Client Name: Bank Alfalah Limited
Industry: Banking & Capital Markets

Client Overview:

In order to hit aggressive growth targets, Bank Alfalah needed to update and optimize ageing IT infrastructure. The introduction of systems and document management software as part of a strategic transformation project led to increases in efficiency and security.The rationalization of unwanted assets due to better inventory management and reductions in power consumption due to virtualization also meant the Bank could divert cost savings of US$100,000 into expanding its business and introducing new products and services.

Problem Faced:

In order to maintain its market leading position and pursue an aggressive growth strategy in Pakistan and abroad, Bank Alfalah realized that it needed to undertake a strategic upgrade of its existing IT infrastructure. The issue was that it had poor visibility and control of its network assets. It also had no proper inventory, desktop or systems management software to monitor and administer the organization’s entire infrastructure and its security provisions were inadequate. This situation was putting heavy pressure on the IT team. It was supporting the needs of more than 600 branches across the country and beyond without any means of identifying what or where the problem was if trouble struck. To make matters worse, the existing IT environment had no in-built redundancy, high availability or failover to guarantee high levels of system uptime. Client machines all needed to be updated individually, which was very time-consuming, and end-user complaints were mounting. Zulfiqar Ali Dharejo, Microsoft Operations and Technology Manager at Bank Alfalah, explained that although the Bank already had an ageing solution deployed, “it wasn’t properly configured or available to end-users on a bank-wide basis”. The solution comprised an old version of Active Directory services and the Exchange email, calendaring and contact management system, both of which were no longer fit-for-purpose. But the upgrade was also deemed necessary to underpin the company’s growth plans. Anwer Umed Ali, the organization’s Chief Information Officer, said: “If the infrastructure and foundation aren’t strong and solid, there’s no way I could go to my president, the management and the board and say ‘let’s take the next step’.” As a result, he explained, the project “was a core strategic initiative. Our vision was to have a secure and robust platform that we could scale up very quickly, and confirm with regulators, the board, and management that we were comfortable in taking certain decisions moving forward”.

Solution:

In a bid to do just that, Bank Alfalah went out to the market to find itself a proactive business partner. After shortlisting potential candidates, it undertook a series of interviews in order to evaluate their expertise and skills sets, before finally opting for KalSoft. Such a careful selection process was necessary in Ali’s view because “buying a product license doesn’t solve your problem. Engaging the right partner and team to implement the right services is the key differentiating factor.” Also vital are “clarity of vision about what you want to achieve, your problem points and key success factors from a project management perspective,” he added. The project itself was implemented in three phases. The first step involved upgrading and optimizing Active Directory and Exchange as well as introducing a range of virtualization, failover and security technologies based on Windows Server platform to create a solid, centralized IT foundation. Bank Alfalah is also in the process of provisioning Exchange Online Protection to enhance security of its messaging system. The second stage entailed layering Systems Center systems management software on top. The aim here was to ensure the proactive monitoring and easy administration of systems, desktops, applications and networks, including the automated roll-out of software upgrades, patches and bug fixes. The ability to manage both hardware and software assets was also included in the mix, which contributed to ensuring better information security and regulatory compliance. The third and final plank of the implementation involved introducing the SharePoint web application platform to enable the secure sharing of critical customer documents as well as collaboration between users at different branches. Completion of the project meant, Ali said, that he was now satisfied the Bank was “on a sound footing in terms of our current infrastructure and branch management”. For example, all “agreed policies can now be deployed on an ‘as needed and planned’ basis. We can do exception reporting, have a snapshot of current practices in the Bank and escalate situations based on that. I’m very happy with it”. Kashif Shabbir, KalSoft’s Chief Operating Officer, said that: “Ensuring the project was a success proved challenging as it involved employing our team in a number of different roles in order to maintain the current infrastructure and migrate it to another in the optimal way ”. But as Shiraz Abid, KalSoft’s Director of Business pointed out: “The task was made easier because there was a two-way street between us and the Bank’s IT department. We worked together to undertake a health check of the environment and then it was all about innovating using the power of Microsoft tools.”

Benefits:

As to the key benefits provided by this strategic transformation project, these involved enabling the Bank to start achieving its business aim of realizing a “20% growth rate across all of its new and existing channels and networks”. Opportunities here include the opening of 100 new branches year-on-year, moving aggressively into the high growth area of branchless banking and proactively trying to win new customers, particularly in the small-to-medium enterprise segment.

  • By rationalizing resources and assets and achieving its objective of creating a single, secure and robust infrastructure that is easy to monitor and manage, the Bank has created a solid foundation for offering new and secure products and services to an expanding customer base.
  • Ensuring that business-critical documents and email communications are not only secure, but “available, reachable, deployable and reportable” means that the Bank will be able to hit its regulatory compliance targets.
  • The introduction of systems management software has resulted in changes to inefficient working practices, leading to increases in staff productivity and efficiency.
  • These increases in productivity and efficiency combined with the rationalization of unwanted assets and reductions in power consumption following the introduction of Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization platform have generated cost savings of about US$100,000 year-on-year.
  • Enhancing security means potentially saving millions of dollars in indirect costs associated with a breach or data leakage, according to Ali. A security incident has the potential to cost the Bank dearly not only in clean-up fees but also in immeasurable damage to its reputation.