A Year of Accelerated Transformation

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Shino Thomas, Senior Vice President, Transformation Group, NBO (National Bank of Oman) shares his perspectives on how digital transformation has seen an acceleration driven by remote working compulsions

Please elaborate how the need for Remote working has impacted the need for accelerated digital transformation in key sectors? From the IT team perspective, did it mean several new investments as well?

The need for remote working has certainly accelerated digital transformation in key sectors be it customer facing or internal to the organization. It has also really accelerated internal organization readiness to operate from different locations and as result many organizations have discovered themselves a new operating model, which otherwise they would have not dared to implement. The amazing fact is that most of the CIOs and enterprises have taken on the challenge head on and are ready to fulfill immediate and growing needs caused by the pandemic and gained in market value.

Although a few of the large organizations in terms of the Technology maturity were capable of managing the immediate requirement of enabling a large workforce from home, majority of enterprises IT team have been to devise a quick strategy to equip themselves to extend the work from home and support customers remotely to enable business continuity. Obviously this warrants for investment depending on the size of the organization right from the end user PC/laptops to security appliances, related configurations, infrastructure changes, VPN, moving internal applications to cloud, opening up internal network etc. But the good thing is that these investments made are futuristic and many organizations as I mentioned earlier are thinking of changing their operating model to take leverage of the investment made and drive cost optimization.

What do you think the challenges were as organizations transitioned to newer ways of working?

There are challenges in various aspects of the enterprise during the transition, be it in terms of people, technology or fulfilling the customer expectations of how they expect to be served. Obviously the staff are affected by normal ways of working in relation to customers, agile methodologies and scrum techniques are challenged because of remote working, leaving employees with a loss of normal social contact with colleagues. As studies suggest, the psychological strain of isolation is bad for both mental and physical health and can have profound long-term consequences for individuals. This impacts productivity and, in turn, affects business performance. In terms of technology, obviously there is a greater risk in terms of security when you have a large surface of attack due to remote workplaces be it in terms of data leakage, security vulnerabilities. However, I’m sure over time organizations will mitigate these threats to a manageable level.

Another challenge organizations faced is to ensure customer ser- vice levels are maintained and the demand to up your digital of- ferings & services to cater to the need of hour, while on other side they are busy setting up internally for enabling remote working.

How has remote working impacted efficiencies of the work- force?

Initially, I believe organizations would have faced challenges in terms of efficiency because they need to exert too much effort to use technology, learning curve to adapt to new style of working, organizing themselves for work from home etc. But eventually, I think the situation has turned out to be good and new way working has been created where efficiency is not impacted. For example, some of the employees found it to be convenient to work from home and avoid the commuting time and also enjoy the flexibility to complete work at their own convenience. So enterprises are looking to take advantage of this and may consider to have staff in some of the roles to continue to work permanently from remote locations, greater access to skillset across globe etc.

How are these disruptions challenging the CIO in his role as a key decision maker for IT investments?

More than challenge, I feel CIOs see this as an opportunity to step in as a key business executive orchestrating digital acceleration. CIOs can use this as an opportunity to have key initiatives in terms of

  • Developing a clear digital goal
  • Build High digital dexterity
  • Elevate Enterprise Digital Competency & drive efficiency
  • Establish a new enterprise I&T model to implement cross cutting technology, integration platforms provided by IT organizations, to support the digitized enterprise.

Are critical sectors like Banks now more comfortable with cloud services from multiple cloud services providers in terms of security? Are those concerns addressed well by service providers?

Technology is moving towards cloud enabled infrastructure whether it is for efficiency, agility, scale or optimization. Banks are increasing their cloud investments with the overwhelming majority focusing on private cloud deployments while public cloud is on the rise. Eventually cloud will become a norm for banking application as well and already Banks are embracing cloud for infrastructure , or non-core application and where ever regulatory permits even in core Banking. Many of the new digital banks and fintech is already running fully on the cloud. It is vital for Banks to embrace cloud to har- ness the power of AI and Machine learning, Risk Management and payment processing, which will be key enabler for the digital transformation roadmap.

Definitely there will be concerns in terms of security, data privacy and regulatory aspect with respect to cloud movement and service providers are more aware of this and providing better solutions to address these concerns.

How is digital Banking taking off in the region as you see it – has the pandemic been a key driver?

I think almost all Banks would have witnessed an increased penetration and adoption in their digital channels during pandemic from a range of minimum 20 to 60% or even more. The fact is even after lock down is over, the customer digital behavior is still sustaining and not finding any deep dip in the adoption. Hence, I feel this is pivotal point for Banks to accelerate in offering their product and services digitally for enhanced revenue and optimization of the cost. Technology investment for the Banks in region would increase for digital innovation seeing IT as strategic investment. Banks would further collaborate with fintech in the region to create superior customer experience and differentiating value proposition for the customer. In general financial services as an industry will harness the power of digital create products, services, platform/ ecosystem ,partnership models which will derive value to customers.

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