The bank job

Technology moves fast but when it is paced by high customer expectation and a globally competitive market, CIOs need to use that technology to innovate, strategise and to get an edge. ACN talks to UVK Kumar of Doha Bank about the changing face of IT in the banking industry.
The bank job
By Brid-Aine Conway
Sun 09 Sep 2007 11:55 AM

Over the last ten years, technology has irrevocably changed the face of the modern bank. The internet has provided new ways to access accounts, move money, pay bills and apply for finance, and SMS alerts have provided a new way for banks to communicate with their customers. IT is more important than ever to the financial industry, and according to UVK Kumar, head of IT at Qatar's Doha Bank, modern day CIOs keep their eye firmly on the customer's needs and wants.

"Customer expectations are changing very fast, and they're expecting financial services to be delivered at their convenience, wherever they are. It's like an "anywhere, anytime" scenario. So we need to introduce more and more services over the internet, or even on mobiles. We alter according to customer needs, like SMS banking which covers pull/push transactions - you can make a payment and you can transfer funds. Customer expectation is really high, and that's the number one challenge," he states.

CIO’s need to be close to the CEO and keep them updated on the important projects.

Kumar believes that in order to meet customer expectation, the CIO of a bank needs to be in touch with business strategy, and able to come up with the kind of innovations that will mark the bank out from a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. With globalisation, more and more big players are entering the market, and banks need to be able to use technology to give them an edge. However, without a focus on business strategy and the customer, the CIO will lag behind.

"Basically, I would say that he or she should see the big picture of the whole organisation, and the business roadmap. And they should know exactly what the end customer wants - what are they expecting, what is convenient for them - so they can really map from the strategy to the end customer, and see how technology can link these together," states Kumar.

"What we have in Doha Bank are strategy committees and I represent technology in those committees. We work closely together in these committees, sharing information and what the new technologies are, and how those technologies can enhance our services. It's a mutual give-and-take scenario, where we work together and come up with a strategy. Business strategy is finalised after the technology input," he adds.

Kumar has worked in IT banking for eighteen years, six of them with Doha. When he came to Doha, the big challenge that he found was that not only the bank but Qatar as a whole was opening up to technology, and his job was to provide a roadmap for the transformation. At the time, each of Doha's branches had its own server and information was consolidated centrally from these servers. Kumar's first step was to centralise the server architecture, quickly followed by the introduction of new applications and services that would make banking more convenient for the bank's numerous customers.
"Now we have changed to a centralised core banking architecture; not changed the core banking application, but brought in the latest version and centralised everything in the head office. We introduced storage area networks and blade server technology. Also for centralisation, I had to enhance the total network architecture with the latest Cisco routers and switches. And most importantly, when we were introducing our net-based solutions like internet banking and e-remittance, we had to enhance the security infrastructure by introducing additional firewalls and virtual LANs," says Kumar.

According to him, these kinds of changes are not only necessary, but give real benefits to Doha's customers.

"First of all, customer transaction time has been reduced, because of the total enhanced server power. And secondly, there were a few transactions we weren't able to do at the branches before that we can now do conveniently. The third aspect is that I could introduce a lot of e-channels - such as internet banking and SMS banking - which brings in much more flexibility. Also, we ensure high availability. Previously we used to have a lot of downtime, during batch processing, or quite often the ATM system used to go down, but now it is 99.something% availability," he says.

Now that the infrastructure and e-channels are in place, Kumar is looking at how IT can help Doha Bank to compete in the market. The bank is concluding the work on a new branch in Dubai. Kumar hopes that this branch will be able to offer most of the services that it offers in Qatar, including new EMV compliant chip cards for customers. For the future, Kumar is looking into e-commerce as a way to enhance the bank's business, and this is something he believes the organisation will be able to offer soon.

Kumar feels that while CIOs need to balance their knowledge of technology and business, it is more important for them to be in touch with business. If CIOs are in touch with the business and the end user, they can not only form strategy and innovate new ideas, but also communicate them effectively.

"I think CIOs should be leaning more towards business than technology. It is easier to get the technology people you need on board, but a CIO should have a bit more business knowledge, with technology as their base. CIOs need to try to educate their business counterparts about the technology challenges. Quite often they are not aware of the challenges and so their demands and expectations are different to what a CIO can do. If you educate them, just to make them aware, and especially from the management perspective, that will help in balancing demands. CIOs also need to be close to the CEO, keep him updated about the important projects and stir interest in him about them. He will then feel that with you, the business is good," he concludes.

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