Planning finance

Two years into a mammoth strategic plan, Dubai Bank is firing on all cylinders in its quest to improve efficiency. Nathan Statz talks to Faizal Eledath, CIO of Dubai Bank, to find out more.

Tags: CRMDubai BankMicrosoft GulfUnited Arab Emirates
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Planning finance ELEDATH: We are fairly new with the implementation – but what clearly is visible to us is the feedback from the users.
By  Nathan Statz Published  October 11, 2009 Arabian Computer News Logo

When Dubai Bank was lighting the candles on its fifth birthday cake, there was another cause for celebration - the financial institution had just become Shar'ia-compliant. The change was also accompanied by a heavyweight strategic three-year business plan, which laid the groundwork for where the bank wanted to be by 2010.

Most organisations need to ensure that the IT department is onboard with the business strategy, though this is pressure-cooked in the financial sector. With the constantly rising number of channels which customers are able to access their financial data on, it's no surprise that the demands on IT are also skyrocketing.

For Faizal Eledath, CIO of Dubai Bank, the evidence of this need was quite clear and he spearheaded the incorporation of IT into the three year business plan. This meant that the company could look to lay down a best practice method of adding channels such as SMS-banking and incorporate them into a brand new customer relationship management (CRM) system.

"We were a commercial bank and then we became an Islamic bank. Around that time we put together a three year strategy and the roadmap included the CRM layer - operational CRM -we implemented a workflow layer later. That was the context in which we decided to put the CRM in and we evaluated solutions around that time," says Eledath.

 While the decision to move forward with a CRM project was made in the planning phase, the actual selection process for the vendor was a lengthy one, with Microsoft emerging as the final choice.

"It made sense for us to go with Microsoft CRM because there were synergies with other online technologies that we had put in - in year one [of the strategic plan]. For instance, our middleware is Microsoft BizStock and it lent itself value to go with Microsoft and the channel interfaces for utility banking, net banking and so on," adds Eledath.

The Dubai Bank is actually ISO 9001 certified, which Eledath explains means that the tender process was subject to certain quality management controls, which was of particular importance for an organisation working with other people's money. This entire process then had to be repeated for the selection of the integrator that would be responsible for installing Microsoft's software and handling the project.

The project began in March this year, and although the CRM system is up and running, Eledath relates that the journey is not over. Microsoft's new licenses have been utilised in the bank's contact centre and branches, but there are more services that are in the pipeline which have yet to be brought online.

"What CRM does now - talking operational CRM - is around sales, service and marketing. We put together the integrated application across all touch points. Which means we had to enhance the customer repository, put a mechanism in where the customer information was centralised rather than all these operational systems. All that is integrated with the operational systems, so we don't have addresses which are replicated across the system - they are centralised," explains Eledath.

Once the project was underway and installations were happening on the Dubai Bank premises, the implementation took six months from shrink-wrapped CDs to servers going live. Given that CRM implementations can often balloon out to multi-year affairs, this was a relatively speedy time-to-market, though Eledath is quick to point out that this was not one of the driving forces behind the choice of Microsoft.

"If you look we have service-monitored architecture. What that means is that services that we have built for our other channels like internet banking, telephone banking and so on were raised. Those that were not redeveloped, for CRM, we clearly and obviously augmented the services by building new ones which could perhaps be used for other channels. That platform was laid out in 2007, so that was easy for us to reuse and hasten the speed of implementation," continues Eledath.

As part of the company's three year strategy, Eledath and his IT team have obtained buy-in from the main business, which meant certain goals were set to keep the department's technology plans closely aligned overall with the rest of the organisation.

"We did not have to justify the reason for each of these initiatives. The strategy was agreed upon and budget was not much of an issue. Having said that, with our experience in the channels we have one of the largest penetrations on internet banking. That is evident in terms of success," he says.

The internet channels are actually a fairly lucrative one for the bank, as Eledath highlights that from a cost standpoint, they are far cheaper than the contact centre as there is no human element involved. Given that the project has only just come out of its covers, it is also too early for the bank to quantify the sales benefit from the new system.

"We are fairly new with the implementation - the contact centre has been implemented and now we are rolling out to the branches - but what clearly is visible is the user feedback. You have [this] consolidated view of the customer; you get all the relevant information in one piece which is actionable. You have information coming from the CRM which you can cross check," says Eledath.

"I don't have to guess that someone is eligible for a product, the system tells you and the  productivity of the staff is improved. CRM is one part of the story and there is another part they are rolling out in tandem which is the end-to-end application origination which actually sort of marries together with the CRM," he adds.

"Let's say someone walks into a branch or contact centre and shows interest in getting personal finance. From the system, immediately from CRM, you can get the overall profitability of them and you can do the eligibility. What used to happen is the application goes to the back-office and then a credit team looked at it and they said yay or nay. Now, because all these are embedded as a business rule into our rules engine, the front-liners can give information out immediately based on the criteria of the product and the success properties - such as whether you are eligible or not. That information flows down through the system to the credit department and the automated eligibility is done and integration into the central bank system, credit, bureau and checks against a blacklist is all automatically done without any human interaction."

Eledath chalks the CRM project up as a success, though there is no time to pause as the existing three-year strategy expires in 2010 and a new one will need to take its place. He explains that this involves aligning IT against the business strategy and initially building it on top.

"Should the business decide to expand globally or come up with new products and services, they all have IT implications that I need to understand and then put in place an plan which is in alignment with the business strategy. This makes us an enabler to the business strategy," he claims.

The IT team at Dubai Bank is now working full steam ahead on implementing the remaining portions of the three year strategic plan. Complicating this is the simultaneous need to be preparing for the next three year plan to be setup and carried out.

What this translates into is a flurry of activity transpiring in the confines of the Dubai Bank head office at the World Trade Centre's exhibition hall in Dubai. If that wasn't enough the company is actually planning on moving the main office to another Dubai location, all of which brings with it a whole host of IT challenges that must be faced and overcome, all while sticking to the plan.

In their words

"In 2007-2008 alone, we became an Islamic bank, implemented a trade finance application, changed the ATM switch, launched a new credit card application, a new brokerage application, implemented Oracle applications, new business indicators and upgraded the infrastructure. We also consolidated using EMC, implemented a new disaster recovery centre in Al Ain where online real-time duplication is happening.

We put in the middleware layer, the workflow layer, then the operational CRM, security infrastructure and launched all these channels like internet banking. We were the first to launch mobile banking - SMS banking - and enhanced retail functionality, branch integration with external vendors and we have become certified for the quality and security side."

- Faizal Eledath, CIO of Dubai Bank.

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