Superior service

Citibank UAE explains how it switched to Etisalat’s managed WAN service, to cut costs, improve stability and gain a technology advantage.

Tags: Etisalat International - UAEUnited Arab Emirates
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Superior service
By  NME Staff Writer Published  April 26, 2010 Network Middle East Logo

The banking sector has been under more pressure than most of late, owing to the tough climate in the financial sector, and the increasing drive and demands for compliance and greater control over processes to raise the level of financial accountability.

But while the financial sector has often led the way in its adoption of ICT and innovation, it has been a sector, particularly in the Middle East, that has shown a definite cautious attitude to outsourcing core applications or infrastructure. The UAE operations of Citibank, however, has become one of the first financial institutions in the region to look more closely at the benefits of managed services, after a successful transition of its leased line network in the UAE to a managed, MPLS-based WAN from Etisalat.

Citibank, part of the global Citigroup, has completed the country-wide change over to Etisalat’s service, the first in the sector in the region to do so, creating cost savings of 35% compared to running the network in house, along with improvements to stability and added resilience for its infrastructure.

Zuhair Ali Taraif, Vice President and Country TI Head for Citibank, said that the decision to trust core infrastructure to a third party was based on the strength of the relationship with Etisalat.

“To us, Etisalat is not only a service provider but it is a partner and we have built the relationship with them over the years. We always work with them openly for any cost saving or other opportunities in the market that they think can enhance our customer service, through introducing new technology. We have worked with Etisalat on many projects which have allowed us to gain experience from the expertise of Etisalat,” Taraif said.

The project was first proposed by Etisalat, in 2008, in a proposal that showed that Etisalat could manage all of Citibank’s internal network in the UAE at a lower cost than what the bank was spending at the time. Although Etisalat originally suggested a full transition to managed WAN services, Citibank preferred to take a phased approach.

“The proposal was for the whole network, but we wanted to go in phases, because it was new for us. We just wanted to test how the service would go, and implement it in phases. It is a risk to go to a new technology without realizing what would be the issues with it,” Taraif explained.

The managed WAN project would be the first country-wide deployment of MPLS for any country in the Citigroup on a global basis, before Europe or the US, so it was decided to begin implementation with a pilot project across four circuits out of the 50 circuits on the Citibank UAE network.

Conversion from Citibank’s own infrastructure took around a month, including restructuring of the cabling and testing before the circuits could change over. The bank also had to satisfy its own internal process to manage changes to infrastructure, an intensive process that involves a large number of stakeholders, Taraif said.

“We have change control in place, which takes a lot of approval, from here to the US to get it approved. Any changes on the network have to approved by a lot of groups, to make sure any connection on Citigroup network that could impact the whole network, is signed off by senior management,” he said.

The network configuration was also check over by senior engineers from Citigroup and its internal security team based out of London, to ensure that while Etisalat’s engineers would be carrying out the implementation, that they met the group’s own standards. Among the parameters set by Citigroup is the need for each location to have redundant links ready for backup, each from separate exchanges on diversified paths, terminating on separate routers, so if one link is severed, the other link should still be able to connect.

The initial pilot project immediately proved its worth in terms of network stability and cost savings, said Taraif, and so the bank moved to a gradual switch over of all of its sites in the UAE – thirteen locations including branches, services centres and local and regional head offices – switching over around 50 circuits, completing the switch over this year.

Overall, Citibank says it has realized a cost saving of around 35% through switching to a managed WAN. The UAE operation also recently won an internal award for customer satisfaction and service provision for the IP-based CitiPhone phone banking service, beating competition from Citibank operations across EMEA region.

The managed service does not need any Etisalat staff on site, although there are clearly defined escalation paths and SLAs in place, Taraif said, and the network is now monitored by Citigroup’s own network centre in Singapore, with 24/7 monitoring of network performance, and by Etisalat’s own Customer Network Operations Centre (CNOC) which provides monitoring, management and reporting.

The savings from the project have not simply been consumed back into the balance sheet either, Taraif explained with Citibank leveraging the savings to further improve the network infrastructure, and look to introduce another first for the region.

“Every saving we do, we expand our network. We said to [Etisalat] give us discount, and we will give you more projects. Every time we make a saving, we don’t just keep that to ourselves, we use it to enhance our network,” he said.

The next project, which was started in March this year, is converting the bank’s network of ATMs in the UAE to the managed MPLS network as well. The company has a total of 53 ATMs in the country, some of which are already connected as they are positioned in branches, and the aim is to provide the same level of connectivity and stability to the other, standalone ATMs.

While the process of converting the leased circuit to an ATM is the same as for a branch, with the same level of stability and testing required, the bank and Etisalat are also introducing another element, with wireless GPRS connectivity for the ATM. The cash machines will be the first Citibank ATMs in the region with a wireless connection, and are also the first GPRS ATM implementations for Etisalat. The ATM will use the IP terrestrial network as its main connectivity, with GPRS available on automatic failure, to ensure that the machine is always connected.

Citibank is also looking forward to gaining further benefits from MPLS, and from the proposed loosening of restrictions on the use of VoIP in the UAE, to create new services for the customer with Etisalat, Taraif said.

“Etisalat is a partner that we trust, to guide us to better solutions in terms of technology - we are looking for the best commitment and cost savings that every bank needs today to satisfy the customer,” Taraif stated.

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