HBL operated an on-premises testing and development environment, making it difficult to quickly provision IT resources and maintain the related infrastructure in parallel to the production environments.
To gain on-demand access to critical computing resources and build and develop applications, HBL outsourced its testing and development environment to IBM and took advantage of IBM private cloud offerings.
Gains access to critical technologies 99% fasterby outsourcing and using IBM cloud computing offerings
Reduces costs and capital expenditureswith pay-per-use cloud solutions and no up-front investments
Fuels innovation and supports business growthwith on-demand access to IT resources critical for digital innovation
Business challenge story
Lack of computing resources
HBL is on a mission to transform itself into “a technology company with a banking license,” and become globally recognized for its technological advancements and digital innovations. If business growth is any indication of success, the banking giant is well on its way.
Attracting customers at this magnitude requires delivering groundbreaking products and services in addition to building advanced solutions for business and operations. To this end and to support its IT initiatives, HBL maintains an extensive IT environment that consists of on-premises sites for production, high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR).
Until recently, the Bank also ran an in-house testing and development environment but found it challenging to maintain the necessary infrastructure.
Imtiaz Mahmood, Head of IT Infrastructure and Operations, Global, at HBL, elaborates: “Our business model is to develop initiatives that let us take the lead as a first mover in the market, but we couldn’t do that because of certain challenges on the test and development side.”
For instance, an initiative for a branchless banking platform required end-to-end testing and development environments. Other projects that focused on the organization’s massive ATM network required improving infrastructure security and testing solutions in production before going live. “It was a big challenge to establish this kind of infrastructure in parallel to our production support,” says Mr. Mahmood.
A chronic shortage of computing resources compounded the problem. When new or important workloads required additional infrastructure resources or when HBL wanted to test new applications, it often needed to buy new physical servers and storage devices. The process, which involved procuring, delivering, installing and configuring the technology, could take 4 – 6 weeks due to import factors and associated delays.
Alternatively, the development teams or the application vendors had to be provisioned with resources from the existing test and development pool, or from deprovisioned resources at the HA site. This was highly risky. “For every other integration, there has to be a platform available to us to complete the testing lifecycle,” adds Mr. Mahmood.
Recognizing that its testing and developing issues jeopardized innovation and growth, HBL sought to outsource the environment and take advantage of cloud technology.
Computing power on demand
HBL turned to IBM Services to provide IBM Cloud® IaaS and IBM Cloud PaaS compute offerings for its test and development environments. IBM tracks and manages the services and hosts them in the IBM Business Continuity and Resiliency Services site in Karachi, Pakistan.
IBM is uniquely positioned to work with HBL, having collaborated with the Bank for a decade under long-term contracts for IT operations, cloud testing and development, technical support services, IT consultancy and other disciplines. This engagement is part of a 2015 test and development contract that HBL recently extended and renewed for another three years.
“IBM is the largest service provider in our production setup,” explains Mr. Mahmood. “Through this strategic collaboration, we decided that IBM would provide services to manage HBL’s testing and development needs and extend the infrastructure and platform as a service, ensuring the Bank has a first-mover advantage in the market.”
To begin the engagement, the IBM Global Technology Services® – Infrastructure Services team collaborated with HBL’s IT department to better understand and satisfy technical, commercial and legal challenges.
To mitigate compliance risks, the team also worked closely with the Bank’s Security and Risk department to manage compliance with internal standards and regulations related to data center security, physical security and cybersecurity.
IBM Services also conducted workshops to establish standard operating procedures and determined the types of data that would be stored, who would have access to the data and how IBM would enforce data access security measures.
Today, HBL’s test and development organization uses IBM Cloud IaaS and PaaS offerings to provision and deprovision resources as required. When needs arise, more infrastructure can be added through a provisioned capacity-on-demand by IBM. Because the hosting site is local, HBL has quick access to parts and IBM support engineers for maintenance purposes. IBM also conducts quarterly business reviews to evaluate processes and to give HBL opportunities to discuss improvements.
“As the most progressive bank in Pakistan, HBL is committed to leveraging technology for the growth of the economy,” adds Mr. Mahmood. “Digitization is creating opportunities to deliver financial services at a previously unthinkable scale and enabling the Bank to reach out to existing and new segments in a frictionless manner. People, processes and culture need to act in tandem with technology. The combination of data analytics, digitization, re-engineering relevant customer product offerings and creating partnerships with the digital ecosystem is the future of financial services.
“IBM is always standing behind us for anything we need.”
