High standards

Saudi Arabian Al Rajhi Bank makes a long-term commitment to best practices with a three-year project to transform its IT operations.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  December 29, 2005

|~|PHOTO-1---Al-Mezrao-BODY.jpg|~|Al-Mazroa: For Al Rajhi Bank, the benefits are very clear. We will save money.|~|In a bid to reduce costs and improve customer service, Al Rajhi Bank in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has embarked on a project to revamp its IT systems. One of KSA’s largest listed banks, with one of the largest branch networks in the Kingdom, the banking and investment corporation has been on a drive to increase capital and build on its base of depositors in recent years. Al-Rajhi is a fully-fledged Islamic bank providing wholesale, retail and commercial banking products and services, in addition to investment banking, and has enhanced and added more services and retail products feature in order to become more competitive and cost effective. The bank is also concentrating on improving its non-investment based activities, as well as striving to become a more active player in the funds management business. In addition, Al-Rajhi’s directors have been looking at other markets for expansion, and the organisation has been awarded an Islamic banking license by the Malaysian government. In order to support this diverse and sustained growth, the Al Rajhi Bank has begun a comprehensive project based on the IT infrastructure library (ITIL), one of the leading standards for IT best practices. The ITIL processes represent a flexible approach that can enhance the delivery of mission-critical IT resources in the face of constantly changing business needs. “This initiative aims to align IT goals with the bank’s business goals, improve the transparency of IT operations, and address the key pain points of both the internal and external stakeholders,” explains Saad Al-Mazroa, director of IT at Al Rajhi Bank. ITIL is a series of documents that describe an integrated and process-based best practice framework for applying IT service management, which the bank will use to improve its operational efficiencies. The recommendations cover areas such as incident management, problem management, change management, release management and help-desk. According to Al-Mazroa, becoming certifiable and being able to be more accountable were the key factors in Al Rajhi Bank ‘s decision to undergo its IT transformation initiative and deploy internationally-recognised standards. The bank acknowledged that ITIL deployment could not be approached as though it were simply a product that needed to be implemented, realising that compliance with the standards does not constitute a complete solution or an automatic path to good governance. Instead, Al-Mazroa and his team took a carefully thought-out approach to ITIL. “We chose to work with an experienced team that had the relevant domain knowledge and competencies to ensure the project’s success,” explains Al-Mazroa. “An iterative and staged approach enabled us to focus on key areas.” Al Rajhi Bank relied on a roadmap and consultancy from Indian IT solutions provider Satyam, and is using ITIL to spearhead a US$1 million face-lift of its IT management capabilities, an exercise that will be fully completed by the end of 2007. Satyam conducted a gap assessment against various frameworks and enabled Al Rajhi to create enterprise level process architecture. “The consultants are now supporting us in defining new processes and in deploying these across the organisation,” says Al-Mazroa. As the first step in the best practice project, the organisation went live with a new helpdesk system in 2005. Al Rajhi is introducing the ITIL processes for its internal systems management, which is based on CA’s Unicenter software suite, an infrastructure solution that provides a number of valuable management features. The standards will ultimately extend to all levels of IT within the bank’s infrastructure, including desktops, applications, middleware, databases, workloads, servers and networks. “The impact of the project will be immense, but it will only be felt fully when we reach the end of the 27-month roadmap,” Al-Mazroa says. “Our goal [in 2005] was to enhance our processes, our quality, and to implement best practices in IT management. This will mean less manual work, so the saving will be measurable, but it won’t come immediately after implementation.” In the long term, however, Al-Mazroa is confident that this project will bring numerous benefits and direct savings for the bank, as well as clear improvements for its customers. The bank will be able to improve its workflow processes across the business, making operations quicker and more efficient. Workloads will be lessened, and the bank will have greater insight into its operations, giving Al Rajhi a significant competitive edge, and boosting profitability. “For Al Rajhi Bank, the benefits are very clear,” according to Al-Mazroa. Put simply, he says: “We will save money.” The improvement in IT service management has given the bank a fundamental toolset for weaving transparency, control and risk mitigation into the fabric of its IT systems and practices. It has transformed Al Rajhi’s IT team’s technology-driven activities into managed business services, addressing issues that had been raised in previous internal and external audits. The advantages of being ITIL standards compliant will also extend to the bank’s customers, adds Al-Mazroa. “To serve the customer better, we have to provide the employees at the branch level with tools that help them to do their job well, so that they can effectively serve the needs of customers sitting in the branch.” ||**||

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