Deploying the cloud for future-readiness

Image courtesy of Fern M. Lomibao

The Internet of Things (IoT) has unlimited potential. Today, IoT has brought us innovations like smart homes and wearable electronic devices. With the further advancement of technology, there will be a time when we will be living as if we were in a futuristic film, with innovations like 5G, augmented/virtual reality, drones, and self-driving cars dominating our lives. Yet for them to be fully functional, the cloud has to serve as their backbone.

In the recent Cloud Frontiers 2021 conference organised by Jicara Media, a panel session explored the shape of the cloud several years from now, and what enterprises can do to ensure that they are ready for this future. 

The panel featured the following:

  • Steven WONG Weng Leong, Chief Digital and Global Banking Strategist, China Construction Bank (Malaysia)
  • Joseph Ng, Director of IT, Baring Private Equity
  • Saiful Bakhtiar Osman, Head of IT APAC, Ascent Fund Services
  • Varun Gupta, Director of IT, IndiGo (InterGlobe Aviation Ltd)

The discussion was moderated by Rahul Joshi, Managing Editor, at Frontier Enterprise. 

Technology as a disruptor

The moderator kick-started the conversation by predicting that the technology of the next 10 years is going to be radically different from what we have now, and asking the panel which technology they think is going to be the most disruptive for the enterprises and verticals that they work in.

Joseph Ng of Baring Private Equity said that communication is one of the crucial parts of their organisation. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have already seen a lot of different communications converted into digital format. These days we have board meetings and annual general meetings being held in what we call a hybrid format. I believe the next technology enabling communications further will be 5G, as well as AR and VR.”

Talking about the cloud, Steven WONG Weng Leong of China Construction Bank (Malaysia), opined that the excitement about the cloud right now is about data, or how the cloud can convert data into usage. He recommended some areas in cloud technology that we should consider: 

  • Would it be able to produce ”backroom efficiencies” in terms of process?
  • How efficient is the end-to-end process?
  • Can it reduce cost?
  • Does it improve the customer experience or CX?
  • Can it mitigate risk?
  • Can it facilitate innovation?
  • Is it scalable?

For Saiful Bakhtiar Osman of Ascent Fund Services, IoT is the most promising and has a huge potential to grow. To reinforce his prediction, Saiful cited an example on combining IoT with analytics in aviation. He shared that every component of airplanes like the Boeing 787 is connected to a wireless network, and transmits large amounts of data in real time during each flight. This data is then analysed for performance and maintenance, ensuring that the plane’s engine is functioning properly. The information is then relayed to the ground staff so when the plane lands, the airport engineer would be ready for maintenance.

Varun Gupta of Indigo said that from a cloud perspective, his organisation needs to develop a lot of applications to improve efficiency as Indigo flies a lot of people, so providing a seamless customer experience is of utmost importance, and Indigo also has a lot of staff working in various airports too.

“Now all of that requires a lot of digitisation, a lot of innovation, bringing in a lot of applications for both our customers as well as our employees. From that perspective, the cloud gives us the agility to try new technologies to deploy them faster. This has always been one of the key areas which have helped us. At the same time, we have started embracing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to use them in chatbots, where we engage with clients, and we are able to respond to them faster,” explained Varun.

IT backbone preparedness

The moderator next asked: “In terms of workload demands and what your infrastructure is being asked to do, is your IT backbone ready for what is to come?”

Joseph revealed that his organisation has already migrated its core infrastructure towards Azure Cloud. “So that helped us to shift the burden, or at least to meet the demand for the future, loading on one of the key requirements from data analytics, robotic process automation, or AI,” he added.

Saiful shared that his organisation lets the service provider worry about the infrastructure. They instead focus their efforts to expand their services, setting up new offices and business ventures in countries across the Asia Pacific. He even added that they have a robust IT backbone which has made remote working even easier for them. With that in place, working from the home has become the same as working from the office. He said that the remote mode of working has enabled businesses to become more flexible, with them not having to micro-manage their employees.

