The State Bank of India is the country’s largest and one of the oldest global banks. It has the largest number of customer service outlets and channels in the world for any financial services company. It has more than 24,000 branches, 60,000 business outlets in rural areas, 55,000 ATMs, 450,000 Point Of Sale terminals and Digital Channels (including Mobile, Tablet, Internet Banking, P2P payments), serving more than 550 million customer accounts. Doesn’t it sound mind boggling? The bank also has a vast international presence, with 195 offices in 36 countries.
These days, the bank is on a digital overdrive and aspires to be one of the world’s top 10 global digital banks. It is nothing less than an organisational rebirth. No one can answer this question more satisfactorily than Shiv Kumar Bhasin (SB), the CTO of this 200-year-old bank which is an example of how legacy can also be turned into a start-up. Let’s find out how the bank is reinventing itself to move in the direction of digital transformation. Shiv has been instrumental in infusing the right type of digital technologies into the processes and functions. In conversation with Muqbil Ahmar (DC), Executive Editor, dynamicCIO, Shive Kumar Bhasin talks about the transformational path that he followed to give this public sector bank the digital push.
DC: Being the largest and the oldest public sector bank of India, how do you infuse agility into its operations?
SB: It is definitely a mammoth task to make a 200-year-old organisation agile and to move it up as the first digital bank of India in its true sense. It was not simple at all. I am with the bank for four years now and the agenda is yet not complete. The targets to reach the top are always moving. We have built a solid foundation to infuse agility into the bank. The first step that we took in our digital journey was to introduce the middleware to bring the bank to a two-speed architecture. We have introduced Enterprise Service Bus Architecture, which hosts the service-oriented application interfaces or the micro services. The combination of micro services and SOA has been implemented in the API layer around the core banking system. This is a very large and significant technological change that was aimed at bringing agility.
DC: What steps did you take on the software side to bring the bank up to speed?
SB: We created the components and modules of the Core Banking System (CBS), along with writing an SOA in the micro services layer. The CBS was a very large monolithic architecture written in COBOL. We created components of this application, such as customer payments, charges and commissions, pricing of the product, product module, KYC maintenance, compliance checks like AML and name screening system. We segregated these modules to ensure scalability and speed, so that whenever changes are made they get implemented fast. There was no need to check the entire CBS. That has been a big change that we have made on the software side.
DC: What basic infrastructure changes were made to to take the SBI to the digital era?
SB: For any technologist or business executive, today’s times are the most testing ones. Like any other industry or corporate, we also have a mandate to drive SBI into the fast lane of digital path and for that a greater degree of planning, strategy, vision and mission is required. All of this is meaningless unless the foundation is strong. We have set up our own private cloud, which is running the VMWare. It is the largest BFSI Cloud and we have close to 15,000 VMs. That was one area through which agility could be brought into all the business projects and processes. Earlier, the infrastructure procurements used to take 8 to 9 months. This has now been brought down to only 10 to 12 minutes. We made it possible incrementally. First, it reduced to 12 to 15 days due to simplification and streamlining of the various paper-based processes. Then the processes got even more simplified and digitalized for fulfillment of the cloud demand on a real-time basis. Thus, it came down to 2 days and then an 1 hour.
DC: How important is network in the overall digital transformation journey for SBI?
SB: One of the most significant and huge programs that we undertook was the “network transformation program“. The entire bank had been running on 64 or 128 KBPS speed. After the transformation, now the branch network has been upgraded to 2 MBPS. The network bandwidth has been enabled with alternate technologies. We have also built a software-defined datacenter for digital transformation and bringing about the agility. We have built a software-defined datacenter in Hyderabad with a thousand rack capability to fuel the digital transformation of the bank and take it to the next level.