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COVID-19 Changing Agility Timeframe for Tech Adoption to 30-90 Hours: Sankarson Banerjee, RBL Bank

To say that the COVID-19 pandemic caught businesses across the world unawares, would be an understatement. While organizations do plan for such scenarios and have Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place, this was quite unprecedented in many ways. And, CIOs were not even remotely prepared for this scale.

With the crisis forcing CIOs to improvise and re-calibrate in ways that were unthought of, this could very well be the watershed moment that will dramatically and fundamentally transform the way CIOs strategize, react and work.

According to Sankarson Banerjee, CIO, RBL Bank, one key learning COVID-19 has brought in its wake for CIOs is that they should be prepared to throw out all plans and react quickly, which requires being highly agile.

“The timeframe for agility has changed dramatically. Banks used to think that if they’re offering/building something in 30-90 days, they are being agile. Now anything beyond 30 – 90 hours is not agile. We have started thinking of adopting technologies only if they fit the 30-90 hours cycle. Some things will still take six months, but that will become the exception.”

This means thinking through solutions not thought of before and finding balance between what the business wants and what is possible.

A case in point is Banerjee’s decision to adopt a unique cloud-based approach to Work From Home (WFH) for the bank’s employees in response to the lockdown. He recalls how he had to quickly enable WFH for functions such as IT and back-office support, which were typically conducted within the bank’s premises.

Providing laptops meant procuring the devices, transporting them to the bank’s premises for configuration and then transporting them to staff located across cities in India – an approach which would be resource-heavy, time-consuming, expensive and at times unreliable. Implementing BYOD with virtual private networks (VPN) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) approach too had limitations and opened up security challenges.

Given the speed at which Banerjee had to respond to the business need required looking beyond the obvious and conventional tools. When choosing Amazon Workspaces to offer a managed, secure Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution to enable WFH, Banerjee was aware that the approach he had decided on was uncommon in regulated industries. Further, it had not been adopted by any bank in India so far.

However, uncertain and difficult times call for ingenious actions/solutions and Banerjee’s decision to take a bold step against the convention has paid off considering RBL Bank is already seeing the benefits from deploying Amazon WorkSpaces:

  • Lower costs – Eliminates the need to over-buy desktop and laptop resources by providing on-demand access to cloud desktops.
  • Data security – Being a layer removed, any attack instead of hitting the bank’s network hits Amazon’s network, which is better prepared to handle it considering its scale. Deployed within an Amazon Virtual Private Network (VPC) provides each user with access to persistent, encrypted storage volumes in AWS Cloud and integration with AWS Key Management Service (KMS). As no user data is stored on the local device it helps improve the security of user data and reduces the overall risk surface area.
  • BCP and collaboration for business users – Allows to scale up or down the capacity on-demand without pre-investment in hardware and licenses.
  • Single and central management – Eliminates many administrative tasks associated with managing the laptop lifecycle, including provisioning, deploying, maintaining, and recycling laptop.

The second learning, or rather, transformation that Banerjee sees himself and CIOs in general undergoing during this crisis is that of becoming evangelists. “Typically, the CIO has been an executioner and others like the CDO were mostly seen as the evangelists. But, with COVID-19, overnight CIOs have had to become evangelists and arbitrators. When you are looking at 1-2 weeks’ adoption timelines, evangelization makes things faster and easier. No solution is so easy that it is switched on and it works for everyone,” he exclaims.

Even with Amazon workspaces, Banerjee and his team set up an evangelist squad within that helped accelerate the adoption manifolds. In fact, with the evangelization route, adoption across different sets of technologies has worked well for RBL Bank. As he points out, evangelization takes the problem with the answer to the business/functions/employees and that makes things faster and easier. In fact, it has been decided that evangelization will be built into any large technology investments of the bank going forward.

“As CIOs take on the new role of being evangelists and businesses start getting used to it, I foresee this becoming a universal ask from CIOs. We have to transform ourselves to become coach and mentor to this new world,” Banerjee concludes.

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