Stocking up

The need to improve customer experience forced Abu Dhabi Securities Market to put in place an IP communications solution, which brought in its wake direct business benefits and increased productivity.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  June 5, 2007

The Abu Dhabi Securities Market (ADSM) was established in 2000, with the goal of providing opportunities to invest savings and funds in securities that would in turn grow the national economy. The largest stock exchange in the UAE in terms of number of listed companies, ADSM has 60 listed securities and 82 registered brokerage firms. Electronically linked to other exchanges, including ones in Oman and Qatar, the firm works to ensure the soundness and accuracy of transactions and a fair play of demand and supply to regulate prices.

“From the beginning IT was an important concern for ADSM. We have always invested in network solutions which would assure us high availability and also provide us with the necessary security and scalability that is essential for running our business. This cannot be overemphasised since the work that we do requires data reliability as well as secure networks,” says Khalfan Salem Al Mazrouei, IT manager for ADSM.

ADSM deployed a high end network with the purpose of doing away with downtime. Full redundancy with no single point of failure, high end Cisco switches and routers and two lines for WAN connectivity – a live line and a backup one – are some of the elements of the network. Additionally, WAN services are delivered with Ethernet over ATM and all data flowing through ADSM’s network is encrypted.

“We have adopted the Cisco three layers model. This creates an edge module that includes the brokers’ network, a collapsed core design that comprises main components, WAN connections and the internet,” states Al Mazrouei.

“There is also a server module that involves an independent entity where servers are attached to designated switches. Security features include a Juniper firewall and an ISS IPS system. This was essential since the network is accessed and connected to by many remote workers, brokers as well as our five branches,” he adds.

IP beckons

As part of its international best practices programme, ADSM constantly looks for ways to improve the efficiency of its IT systems. With exponential growth over the last few years, ADSM began to feel that it was essential to replace its traditional PABX system with an integrated IP communications system.

“There were a few reasons for this. Our business was growing and brokers needed to be more accessible to clients without leaving any potential for confusion over numbers,” comments Al Mazrouei.

“With increasing branches and remote locations, clients had to remember several numbers in order to reach people at ADSM. The IP system proved to be the right answer since it addressed all these issues,” he continues.

The aim of an IP telephony system would be to enable ADSM brokers to take on concurrent calls and provide for easy scalability of the network as users were added on. It would also standardise the entire connectivity across the network and provide the capability to record all calls passing through ADSM.

“Once the decision was made to move to an IP system, the choice of Cisco was easy. They are the largest and most established company in the domain and our existing infrastructure is built on the Cisco foundation as well,” Al Mazrouei reveals.

“Emirates Computers (EC) was an obvious choice as well since they could provide adequate support for the infrastructure and ensure continuous availability.”

EC put in place the Cisco IP telephony system and VoIP for ADSM along with a call recording solution, a call billing system and Dell servers. Prior to implementation, EC conducted a site inspection, analysed server architecture and design thoroughly, customised the solution taking ADSM’s specific needs into consideration and trained both the IT staff on handling the infrastructure as well as users on the main features of the new system. The implementation, which covered the headquarters as well as the branches, was conducted over the latter half of 2006 and took around four months to complete.

Coming home to benefits

ADSM experienced a smooth change from the older PABX system to the new IP telephony system. Apart from the replacement of a few switches to others that would support Power over Ethernet (PoE), there was no major overhaul of existing IT infrastructure.

“The IP telephony system has brought several benefits to ADSM. The most immediate one of course is the fact that brokers can be reached by clients anytime, anywhere. This has ensured a much better customer interaction,” points out Al Mazrouei.

“Clients can also reach ADSM through a single number and do not have to bother with remembering multiple numbers. Both these developments have gone a long way in improving customer experience and also increasing business productivity,” he states.

The new communication system has provisions for centralised recording – which means that ADSM can record all calls from clients to brokers, save it to archives and use the data as and when necessary. The solution has also made it easier to create and maintain backups, apart from cutting costs by enabling connectivity between branches via the WAN.

User adaptation to the new system was also swift at ADSM. Part of this can be traced to the fact that the IT team was careful to slowly ease the new system into the working pattern of users. The initial phase involved familiarising users to the new phones and its features. As users got comfortable using the phone interface and after a few training sessions, the IT team began to introduce a set of services on top of the IP communication system.

“Over some time we began to build services onto the IP system’s base. Right now we provide elements like directories, unified messaging, weather updates, flight details and even news. This was deployed in a phased manner so that users had time to adjust and get comfortable with the features on the system one at a time,” comments Al Mazrouei.

The IT team is working on adding further services to the IP communication system. They are currently working on introducing a customised news feed for users as well as providing disclosures for the brokers through the system.

Addressing the business

“At present we have around 600 extensions on the IP system. This covers our branches, headquarters and even the trading floors. Investors who visit ADSM during trading hours can also use the advanced communication system,” says Al Mazrouei.

“The solution also provides us with the capacity to scale as much as we desire in the future. This is of great importance to ADSM since we are growing at an extremely fast clip,” he adds.

EC, which worked along with the ADSM staff for smooth integration, provides first level support to the organisation. Most of the day-to-day management is handled by the 15-member IT team at the company. Being a large securities firm that deals with sensitive trading data on a daily basis, ADSM has put in a lot of effort in implementing and following up on international standards to ensure comprehensive data reliability and security.

“Information technology management at ADSM is structured around best practices as suggested by ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). We place a lot of importance on security across the network. We have been working on the ISO 17799 standard and hope to be certified on that by next year,” says Al Mazrouei.

The IP system helps ADSM in reaching and maintaining the goals set by such standards in data delivery, storage and backup. It also promises a solid foundation that will provide support and scalability for ADSM’s growth into the future.

While defined ROI can be reached only after four years, Al Mazrouei points out that by ensuring that brokers can be reached more often by clients and by allowing concurrent calls to be addressed the IP system has helped ADSM increase the volume of its trading. In other words, it has directly influenced an increase in business for ADSM.

“The IP system has helped us improve business efficiency and provide for a much better interaction with our customers. And these advantages have been provided in a secure environment, with no downtime, which is critical to organisational functioning at ADSM,” says Al Mazrouei.

“The IP system has proved to be a wise investment, integrating well, as it does, into our standards–based environment and also bringing immediate positive change to not only the way business is conducted, but also the way customers interact with us,” concludes Al Mazrouei.

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