Fuel for growth and innovation
With IBM IaaS technology, HBL gains a consolidated, “one window” cloud solution that provides on-demand access to the computing and network resources it needs to get its workloads up and running.
In the past, when HBL needed additional computing resources, it often had to procure and install new hardware and servers. The process, end to end, including all necessary enablement, could take several weeks. Moreover, post completion of testing cycles, it was difficult to sustain those redundant environments.
Today, HBL simply requests its computing needs, such as the number of processors and storage needed, and IBM makes the technology available in a matter of hours versus weeks — 99% faster than before. With on-demand computing power, HBL also gained greater agility to move to newer technology as it becomes available and can test, develop and launch innovations much faster than before.
Mr. Mahmood comments: “IBM enabled us to test our in-house developed branchless banking platform, HBL Konnect, in the shortest possible time. We launched the product last year and onboarded over a million subscribers in a very short span of time. IBM certainly helped us provision the necessary test-n-dev environments.” HBL also uses the IaaS offering to test applications for its ATM network initiatives and develop solutions to support the business.
HBL’s sponsors, board of directors and executive management are clearly committed to investing in technology and human resources, made evident from the Bank’s spend and trend over the past five years.
“HBL is the largest banking institution in Pakistan and the only bank in Pakistan with a license to operate in China,” explains Mr. Mahmood. “The use of technology is not an ‘option’ for us. IBM remains a key player by extending its support to the Bank in delivering against our objectives offshore.”
HBL has also developed a digitization strategy to transform its banking, customer experience and processes on digital platforms. Based on a roadmap, it has successfully delivered a mobile app, internet banking, a call center, payment platforms and many more business process management workflows to improve process efficiency. “IBM remains a partner either directly or indirectly during this drive,” says Mr. Mahmood.
Mr. Mahmood recalls a recent initiative that involved establishing an open application programming interface (API) architecture to make it easier for third-party organizations, such as telecommunication companies, insurance companies, other financial institutions, payment companies and gateways, to access the Bank’s product catalog. In the past, the development and testing processes would have taken six months or more.
“The development and technology operations and infrastructure teams were given a very short time span to deliver against this important initiative,” says Mr. Mahmood. “By using the right platform and the right technologies from our long-tested technology partner, IBM, we achieved the committed milestones. IBM was there to support us in provisioning our test-n-dev environments at the IBM facility and with the platforms.”
HBL is also striving to introduce mean-stack, microservices architecture to improve application systems performance at the integration layer. The Bank is relying on the Global Technology Services team to provide the necessary support and services.
In parallel, HBL is upgrading its technology stack and the application version of its core banking system to standardize support from the respective vendor. This initiative is providing coverage for the entire core banking services at the enterprise, domestic and international levels.
Across the enterprise, IBM solutions are helping HBL reduce and avoid costs. The IaaS solution is offered under a pay-per-use model and HBL only pays for the resources it uses. There are also no up-front costs or capital expenditures related to procuring IT equipment, driving additional savings. Because the service is offered locally, it even reduces network link costs.
Moving forward, HBL is exploring options to set up an onsite private cloud on a managed services model with IBM Services. For example, there are ongoing discussions about consolidating the Bank’s multiple content management solutions to a singular platform, which will be migrated and provided by the IBM Infrastructure Services team.
HBL has made tremendous progress because of the inherent strengths of its business. The Bank enjoys market-leading positions in most of its business segments. HBL continues its journey towards becoming a “technology company with a banking license,” with digitization and customers at the center of all of its endeavors. The Bank has enhanced momentum in its embrace of financial inclusion, focus on developing the agriculture and small and medium enterprise (SME) sectors, and consolidating its footprint in China and beyond. HBL won the 2020 Asiamoney Award for Best Domestic Bank.
“As a Bank, we are leading the way in technology, innovation and financial inclusion. Our service to our customers, communities and shareholders remains at the heart of HBL’s agenda, and is what drives us forward,” concludes Mr. Mahmood. “If I look at the list of service providers who will help us maintain our position, IBM is at the top. It’s a long-term relationship between HBL and IBM, and we hope to see it grow further in the future.”
Habib Bank Limited
HBL was the first commercial bank to be established in Pakistan in 1947. Over the years, HBL has grown its branch network and maintained its position as the largest private sector bank in Pakistan with over 1,700 branches and 2,100 ATMs globally, and over 20 million customers worldwide. It is currently the largest domestic multinational bank with a global presence in over 15 countries across three continents. It also leads its competitors in total assets deposits, advances, equity and investment banking fees. In 2019, HBL declared pretax profits of PKR 28.9 billion, a growth of 34% over 2018.
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