Rajhi CFE overhauls network infrastructure

Commercial foregin exchange upgrades network as it bids for retail bank status

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  December 31, 2001

|~||~||~|Saudi Arabia-based Rajhi Commercial Foreign Exchange (CFE) is close to completing an infrastructure overhaul that will see its 120-plus branches connected to a single network. As the finance house seeks to become a major player in the retail banking sector, the network will help the company speed customer service, reduce costs and improve information sharing as it will enable all of its branches to access the centrally run Phoenix core banking system.

"Rajhi CFE is an organisation in transformation: we are fundamentally recreating our business, changing from a provider of foreign exchange [services] to a provider of a full set of banking services," explains Souheil Salloum, IT manager, Rajhi Commercial Foreign Exchange.

"Saudi Arabia is an extremely competitive market with many strong players, so we needed to create our new banking and information systems infrastructure in a very short time. We had to be sure that they would run flawlessly from the first day we open our doors as a bank," he adds.

To this end, the company brought NCR onboard to implement the Cisco -based solution network. The network architecture will provide multi-service connectivity and high-speed access for around 800 users. The network has been designed in three layers, with Rajhi CFE's main offices at the top, nine area offices in the second layer and the remaining 115 branches at the third.

"Cisco had the best solution for multi-service networking for the LAN and WAN, especially in terms of its scalability and flexibility. The flexibility of the architecture means that services can be added as and when needed — whether it's a video conference or an interactive training video," explains Naim Yazbeck, NCR e-BIS sales manager for Saudi Arabia.

Cisco's networking technology was also chosen because it natively supports voice over the data network through Cisco AVVID (architecture for voice, video and integrated data). Salloum explains that by deploying a VoIP network now, the company will be able to take advantage of the technology’s inherent benefits once Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC) allows users to put voice over data networks. The advantages of this, he adds, will be reduced costs and increased time to market compared to competitors.

"The majority of our routers port to voice and once all the lines are ready we will move to VoIP. This will save on operating costs and make the implementation of future initiatives, such as our move to Internet banking, easier," Salloum says.

In addition to implementing and securing the network, NCR will be responsible for keeping the network up and running 24x7 for the next 15 months. A knowledge transfer process will also take place that will allow Rajhi CFE's own network engineers to take over the maintenance of the network once the service contract expires.

"The knowledge transfer will occur through information sharing over the coming months between Rajhi CFE's and NCR's network engineers. At the same time, our engineers are attending Cisco network management courses. They have the qualifications and now they need the experience," explains Salloum.

While building up the skill set of the existing team of seven, Salloum is also looking to employ more network engineers ahead of the January launch date, as he wants to get the team up to twelve.

The company's initial $1.5 million investment in the network overhaul was not undertaken lightly, Salloum believes that with the number of branches growing at around 10-15% per year the network will, in fact, allow the company to grow more cost efficiently. As such, he expects to see a return on the company's investment within four years.||**||

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