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two men using a NAB ATM

Cloud Clout: how NAB is digitally transforming itself, delivering new classes of customer service, and investing in its people for the future

National Australia Bank (NAB) believes the world is poised at a seminal moment in its digital evolution.

The bank expects cloud computing to play a huge role in transforming product, services, strategy and play an important role in improving the customer experience. It will accelerate evolution – distributing transformative and innovative power more widely than ever before, and nowhere more so than in financial services.

The bank has adopted a cloud-first strategy and over time will transition the majority of its key applications to the cloud, and also leverage cloud to accelerate development and innovation.

For example, it’s already working on a proof of concept that uses artificial intelligence developed using cloud cognitive services to identify customers at an ATM through facial recognition. This would improve the customer experience by removing the need for a physical card while also reducing the risk of card fraud and skimming. It’s also transitioning core platforms such as SAP to Azure; and is exploring data analytics opportunities that simply weren’t possible in the past.

Steven Day, NAB executive general manager for infrastructure, cloud and workplace, describes cloud as being the “target state for our infrastructure in the new world.”

Day expects NAB to gain a competitive edge by running more workloads and applications through the cloud. That, he expects, will deliver operational benefits, an innovation dividend, and also attract technologists with cutting edge skills who are keen to work on pioneering solutions in finance.

“I believe that the modern computing era is going to change our lives drastically.  The pace of change is unprecedented and it’s still accelerating” – Steven Day, NAB executive general manager

“Cloud allows us to move much faster, to take advantage of features and capabilities that are being deployed to customers all over the world.  Also, the elastic nature of the cloud and the elastic nature of storage allow our teams to solve problems and ask questions of my data that were previously unthinkable.”

The AI powered ATM is a cloud-based proof of concept developed using Microsoft Azure cognitive services. It has been designed to improve the customer experience by envisaging a card-less world and helps guard against the fraudulent use of stolen cards and card skimming.

The proof of concept has NAB customers visit a kiosk which captures their image and links it to their bank card and PIN. The ATM concept asks the user to enter a PIN, providing a second factor of security along with their facial biometric to confirm their bona fides.

nab and microsoft gif

Multi cloud approach

NAB’s cloud approach is future-facing – but highly pragmatic. It has adopted a multi-cloud strategy to create flexibility and drive delivery more quickly, more effectively and more cost efficiently.

Day says; “Our target state is to have workloads distributed between various cloud providers to get the best benefits and to use the best capabilities from each. That gives us the best risk mitigation and gives us the best fit for purpose balance across the entire environment.”

Day joined NAB from AWS – but the bank continues to look for multiple cloud options, including Microsoft, and is already deploying applications on the recently opened Microsoft Azure Australia Central. This is a Canberra based region of Azure developed specifically to support national critical computing.

Meanwhile Microsoft’s close relationship and expertise with SAP made Azure the natural candidate to host SAP in the cloud; it also delivers Office 365 across NAB; and Azure cognitive services are being used for the face recognition proof of concept.

Cloud and Office 365 are delivering important workplace flexibility and efficiencies with no compromise of security according to Day.

“It’s just allowing our people more flexibility to get work done from locations outside our physical locations more easily than before. It provides our people with improved access to systems, flexibility and ease of use” – Steven Day, NAB executive general manager

Orchestrating transformation

One of the first things that NAB has focussed on in its digital transformation is how to transition to the cloud. Day explains; “What we’re trying to do is to identify the patterns and then deploy a set of automated build patterns and landscapes for our developers so that for the most critical workloads we can safely deploy them in a multi-cloud – and I mean true multi-cloud – environment. On our less critical workloads we can safely deploy them to a single provider.“

Yuri Misnik, executive general manager and CIO of NAB, drills further into the detail of the bank’s thinking on cloud and the three pillars that underpin its strategy. “Every time we build or buy an application the default approach is public cloud, ideally using cloud native services, and if that’s not possible – could be regulatory, application or workload specific reasons – we consider alternatives.”

The second pillar of the strategy is to leverage APIs and streamline operations by using a consistent approach to building code, deploying code to production and managing applications. Misnik says that the third pillar involves maximising the use of the bank’s operational data and applying modern tools and machine learning algorithms to it enabling engineering teams to run in a true DevOps way.

People power

NAB is working hard to promote a bank-wide innovation culture, and also developing its people’s skills.

It has formed the NAB Cloud Guild, and encourages all its employees to take up the option of education and training, to learn the skills NAB believes will best equip them and the bank for the future.

Right now, NAB claims more certified cloud engineers than any other company in Australia bar Microsoft and AWS. Each of its cloud engineers is empowered, engaged and equipped to transform financial services forever.

Does it risk losing some of them to rivals? Yes, it’s possible. But the rewards outweigh the risks.

Misnik outlines the enthusiasm for the initiative; “When they announce a new cloud training course, it books out in minutes. Our people are super-engaged, they’re super-excited, and they feel like we’re investing in them in the future for the future and they feel empowered.”

Funded by NAB with training delivered by Microsoft and other partners, four different levels of cloud computing education are being made available through the NAB Cloud Guild – from introduction to cloud computing for novices, through to expert level certified competency in all aspects of Microsoft Azure. NAB employees can also attend regular Azure Discovery Days to ensure they are fully aware of innovation opportunities.

Certification as a Microsoft Technology Associate on the Microsoft Cloud Platform, Linux on Azure, and Cloud Platform and Infrastructure are available through the NAB Cloud Guild. An array of training options is available including self-paced online training and webinars, two-day workshops and soon, five-day courses to provide maximum flexibility and a broad range of content.

Advanced training will be available in specialist areas including architecting, big data, DevOps, containers, security, advanced networking and open source software.

It’s paying innovation dividends already. For example, a team formed from the NAB Cloud Guild is now working with Microsoft on the proof of concept that uses Azure Cognitive Services to boost the security around ATM transactions.

two men using a NAB ATM

Pragmatic approach

Misnik manages more than 5,000 engineers who develop, deploy and keep running all the systems that the bank needs. He’s fully committed to the cloud-first approach taken by the bank – but also determined to remain flexible, focused on the best solutions rather than becoming obsessed by infrastructure dogma.

He’s also profoundly pragmatic about which cloud takes on which workload and says that NAB is determined to manage technical and commercial risk by working with multiple providers.

He is well equipped to manage this delicate dance of divvying up workloads having previously worked for both Microsoft and AWS.

“This for us is a risk management scenario – we believe in the power of market and the power of market pricing,” he says. The right competitive tension ensures NAB gets the best deal and most engagement from its vendor partners, and it’s determined to distribute cloud workloads across multiple cloud providers – but where it makes most technical and commercial sense.”

With strong cloud foundations, an engaged and empowered workforce thanks to the NAB Cloud Guild, and access to a continual stream of cloud-based services, tools and innovations, NAB has positioned itself at the forefront of financial services innovation – creating a new beacon for banking’s digital transformation.