By Matthew Southwell
Dubai Bank is very late to market and only soft launched its services at the start of August. However, by making IT the lynchpin of its customer service strategy, the bank believes it can close the gap on the market leaders.
I|~||~||~|Dubai Bank is very late to market. As the UAE’s 49th bank, it only soft launched its services at the start of August and started its marketing campaign in September. However, by making information technology the lynchpin of its customer service strategy, the bank believes it can close the gap on the market leaders.“Our strategy will evolve the bank in a way that will enable us to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the marketplace, by providing a customer-centric relationship overview,” says Ahmed Kalim, operations & technology director, vice president, Dubai Bank. “[IT] is a fundamental driver of our business, it is very acutely tied into the whole business strategy,” he adds.Starting from scratch, Dubai Bank has worked closely with HP’s financial services team to assemble an integrated IT infrastructure capable of delivering personalised customer services. The 120 day project involved the rollout of HP UX Unix servers to host the core Kindel banking applications, a Windows 2000 environment to support the bank’s business operations, a local area network (LAN), 150 PCs, an ATM switch and a contact centre based on an Avaya PABX, and software from Altitude. All customer channels are tightly integrated giving the bank a total view of its customers. “At anytime through this infrastructure, regardless of the customer touch point, we are able to get a 360° degree view of the customer relationship,” explains Kalim. “This enables us to deliver a consistent user experience across all of our channels,” he adds.Dubai Bank has deployed a skeleton data warehouse to capture customer data. Although only in its early stages, the warehouse will form the core of the bank’s future customer relationship management (CRM) strategy. “In order to get a customer-centric relationship the existence of this database is critical. As we evolve, the [data warehouse] will evolve, but we have the infrastructure there to support it,” says Kalim.Dubai Bank is leveraging its tightly integrated IT infrastructure to deliver ‘on the spot’ services to customers. Theoretically, customers can walk in off the street, select a product; sign up and within 10 to 20 minutes have a cash card and a chequebook in their hand.“One of the key differentiators of the bank is the concept and realisation of instantly enabling a customer relationship, when they walk into the branch,” comments Kalim.“The customer fulfilment experience has been drastically improved… The benefits are minimum paper work and instant gratification — all of which is enabled through technology,” he adds.Dubai Bank is planning to turn its late entrance into the UAE’s financial services market to its advantage. The bank’s integrated IT architecture enables it to rapidly add services without having to spend time integrating legacy applications or developing middleware APIs to ensure systems can share information. “We don’t have to succumb to integration issues,” says Kalim.“Our architecture is based on open solutions and the latest messaging and communication interfaces, so [we] are extremely scalable and open. We have the ability to use the latest technology and do not go through the pain that other banks have with legacy systems,” he adds.||**||II|~||~||~|Putting together an integrated IT infrastructure in approximately four months presented numerous logistical and managerial challenges for the project team. The task was made harder as the project’s scope continually evolved and more people joined the bank. Dubai Bank relied heavily on the expertise of HP’s 40 consultants to manage the project. It also appointed several internal ‘project owners,’ who managed the day-to-day vendor/consultant relationships and ensured that the solution was brought in on time.“With 120 days to launch, vendor and contract management became one of the most key items,” says Kalim. “We have basically relied on the core competencies of [the HP] solution architects to be able to provide industry driven project management as part of the solution,” he adds.Dubai Bank has used propriety tools from HP and its own Microsoft-based portal to ensure that the project stayed on time and on budget. With much of the team working from different locations, Dubai Bank’s SharePoint portal enabled remote collaboration between team members. “Even before we became operational we had [embraced] the internet as an internal tool,” says Kalim. “We were working from multiple locations so the web-enabled tool helped to integrate and consolidate the various cross-functional teams that were operating within the bank,” he adds.Running in parallel to the infrastructure work, Dubai Bank was also attempting to recruit ‘best of breed’ personnel. According to Kalim, the project managed to attract a large number of applicants from local and multinational banks, however, the management team was only interested in hiring people that fitted a specific criteria. “We had lots of applicants, but we spent a long time searching for the right people that could understand and sustain our strategy. When you look at [this project] you have to look at the people behind it. They made it happen,” he adds.With the infrastructure in place, Dubai Bank is working on its internet strategy. Due for delivery sometime in 2003, the service will be tightly integrated across the bank’s various delivery channels. The bank is currently exploring different solutions. “We realise that [internet banking] is important in terms of the availability of a single integrated touch point that consolidates the customer’s entire relationship, but at the same time provides basic product and transaction capability,” he adds.The addition of an internet banking channel will require Dubai Bank to develop a middleware layer, to enable front to back end integration. The bank has just started to use IBM’s MQ Series as its messaging layer and it has provisional plans to evolve it into a fully developed middleware platform.||**||