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Our Tech Team Gave Us the Flexibility, Safety of Communications During Covid-19: Dr Mukesh Mehta

The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 outbreak as pandemic and this has changed the way of working for most organisations and the way work will be done in the future.
Batlivala & Karani Securities (Pvt Ltd.) is one of the leading institutional broking houses dealing in equity broking, MF distribution, investment banking and insurance broking. It also deals into financial research and advisory. The company has automated nearly all of its processes including the research and analytics. This was made possible only by augmenting IT investments in next-gen digital technologies. The company migrated from traditional IT infrastructure to converged infrastructure, which can be flexibly sized to the requirements. It reduced individual downtime and dependencies. Furthermore hyper converged network eliminated the need for an expansive storage area network (SAN).Dr. Mukesh Mehta, CTO,  Batlivala & Karani Securities, in conversation with dynamicCIO, explains how the spread of pandemic has hit the industry as a surprise and posed unexpected challenges.
 
Dealing with Challenges While Embracing the ChangeEvery organisation invariably plans a DR-BCP for a particular time-range or outages. This was a case where everything is available but still, as a CIO, we need to plan that the availability is isn’t hampered due to any untoward situation. “Working from home (WFH) for such a prolonged duration isn’t something that anyone expected. This was unprecedented yet we had to accept it as the new norm. We took this as an opportunity to develop new solutions, new ways of enabling work that will benefit organisation and customers for years to come,” says Mukesh while elaborating on the preparations that went into dealing with exigencies.Elaborating on quick response from tech team and its massive collaboration efforts, Dr Mehta tells while the initial days were pretty challenging for the entire organisation, the team reacted fast. “Our main focus was to shift bulk users from desktop to MFH culture and align respective resources and infrastructure accordingly. In the background we ensured there’s no compromise on security, data integrity and privacy. With almost all employees working from home, cyber security threat surface widened multifold and therefore we needed to be a lot more alert and proactive,” says Mukesh. “Before the onset of lockdown, it was only the tech team that was using VPNs. All of sudden IT was asked to shift the entire user base on secured VPN that too without any formal trainings (by just sharing Do’s & Don’ts over email). It was challenging but we had a way out,” he says.

Infrastructure management was a very challenging task during the lockdown phase and that too was needed to be done remotely.  Integration of password management, injecting credentials directly into servers and systems with just one click, so that users never need to know or see plain text credentials were some of the potboilers for the tech team. “Being a financial services company, we had to ensure an extra layer of security at all levels. We had to reconfigure firewalls to enable 2FA (two factor authentication) for VPN and Webmail access. We also had to revamp our internal portals and move to private cloud at a high priority. All the remote management efforts for server infrastructure, workstations and remote Active Directory management were big tasks for the Support team,” explains Mukesh.
To further strengthen the performance and provide an ease of use to all users,  the company enabled screen sharing and file transfer.  A big challenge was to keep everyone in the loop and let everyone know what was going on. “Microsoft Teams gave us this flexibility and when WFH became mandatory, we used that to our benefit,” says Mukesh.
 
Need for Increased Transparency & Communication Across Organisation

If we talk about the business continuity and data security, even a small/minor lapse can be detrimental. Every day, numerous companies have been targeted by hackers or bad actors. Corporate information need to be protected more than the generic data. “One of the reasons we preferred Microsoft Teams over the other collaboration tools was its safety features and convenience. It is difficult for bad actors to hack into it,” explains Mukesh.  The virtual meeting rooms have replaced the regular meetings at Batlivala & Karani Securities. “The Daily Research Review (every early morning) and Sales-Market Review meeting (post the markets open) happen through these virtual rooms only.” These have built-in chats, where all senior members of leadership team can not only interact with each other but also share various documents. “If someone from leadership team need to discuss certain issues privately, they can create separate chats. Frankly these communication tools are not limited to chats. Members can comment needed sections of uploaded documents, highlight important points. All the edits done to the file are visible for others. So everyone stays updated on changes. Businesses have endless opportunities today thanks to the technology. And tools like Microsoft Teams virtual meeting room provide a great help,” says Mukesh.

Impact of Covid-19 on Financial Service Industry

The impact of the outbreak of pandemic is profound on the overall industry including the BFSI sector. Besides other things, industry will need to explore various new models both to facilitate work and generate revenue. All organizations have to rewrite SOPs & internal Workflows. “The best possible way to tackle this would be to maximise usage of digital technologies. It will be beneficial in the long run as everyone is revisiting internal SOPs. As Technology leaders, we will have many new parameters while evaluating products. The focus would be more on automation that will indirectly reduce dependence on people. Almost everything has to be cloud-enabled,” says Mukesh.

As a result of the new dimensions that have come up, many corporates are revisiting their on-prem  datacenter philosophy. “As part of their technology roadmap, this will definitely be a serious discussion,” feels Mukesh.

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