moving our databases and applications to Amazon Web Services (AWS), meaning we had to migrate from our own servers to a cloud-based system. Why did you make that decision?

I come from a background shaped by hardware and data centers. Over the years, I’ve installed, maintained and exchanged hundreds of servers. That comes with a lot of problems and effort. In the last ten years, we’ve witnessed the rise of many big and international cloud services. Those companies can handle the job much more efficiently and safely, and at a low cost. Over time, I’ve turned from being sceptical to being an advocate of cloud technology.

My former jobs required me to consult with extremely specialized people that worked with data centers, hardware, operating systems and software. Those experts are usually very expensive, because they have to be both constantly aware of the newest trends and testing them to maintain an efficient system. In my opinion, this is only suitable for big companies that have their own large IT department. At Regis, we didn’t have any of those experts and faced the growing problem of maintaining our systems safely and efficiently. We had to invest a lot of time that we could have otherwise spent on creating value.

Right now, we run all new products on AWS and use technologies that work without servers. However, it’s important to note that this really only works for components that are fresh out of development. To migrate pre-existing systems is often considerably more expensive and only grants positive results under certain conditions.

To me, the biggest advantages are lower costs, high availability and maximum scalability.

Have we, in fact, become dependent on cloud providers by moving our database? How do we guarantee that AWS keeps data safe?

All big cloud providers, be it Amazon, Google or Microsoft, are under constant public observation and have to apply many resources to guarantee their systems to be safe. To prove that safety, they use a couple of independent institutions and certificates. When picking a provider, we always consult data protection. The safety level of the big cloud providers is outstanding, and in the end, that’s why we’re betting on them: to guarantee data security is the core of our services.

Even though our data is up in the cloud, we can encrypt everything ourselves. That ensures that the provider of the cloud can’t get to the data. Additionally, we can switch providers, should we want to. We have prepared for those scenarios by using tools like Terraform—but it’s also worth noting that such a switch would require a lot of money and effort, just like switching to another data center. While all providers offer very similar technologies, they still differ in some areas, like Serverless Computing. That’s something that makes it harder to migrate.

A data science company like Regis24 has, by all means, to focus on data protection. Do new developments, like GDPR or PSD2, have made your work more complex?

I’d say, they have made my work more clear, and—with regard to the European market—also a bit simpler. Before, there were a lot of separate data protection laws from different countries, that actually didn’t differ much in their content. GDPR has made that more coherent. What I’m still missing is the connection to working realities—this is often achieved only by subsequent lawsuits or legal opinions. I hope this will be improving in the long run.

Which current trends do you find especially interesting and how do you think they’ll influence us?

We observe that many things still happen quite asynchronously and manually on the market. New technologies like Serverless Computing, API’s and Self Service are changing that behaviour quite significantly. In the future, decision-making will be influenced by machine-learning processes. That will enable us to use better data which will benefit all stakeholders.

When it comes to data protection, I generally expect that consumers will gain much more authority over how their data is being used. Of course, this will require a higher level of transparency when data is being processed. Currently, many general business terms are only seemingly compliant with GDPR, and offer very little transparency—one example being E-Scooter providers. As soon as consumers are truly given full authority over their data, we’ll be able to handle topics such as identity theft much better.

Data security is becoming more important to big cloud providers as well. They offer services designed to ensure a high level of data security and to inform users about wrongly configured databases or file servers, amongst other things. After the current cloud hype I therefore expect compliance to be much more front and center.

Last question—we are steadily looking for new team members for the IT department. Why is it worth joining our company?

Every new team member will be empowered to create value within a truly great set of teams and be able to shape the future of how we handle personal data. We‘re investing in new technologies and processes, and are aiming to completely transform the market.

One more thing to mention is that in the end, it’s the teams that decide who they’d like to work with, not me. That way, we ensure that the team and the applicant are a mutual fit and we match both on a professional and individual level.

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High ambitions in many places: Hendrik Nehnes, CTO at Regis24

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