Varun said that from a backbone perspective, he considers Indigo to be hybrid already. “It’s no more like you have a data centre which is your backbone. My viewpoint is that today, anything is unpredictable when you are planning a solution. The target should be cloud because there, you don’t need to size, you don’t need to make a low-level deployment plan because all of that is so easy to consume,” he added.

Steven said, “At the end of the day, if you’re referring to workloads, you must be able to dissect it. Ultimately, what we’re trying to extract is basically data. So when it comes to data, what we are looking at are three aspects: the processing of data, storage, and networking.”

“How do we ensure that there is network data that is able to produce the rightful use and rightful meaning to users? When you talk about IT infrastructure, what sort should you have that is effective? If you really look into it, is there any IT infrastructure that can support processing, storage, and networking? If you can address these three elements, that will be a fantastic IT backbone to have for any company,” Steven explained.

Managing the talent crunch

Discussing the ongoing IT talent crunch which is a big issue in Asia, Joseph said that finding appropriate talent is really challenging, particularly for SMEs like his organisation.

“Instead of getting the corresponding personnel for the company, we shift towards working more closely with vendors like Microsoft Azure and the vendors that help manage the cloud, including network and cloud security,” he shared. “They manage all of this with the cooperation of our in-house team where they handle the overall process.”

Varun held the view that reskilling people is a challenge, as Indigo had people who were trained on specific technologies. “Now that we are moving to a multi-cloud environment where our workloads are sitting across different cloud providers, reskilling people is a challenge. But then, the methodology that we have adopted is to reskill our people based on a “T” shape, so they have depth in a certain technology,” he said.

“We have asked people to be more horizontal in terms of learning new technologies while they continue to deep dive on key skills which they already have. That’s what I call T-shaped skills, and that’s how we are upskilling our resources,” Varun added.

Steven observed that organisations these days are on the lookout for talent who are technically inclined. “I believe the CEO should be someone who is coming from the ranks of CTOs or CIOs, instead of CFOs or COOs. I am saying that because if you really look at it, CTOs and CIOs play a very important role. The mindset today is they are being measured in terms of how good they are in managing their role technically and operationally.”

“That mindset has to convert into a more strategic type of mentality. They (IT leaders) must be measured in terms of business performance and how they contribute towards the bottom line, not so much on being measured in KPIs – like uptime or downtime. Going forward, what is the customer engagement index? As an IT leader, how are you able to drive that? It’s for anyone who is engaged in that IT perspective. If every CEO and CFO is an IT leader, then you can change the organisation’s entire culture and mindset. You will then see a quantum leap in terms of technology, and innovation is going to be immense,” he stressed.

Leveraging cloud for core banking 

The moderator asked the panel if they see core banking – or their most mission-critical workloads – moving to the cloud in the long run, or if they are already in the cloud.

Joseph observed that in his industry (i.e. private equity or venture capital), most of the application data is shifting to the cloud already. “I think that is an activity for the long run. Actually, the cloud option will be one of the keys for us, as well as data analytics,” he said.

Saiful said that moving to the cloud is where the industry is heading currently. “It will be more cost-effective and efficient to run on the cloud.”

Steven cited a research by Deloitte that found that a lot of companies in the FSI (financial services industry) are opting for the hybrid cloud. He shared a couple of examples: 

  • A Dutch bank moved its entire retail banking segment into the cloud.
  • An Australian bank moved some of its transactions onto the cloud.

“What about core banking? I guess it’s not an easy answer because it has to be a risk-based approach, and the decision has to be not just from the bank itself, but the regulators and service providers that have to be involved. It has to be more hand-in-hand and to get the parties together, and depends on the risk appetite, and jurisdiction of the regulations, in which country the bank is domiciled in,” explained Steven.

As a follow-up question, the moderator asked who should be taking the lead for cloud services – the regulators, banks, or service providers? Steven answered: “A lot of times, people say that the regulators are supposed to lead.”

He added that it’s a partnership where everyone has to work together. “Everybody should come together, share the same understanding and acceptance of the future. We should be willing to come together, and see how best we can move core banking into the cloud. So, there’s no need for a particular party to lead, but everybody should work together to embrace the cloud”, he concluded.