The pandemic brought the whole world to a standstill and forced everyone to stay home to ensure health and safety. But many businesses, essential services and learning continued, all thanks to technology.
Technology, which was being seen as a support function for a while now became the binding force, the glue, keeping everyone together. It enabled people to connect, personally, professionally, and empowered businesses to operate and continue some work even amid the lockdown.
In a recent interview with Dilipkumar Khandelwal, Managing Director and Head of Global Technology Centres, Deutsche Bank, we discuss how the COVID-19 crisis has enabled technology to play a more front and centre role. He shares, “We are going through the COVID crisis without much disruption to work or businesses which is key and that’s where technology focus needs to continue to be.”
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
In your LinkedIn bio, you have written: "believes in the power of technology to transform lives". It is a beautiful thought. Can you elaborate more on this? How do you think technology can transform lives?
Technology is an enabler. If you see around, technology has been playing a major part in making lives simpler. With the development in engineering in the early nineteenth century with the industrial revolution to the computer age starting 1970s, technology has enabled human beings to make their lives simpler.
Technology is acting as an enabler now for organizations as well. Let’s take an example of automation through RPA with AI/ML, this makes lives easier for operators where they can move on to do jobs that are more interesting. Advent of cloud technology has made lives easier for developers who can now focus on building out core technology solutions and let the infrastructure be taken care of by cloud providers. During the COVID-19 crisis situation, we have, in Deutsche Bank, enabled more than 80,000 people to work from home, to use collaboration tools and have the business work in a BAU mode.
How has the role of technology increased both in the way you work and you do business?
Technology is an essential driver for the businesses. The COVID-19 crisis has enabled technology to play a more front and centre role in businesses rather than a support function earlier. Now the businesses are aware of the important role technology plays for businesses to run.
At Deutsche Bank the crisis accelerated work we already started as part of our technology strategy.
We have enabled over 80,000 people for remote access [dbRAS], with on average of 60,000 concurrent users working from remote each day, compared to an average of 20,000 per day in February – enabling them to serve our customers. We have successfully set up traders to work from home in 7 days, a process that would have otherwise taken months. We fast-tracked introduction of collaboration tools as well the introduction of electronic signatures for departments in need to sign documents.
Usage of collaboration tools significantly increased: Skype Conference minutes have exceeded 2 million per day for the first time this week, up from pre-crisis levels of 150,000 minutes. This has helped colleagues to stay in touch.
For BCP planning, we fast-tracked the upgrade of server infrastructure so that we can handle the load of all our colleagues working from home.
As a leader of technology, data, and innovation, how important do you think are these three for any business success? And how can organizations maximize on the benefits of these three critical pillars?
As said above, technology is an enabler and is crucial for businesses. Deutsche Bank has started investing in technology infrastructure and simplification of the technology landscape for the last 2-3 years.
Cloud technology provides huge opportunities in terms of flexibility, scalability and developer productivity. However, you cannot just lift and shift existing applications and start deploying them on cloud.
You have to apply common standards to technology environments and modernize applications architecture before moving onto cloud and this standardization work has started a couple of years back which has built the foundation for our cloud journey.
Consistency in modelling and access to all the firm’s data is going to be a defining factor in building a simpler technology stack for the bank.
Innovation is a culture. It’s not the duty but the right of technologists to be able to innovate. So, it’s as important for an organization to create a culture of innovation as it is for employees to innovate. An environment for innovation can be fostered to make an organization successful and reinvent itself with changing times and business models.
How do you think the role of technology in the banking sector will evolve in the next two to three years?
The technology focus areas will be to simplify landscape. Main focus areas will be:
- Consistency of data strategy
- Cloud adoption
- API based technology architecture
- Automation through RPA, AI/ML
Consistency of data – Data is absolutely essential for success as systems require the right data at right time to operate correctly.
Cloud adoption – Cloud, over the coming few years, will be of great help in ensuring that we have state-of-the-art infrastructure that mitigates risk and increases the control and stability of business platforms. Also, it allows banking application-development technology to focus on solving business problems, leaving infrastructure to the infrastructure experts. Over time, we will see more and more banks moving to cloud platforms. Cloud platforms provide the obvious benefits of scaling infrastructure on demand and pay-per-use. But before you move to the cloud, you need to apply common standards across your technology environment and modernize applications to make them cloud-ready. Over the past few years, our teams have significantly raised enterprise-wide technology and architecture standards, which now puts us in a good position to move our cloud strategy forward.
API based technology architecture – Microservices architecture is the key to achieve API based technology architecture. Applications need to be seen as a combination of various micro-services representing functional units. These services then need a consistent manner of interacting with other microservices so provide information as and when needed.
Automation – Technology is all encompassing. While there are technology strategies which we are running around modernizing our application landscape and data availability, we are also very focused on operational processing and how we can move away from manual nature of work. A good example is use of modern technologies like Robotics Process Automation along with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. The key is to become simpler and more efficient. A concrete example is the solution of the New York technology start-up WorkFusion, which is used in the Corporate Bank. Artificial intelligence combined with high-speed scanners helps the Trust & Agency Services division to analyze and process large volumes of unstructured documents on a daily basis. Workfusion’s AI-driven automation capabilities are also being used to create efficiencies in the time-consuming process of adverse media screening, as part of the bank’s know-your-customer screening processes. The software scans news sentiment and context for negative news, rather than looking for rudimentary word associations. Moving into this space provides us quick turnaround times and efficiency gains are quite fast.
How are you preparing for these changes as a business and how are you preparing your talent for the same?
We are fully committed to these technological advancements and are taking steps now to be ahead of the game.
In February – March 2020, we started discussions with major cloud service providers to explore options for entering into a cooperation. To match our demands on how the cloud can support emerging technologies. This will greatly help as our developers will be able to focus on application development instead of dealing with the infrastructure.
Data continues to remain a major focus area for the bank. We realised early on that we generate a lot of data, and for good reason, but we need to ensure that this data is accessible to all platforms and employees who need it. It’s also important that data is not duplicated and moving from one system to another. In Deutsche Bank, we believe in the concept of “data at rest” rather than “data at motion”.
We created data lakes for different functions, which helped get the transactional data for that function in one place. We then built strong interfaces on top of these data lakes so that they can be accessed in real-time by other platforms. We have followed a similar approach for our Reference Data platforms, where systems access the data using API as and when required, rather than storing their own copy of Reference Data.
Lastly, how are you dealing with this crisis? What are some personal challenges you think leaders often face in these tough times? How are you ensuring that you keep calm, sail through and help others also in these tough times? Share your tips.
I think for most part, our strategy has worked well. We are going through the COVID crisis without much disruption to work or businesses which is key and that’s where technology focus needs to continue to be. Most important part is to stay close to our employees as they are the most important assets to the organization. As I said above also, constant communication along with quick decision making and prioritization and then communicating the decisions again back to employees is key.
Second important focus should be flexibility as this will go a long way in the post COVID-19 era. It has now proven beyond doubt that people can be as, if not more, productive working remotely and providing that flexibility to employees will be a key differentiator in being the employer of choice in the post COVID world. And third is prioritization. I cannot stress enough how important this is for success both during and after the COVID-19 era. Given the new normal, companies need the agility to be able to replan quickly. Whether we look at startups or large firms, the above two principles will help move forward quickly and effectively in a post COVID world.