Nedbank, one of South Africa’s four largest banks, has made a permanent shift to a new model, leveraging digital workspace solutions to provide secure, reliable access to everything employees need to engage and be productive, wherever they happen to be. Fred Swanepoel, Chief Information Officer, Nedbank Group, tells Intelligent CIO Africa, why it was important for the bank to embrace a hybrid work model using Citrix technology.
Many financial institutions remain sceptical of hybrid work. South Africa-based Nedbank isn’t among them. As one of the largest banks in South Africa, the financial services and credit provider has gone all in on the new model, and recently announced that employees whose jobs do not require them to be in a branch office can work from home on a permanent basis if they choose. And it is using solutions from Citrix Systems, to provide them with secure and reliable access to everything they need to get work done, wherever it needs to get done.
The concept of remote work is nothing new for Nedbank. Ten years ago, the forward-thinking institution laid the foundation for it, using Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops. And it has been building on it ever since.
Delivering the future of work today
Fred Swanepoel, CIO, Nedbank Group, said the core banking modernisation is a critical component of Nedbank’s Managed Evolution (ME) journey to digitise its banking landscape, delight customers and future proof the business. “We continue to follow the lower cost, lower risk, incremental modernisation approach as opposed to a big-bang vendor solution implementation and have made considerable strides in progressing this. The programme remains true to the original vision of delivering platforms to enable product configurability and pricing flexibility to drive innovation, agility and time to market. In addition, this work is a fundamental enabler for product and system rationalisation,” he said.
Remarking on technologies that are crucial for Nedbank Group’s strategy and vision, Swanepoel said: “Those technologies that enable the optimisation of the traditional core operating model but similarly enable the scaling of our exciting ecosystem plays are critical. Nedbank’s strategic intent remains to create compelling client experiences that deepen and entrench client engagement, with world-class security always being top of mind.”
Nedbank started using Citrix capabilities in 2011. The scope has always been to focus on the use of Citrix virtualisation technology to enable a large number of its back-office staff to become location independent in their work.
To this end, the banking group was looking for location independence, and a better IT support model.
“We were looking for location independence, and a better IT support model. Ultimately, we wanted to decouple applications and data from end user devices, so that our employees had the freedom to work from anywhere, accessing any data and application, without being constrained by their device or location,” he said.
Swanepoel added that the second part of the strategy was to move away from traditional, expensive endpoint devices, and required the ability to secure data, which is now centralised within a secure data centre, meaning that data in no longer stored on endpoint devices. “As a consequence, Citrix’s virtualisation technology has enabled us to pivot from a bank that was largely in-office, to having more than 18,000 employees working from home. The transformation that took place during the pandemic was nothing short of phenomenal and has helped us tremendously to both futureproof the business and deliver sustainable service to our clients over this challenging period,” he said.
Having looked around for suitable technology in the market that would help Nedbank Group promote and encourage a hybrid work model and promote location independence, the banking powerhouse decided on Citrix.
“Our selecting of our partner-vendor network is informed by our strategic elections of target state, and our ability to execute on our aspirations and targets with this partner. We considered market insights informed by leading research houses such as Gartner, IDC and Accenture, which helped narrowing down the search to a shortlist of potential vendors and their solutions. Our investments in this space were clearly supported by a comprehensive business case, which reflected the financial and commercial viability of leveraging the Citrix solution,” he said. “Citrix’s credibility and proven track record in the financial services sector, along with its ability to scale, and flexible licencing model strengthened the business case. Citrix also meets the high security standards required within the banking industry.”
He said following a successful proof of concept (PoC) the decision was made to partner with Citrix. “Ultimately, Citrix’s dominance in providing virtual desktop solutions for some of the world’s biggest blue-chip companies, made it a logical choice from a banking point of view.”
Creating converged digital client experiences
“Long before the pandemic, we saw the need to empower our employees to meet an increasingly digital customer base where they are and provide the superior service, they have come to expect from us,” said Mervyn Savary, Executive Head for End User and Communication Services, Nedbank.
Technology is at the core of Nedbank Group’s strategy. Nedbank’s Technology capability seeks to unlock sustainable relative outperformance in support of the Nedbank investment case, operating model optimisation and the achievement of medium and long-term strategic enterprise aspirations and targets.
Swanepoel said today’s clients expect seamless experiences that allow them to interact with brands how, when, and where they want. He said new digital technologies are reshaping the value proposition of existing financial products and services as well as how, when and where these are delivered to and consumed by clients.
