Putting faith in technology

When Dubai Bank made the decision to move from being a commercial institution towards become the world’s premiere Islamic bank, it recognised that IT would be crucial to achieving that goal.

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Putting faith in technology ELEDATH: Because of the confidence the bank has in us, we always secure a budget.
By  Ben Furfie Published  October 17, 2010

When Dubai Bank made the decision to move from being a commercial institution towards become the world’s premiere Islamic bank, it recognised that IT would be crucial to achieving that goal. That recognition put CIO Faizal Eledath at the centre of the bank’s three year plan; the three-year plan it has just completed.

Nestled in one corner of Dubai Bank’s headquarters is the CIO’s office. The room outside is a hive of activity as the bank’s mammoth IT team goes about its daily business. Perhaps daily business is the wrong term – the IT department has anything but a normal day. When it isn’t protecting the bank’s customers from outside security threats, it’s looking at ways of helping the bank to achieve its business goals and objectives.

Despite the pressure upon CIO Faizal Eledath’s shoulders, he couldn’t appear more relaxed. “I have every confidence in my team,” he says, reclining in his chair. The bank, which became Sharia compliant in early 2007, has recently completed a mammoth three year plan – one that has totally revolutionised the bank.

“The plan came about predominately because at the time of the management deciding to become a Sharia institution, it was recognised that it would be beneficial to fundamentally change the processes and infrastructure within the bank,” explained Eledath. “The bank’s vision wasn’t just to become Sharia compliant, but to become one of the world’s premiere Sharia financial institutions.”

That sort of fundamental shift from a bank that operates on commercial principles towards one governed by Islamic law had companywide implications; however, few departments felt that change as much as the IT department.

“The differences between commercial banking and banking based on Sharia principles have enormous implications on the IT infrastructure of the bank,” he reveals. “The biggest change is that there is no interest, so that changes the notion of profit. It changes the way the bank operates, the process it operates under and how they are carried out.”

At the time of deciding to become an Islamic institution, the bank’s existing IT infrastructure was not as complex as it is today. Compared to when it was launched in 2002 by Dubai World, the bank is almost unrecognisable. It has grown from five branches and a small call centre to a multi-channel organisation with more than 25 branches across the United Arab Emirates, an online banking operation and one of the first mobile banking systems in the Middle East.

As Eledath explains, the company had five areas which its three year plan revolved around. “The first was that wanted to increase its retail base, the second was that it also wanted to add more channels, including online banking, mobile banking, an improved telephone banking service, as well as more ATMs. The third area was that we needed to implement an infrastructure that wasn’t just reliable, but was also agile enough to allow the bank respond to new opportunities and channels.

The fourth was the critical one,” he reveals. “We wanted to become a process-based organisation, while the fifth was that we wanted to attract and build up a pool of talent within the IT department, as well as develop those employees who were already with us.”

One of the first things the IT department did before working on assisting the company achieve its plans was to get its own house in order. “Before we began working on the three-year plan, I had eight people reporting to me. With the restructure towards a process-based organisation, that was cut to four – all of whom are responsible for a particular process,” he says.

Once the IT department had moved towards a process-based model, Eledath explains the department began working on enabling the company to achieve its three-year road map. “It detailed the changes that had to happen over the three years in application infrastructure. The bank has been very supportive of all our initiatives. In terms of our three year plan, everything is in place – the only thing that is still to go live is our credit risk layer, which will go live in December.

“On the application side, we migrated the core banking systems to Islamic systems, we changed the ATM switch, put in a new Islamic credit card application, installed the new ERP solution, introduced data warehousing, as well as countless smaller applications,” reveals Eledath.

“Most of that had been done by the end of 2009. In addition to that, we virtualised the entire IT infrastructure to conserve the amount of real estate required, and to also distribute the processing power. This mostly applies to the middle tier applications – so our middleware, our CRM, online banking applications – these are all on a farm. All of these applications are not always running. It reduces the load, and it’s also very good to have the flexibility to scale up, as well as horizontally. From a maintenance standpoint, it also allows you to minimise your downtime by shifting loads away from the server that needs to be repaired or replaced, without needing to take that service offline.”

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