Ethiopian bank modernizes operations, paving the way for a digital future

The Bank of Abyssinia (BOA) has digitally innovated its business

A leading bank in Ethiopia has digitally innovated its business thanks to the help of VMware.

The Bank of Abyssinia (BOA) needed to scale and improve both its production and disaster recovery environments, and be a more digitally inclusive business, but was inhibited by exorbitant costs of new equipment and long delivery cycles.

Established in 1996, BOA is one of the largest banks in Ethiopia, boasting over one million customers and more than 5,825 employees. Its network stretches across the country with 286 branches; nearly half of which in Addis Ababa. In order to maintain a leadership position it places extensive emphasis on the role of technology in the business.

“Our systems were becoming unstable and the technology was gaining, so we identified a need to update our production data centre as well as improve our disaster recovery environment,” said Yoseph Kibret, CIO at the Bank of Abyssinia.

“Core to our customer service is innovation through new services, one of which is looking to create digital services, but we were unable to achieve this as the technology we had in place was outdated which was causing gaps in the business.”

“Not only is infrastructure in Ethiopia expensive as it is charged in dollars, but the process to get equipment landed in country, before we even deploy it, can take more than six months – this makes it almost impossible for a business to scale. That, and that fact that we are governed by compliance, makes it difficult to deploy new systems.”

The bank is also currently exploring the implementation of electronic payments, moving away from a paper-based system. Something it was unable to move on because of a legacy technology environment that was stifling the process.

The bank issued an RFP to explore the different options available to meet its needs. BOA first explored replacing its existing systems with a virtual solution but based on respondents, wasn’t sure if the continuation of a physical environment, or the adoption of a hyperconverged infrastructure, would best meet its goals.

“We selected WebSprix/ASA Trading as our partner in this project and working with them we eventually identified the flexibility offered by VMware and its vSAN solution in a hyperconverged setup as the right fit for us, in order to ensure we remained compliant, but create the agility our business craved to move with the times,” said Kibret.

After selecting a technology partner, a vendor and a solution, the bank set about building the new data centre based on hardware servers configured with all-flash HCI, connecting the network, ensuring connectivity, preparing the facilities including the prepping of generators to support should there be a power failure. The infrastructure component of the project took just over three months, before the deployment of vSAN could begin.

The footprint of the new and overhauled environment for its production and disaster recovery sites has reduced significantly, and is now made up of a footprint of a six node all-flash environment with a 48 TB storage capacity for the primary production environment, and a four node all-flash environment with 32TB of storage in its secondary site. The systems, hosted 100% on vSAN, are running all of BOAs core banking systems and enterprise applications.

“Our primary concern is always to provide consistent, stable customer services and security of data, including compliance, so the environment had to adhere to the regulators requirements placed on us,” added Kibret.

“The vSAN component of the system was up and running in only three and a half months, and in that time, we migrated all of our critical core banking and card banking applications, our database, internet and mobile banking, email, Active Directory environment, our service desk and management system. All of this happened seamlessly.

“Now if I want to add a server or a business application, I can immediately provision it from the data centre, even the disk and memory provisioning happens at software layer and is instant. Our experience has been really good and the flexibility we have in our day-to-day operations is incredible. The support I have received from VMware and my partner WebSprix has been excellent and they have provided consistent knowledge transfer throughout.”

BOA has accelerated its business away from a siloed approach, which previously complicated the management of its systems, and can now manage a single environment improving support times immensely.

From a physical footprint point of view the company previously had ‘a room full of racks’ in its data centre, but now only houses three racks.

According to Kibret, the legacy air conditioner in the environment is actually bigger than the entire new data centre, and it has been able to downscale its air conditioning and power requirements profoundly, reducing the costs of both.

“Core to all of this is that I can quickly support and respond to the business, because of the flexibility of the system,” said Kibret.

“Notably the end of the month processing in a bank puts enormous pressure on the business, now it is invisible to the end user who is experiencing business as usual. I have also reduced our reliance on hardware providers completely and don’t have to be concerned with six to eight-month delivery times for infrastructure.

“We are no longer hardware reliant – we are software driven business. We can plan IT projects in advance and don’t have the headache of trying to cobble together services on different hardware versions. Our projects are completed on time and on budget and we are a digitally driven business, and our bank is benefiting from the cost savings and efficiencies we are seeing from the new technology.”

Dawit Birhanu, CEO at WebSprix, said the BOA had the courage to approach a methodology that is new to Ethiopia and stuck with its decision.

“They are seeing the results of this courage and as we see other banks in the region ask to come and see their data centre, we can see they are a test case for the country as a whole,” he said.

Kibret added that, in Ethiopia, the company is moving to electronic transactions, something that is still paper-based today.

“While the country is at an early stage, the whole process is dependent on IT and our new system is giving us an advantage,” said Kibret.

“I believe our new infrastructure will help us embrace even more modernisation in our banking environment.”

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