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Production Support is a vital role within enterprise technology. It's known by a number of different names, including Application Support, Production Management and Application Management.
Production support involves working closely with business stakeholders (such as traders) to resolve any issues with technical systems and applications. In a trading environment, traders will typically raise 'tickets' – requests for help – with the support teams, usually over e-mail or by telephone. Those tickets will enter a queue of work where the progress of investigations can be tracked. The Production Support team pick up those tickets and work to address the issues, liaising with other technical teams where necessary.
For example, a trader might recognise that a trading price shown in an application is completely wrong, even though they believe it was entered correctly. Since this may be a technical issue, they would contact the Production Support team and request assistance. Support analysts would then begin their detective work to track down the cause, whether it's a fault with the application code, out-of-date information from another system, bad data in a database... A combination of instinct and a careful methodical approach will guide them to the solution.
While some issues will have a simple fix (say, correcting a value where a trader typed too many zeros), others may be more complex. If an issue is recurring, or requires a detailed or long-winded fix, support analysts may be required to produce smarter solutions. They will often need to write scripts – small pieces of software – to move data around, correct file contents or manipulate the behaviour of application processes on servers. This requires expertise in database languages (SQL), shell scripts (Bash, tcsh, etc.) and high-level scripting languages such as Python & Perl (though Perl is becoming less popular).
As well as responding to requests from business users, support analysts are also required to respond to automated systems which monitor the health of both software applications and infrastructure. Monitoring systems such as ITRS’ Geneos or Nagios are often used to survey changes in the technology environment and alert support analysts when something may be about to break. This often helps in catching and fixing faults before business users notice and start creating support tickets, which helps to keep them much happier!
1st line: Usually known as the IT helpdesk. Almost every bank now has their 1st line in an offshore location. Their role is to act as a first point of contact, aid in creating tickets and to pass the information to the correct 2nd line teams (sometimes called 'catch and dispatch').
2nd line: These are the analysts who do most of the analytical work for live issues, and this is often a high-pressure role. Most people in these teams are based wherever the desk is that they are supporting. They will build rapport with the traders and usually spend a large portion of their day sat with the traders working on any issues they have. They will often spend time performing Incident Management – managing live faults and outages to resolve them as quickly and safely as possible.
3rd line: Often overlapping with the responsibilities of development teams, 3rd line support tends to include configuration, installation, complex bug fixes and release management (before applications that developers have built ‘go live’ the 3rd line will be responsible for successfully releasing it to the technical environment and making sure everything works, alongside those in testing). They will often need to perform Problem Management – spotting patterns of recurring issues to identify areas for improvement. Some third lines teams also include integration engineers that are solely responsible for integrating new systems into old ones. In some environments, the 2nd and 3rd line responsibilities will be handled by the same people.
As you might imagine, if 1st line can’t fix a bug, they escalate it to 2nd line, and when 2nd line can’t fix a bug they will raise it to 3rd. Then 3rd line will raise anything they can’t solve to development teams.
Within the Electronic Trading space there are also specialist teams, such as FIX (Financial Information eXchange) Support, who support communications systems that pass information between applications and the exchanges on which products are traded.
Being in Production Support you will be getting a lot of exposure to the trading desk, picking up how (for example) Derivatives are priced, as Support Analysts will be responsible for working on the technical side of these systems. Whilst doing this they also stay close to the technical side of things using Unix, SQL etc on a daily basis.