“Leveraging our digital expertise has become instrumental in directing the overall business strategy, increasing competitiveness, enabling optimisation and creating new revenue streams.
“Our digital CVPs are increasingly focused on creating converged digital client experiences across traditional banking and wider ecosystem opportunities.”
With innovation evolving fast in the banking and financial services industry,Swanepoel pointed out that Nedbank’s vision is to be the most admired financial services provider in Africa by staff, clients, shareholders, regulators and society. “We continue to consider all client engagements as key opportunities to influence our clients to leverage digital products so that our digital solutions add value to their lives as our clients go about their personal and professional lives.”
Protecting digital assets
Given that the African continent has witnessed a heightened wave of cyberattacks in recent months targeting banks and financial institutions especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that financial lending institutions protect their digital assets. To this end, the Nedbank estate is secured using a defence in-depth approach using a multi-layer, multi-vendor strategy which covers both technology components and people, enabled by processes and associated monitoring.
Swanepoel explained that the everchanging cybersecurity landscape has had an accelerated evolution due to COVID-19 and more recently the Russia-Ukraine war with an ever increasing complex and convoluted landscape. “The Nedbank Security Operations Centre has implemented a vast number of different controls to protect against threats and vulnerabilities and to safeguard the bank’s assets, including client information,” he said.
Managing a distributed workforce
With Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, Nedbank is able to serve up simple, unified access to the systems, information and tools its 18,000 staff need to engage and be productive and dynamically apply security policies so they can work when, where and how they want with the confidence that their applications, information and devices are safe. In addition, it can also support more than 2,000 India-based developers who access its data using a BYOD model and trust that they too are protected.
“We can spin up 200 developer users in a day, or two, and it’s not a big issue for us,” Savary said. “We give them access to the desktop image on Citrix. They use their own devices to connect to us, we set them up and they access our data. Then, when they spin down, the data is still sitting in our data centre intact, and they don’t have anything on their local devices.”
Implementing Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops
Regardless of where they are working, employees expect a reliable experience. But like any organisation, Nedbank faces challenges in delivering it.
According to Swanepoel, the legacy applications posed the greatest difficulty to virtualise. “The intention was to abstract our application estate from the hardware, including our legacy applications, but this represented a big challenge.
“Additionally, we needed to tighten our endpoint and data security, as well as modernise our IT support model, which was not in line with global standards.”
Swanepoel said this included simplifying and optimising the endpoint management (including software patching and software distribution) and replacing and virtualising 10,000 aging endpoint devices. This in turn, allowed us to reduce our engineering requirements, facilitating a larger ratio of users to engineering FTEs.
Asokan Moodley, Executive Head of End User and Communication Experience, Nedbank, said: “The landscape has changed, and we are now leveraging predominantly cloud-based applications across our operations. As a result, we have seen a drastic increase in bandwidth requirements, and have more latency-sensitive applications that require more resilience, stability and quality than ever.”
With Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, Nedbank can serve up simple, unified access to the systems, information and tools its 18,000 plus employees need to engage and be productive and dynamically apply security policies so they can work when, where and how they want with the confidence that their applications, information and devices are safe. In addition, it can also support more than 2,000 India-based developers who access its data using a BYOD model and trust that they too are protected.
Alex Russell, Head of Enterprise Sales, South Africa, Citrix, said: “Our relationship with Nedbank extends over 10 years, and naturally, the use cases have matured over that time. The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented demand for desktop and application virtualisation and accelerating the transition to cloud and permanent hybrid work has been the obvious next step.”
From a project implementation perspective, Russell said the whole Citrix team has been involved, combining sales, technical, product, systems engineering and value engineering, to give Nedbank a single joined-up approach. “Demos and proof of concepts were conducted as well as a two-day in-depth virtual briefing with key stakeholders from Infrastructure and Operations as well as InfoSec, to understand Nedbank’s business and technology strategies. This helped to cement our position as a strategic partner within the bank,” he said.
Following the implementation of Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, Nedbank can operate in the post-pandemic world with confidence.
“After the implementation of Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, the bank has successfully decoupled applications and data from hardware and devices, meaning employees can work anywhere, from any device, in a secure manner.
“Nedbank is now able to face whatever challenge the world throws at them, with the ability to pivot in a manner that doesn’t require a radical change of technology. Ultimately, our partnership has enabled Nedbank to position itself very competitively amongst other banks in the sector,” Russell said.