CeBIT 2014: Cloud means zero downtime acceptable: NAB

Mobile and customer focus driving NAB's Cloud transition

Thor Essman, National Australia Bank’s GM of enterprise delivery

Thor Essman, National Australia Bank’s GM of enterprise delivery

Transitioning legacy systems to the Cloud is never easy, but the advantages outweigh the risks, says National Australia Bank’s GM of enterprise delivery, Thor Essman, who is overseeing the company’s infrastructure transition.

Much of this is of necessity. In a rapidly expanding smartphone world, here mobile goes, Cloud inevitably follows. In the banking sector, even more so. Mobile is now NABs primary online channel, accounting for 56 per cent of all online interactions, he said. This is already up 6 per cent since January.

Essman said consumers' increased ‘irritability level’ when it comes to technology means that customers won’t tolerate slow loading apps, or any downtime. The days of posting a ‘down for scheduled maintenance’ notice to your website is over – Cloud means that no professional website should ever miss a beat.

“When was the last time you saw Facebook or Twitter down for maintenance?” he said.

“You’re leaving money on the floor if customers don’t get what they want, when they want it.”

Despite this, 40 per cent of NAB total transactions still occur at the branch, particularly amongst older demographics. So part of the bank’s transition has been how to manage the legacy software and hardware that makes up the backbone of the company’s infrastructure – from ATMs to servers.

Change for changes sake is not a good strategy. Essman believes that even legacy has its pros and cons. It’s usually stable, cheap - due to depreciation - and mature. There are also cultural issues, which require a rethink of HR and almost every other aspect of the business.

“It raises peoples cackles in a big way, the whole ‘if its not broken, don’t fix it’ mentality,” he said.

Playing the long game makes sense here, because even today some legacy applications cannot be transitioned to the Cloud, he said.

Some of the best software candidates for Cloud integration are CRM, data analytics, batch processing, collaboration platforms, email and ‘basically anything on Linux’, Essman says. And it has to be thought about holistically.

“Your system is only as strong as your weakest link,” he said.

We are also approaching an era of legacy mobile apps – the iPhone came out in 2007, and many apps that were developed years ago are creaking under the weight, not just because of their age, but enhanced customer expectation.

Culturally, the company has had to change much of its technology offerings to be based around third party offerings, and not necessarily do the product development internally – a big change for IT.

Read more: Is Dropbox ready for the office? is built on Amazon Web Services, Akamai and Adobe, and the benchmark has been set – less than 3 seconds of down time a year, Essman says. As a Cloud service, it means that the same content is available across all points of presence and datacentres, and the system has elasticity as needed. The whole system is now fully automated ‘lights out’ and requires no day-to-day manual intervention.

To test the setup NAB even uses specialist third party software such as Beeswithmachineguns and ChaosMonkey.

Cloud Transition Tips

  1. Learn to love customisation – be adaptable
  2. Risk Aversion is important – but public Cloud is safe and secure
  3. Worried about Cloud Lock In? It’s no different to being locked to Windows or IBM hard systems – at least with Cloud you can leave whenever you want, and don’t pay $1000s for hardware.
  4. Build Better Robots – you need to build a durable, reliable system – a Toyota Corolla, not a customised Bentley
  5. Iteration vs innovation – speed is your number one priority, update in small does, regularly.
  6. Open mind in an open architecture – Keep an open mind to possibilities of customisation, third party apps, don’t be rigid.
  7. Adopt adaption – use the same tools as the best in the world – don’t built your own.

Read more: ANZ Bank resolves online banking crash

Allan Swann is the ARN Editor at IDG Communications Australia. Follow Allan on Twitter @allanswann, and at Google+.

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