COVID has changed the enterprise workplace for good, says First Abu Dhabi Bank Group CIO Yuri Misnik. While the bank had a business continuity plan in place before the pandemic, the global health crisis brought certain aspects of business continuity management into sharper focus, and shed new light on what it takes to keep an enterprise agile in the face of disruption.
The importance of a composable technology infrastructure is at the top of the list. Composable tech treats IT resources as services, and the composable aspect refers to the ability to make those resources available immediately, depending on the needs of the moment.
In this Q&A, Misnik also says that workforce empowerment, which means enabling staff at all levels to be able to work to the best of their ability, as well as a laser focus on the customer experience, are also key requirements of an enterprise’s ability to remain agile and weather all sorts of crises and industry change.
CIO Middle East: What factors have enabled your company to be resilient during the crisis?
Misnik: First, we were fortunate to have some of the technology foundations already in place, which allowed us to react quickly. Nonetheless, it was a huge effort, which required the focus and hard work of a fantastic team which was able to put everything in place in record time. Robust security procedures as well as previous work we did in adopting tools like Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Teams made it possible. In addition, adopting a cloud-focused approach and using Microsoft Azure for managing virtual desktops gave us a great advantage and allowed us to rethink our workplace strategy moving forward.
However, shifting to the “working from home” mode also came with new challenges. Psychological challenges, as opposed to technical and business challenges. How can we make people feel part of a team if they do not meet each other? This is what has inspired several of our initiatives, including for example Workplace by Facebook. Besides its use as an engagement platform that allows real time communication, where the opinion of each employee can be shared, this tool actually brings the FAB community closer together and serves the purpose of bridging the “human” gap that remote working has created.
CIO Middle East: Did you have a business continuity plan in place and if so, which parts of it have proved most effective? How would you change the plan, based on what you now know?
Misnik: Yes, we have a global BCP plan that is tested at least annually. The plan is fine for conventional invocations, but the pandemic required us to rethink quickly. We did not have a widespread “remote working” culture prior to the pandemic. The pandemic changed that, and within weeks we had 90% of our global workforce successfully working from their homes. It caused us to re-evaluate the risk profile of all our roles and functions across the group – e.g. which roles genuinely needed to happen “on premises”.
Some staff for example depend on peripheral equipment such as scanners to do their work, so for these categories we adopted split (company) site strategies to mitigate the contagion risk. We found however that most staff could indeed function from the home environment, subject to certain criteria. Firstly, all staff had to ensure that they had a private area to work from where they could not be overheard or overlooked as they conducted their duties. This is an essential pre-requisite for all to protect our customers’ data. Some sensitive functions required additional cyber-security controls or bank-provided equipment to retain the tightest of controls in the environment. From a BCM [business continuity management] perspective, we have significantly increased the number of staff holding company-provided laptops, which mitigates the problem of having sufficient volumes of “up to date” desktops at the contingency site.
Another of the significant cost saving areas for office and BCM working is that of end user devices. We are also reconsidering our long term “office desk” equipment footprint. Now that video conference tools such as MS Teams, Zoom etc. are so integral to our day-to-day, do we need desk phones in our offices and contingency sites; do we need the same volumes of print capability, as we truly digitise our habits?
CIO Middle East: After more than a year, what are in your opinion the lessons you and your time have learned?
Misnik: We have been through a significant amount of change in a short period of time last year, both from a professional and personal perspective. And each of us has changed, not only in the way we work, but also and especially in the way we act as consumers.
In my opinion, there are 3 lessons learned from this pandemic for every institution:
Ensure there are solid, composable tech foundations in place providing ability to adapt to change: The pandemic has accelerated the digital agendas across many institutions. Technology transformation or, as we are calling it here in FAB “technology evolution”, could not have been accelerated at FAB if it was not for the technology foundations that we laid down in the early phases of the pandemic — i.e. becoming a cloud-first company and significantly upgrading our technology platform. In hindsight, being equipped with the ability to adapt to unforeseen changes or crises is significantly more important than whether we were successful at withstanding a particular disruptive situation.
Enable workforce and empower people at every level: People are the [top] asset of every organization and they can really determine its success or failure, especially during emergencies. Therefore, it is critical to put them in the position to work at the best of their ability. This means giving them the right tools, technology equipment, connectivity etc. but also and especially empowering them. The “work from home” situation, for instance, requires different ways of working together, with new challenges. It is important to make people always aware of what is going on in the organization, of what impact there might be in their daily work, make them always feel part of a team. Moreover, it is important to empower people to make decisions: decisional power and accountability are key for a fast and successful evolution.
Remain focused on customer experience: We need to remember that everything we do is is ultimately for our customers, to provide them with the best possible experience. This means working in parallel in two directions. On the one hand, we have learned that it is crucial to be always ready for emergencies to avoid any disruption or discontinuity in the service we are providing to our customers. On the other hand, we need to always evolve and improve our level of service and our offering, in line with customers’ expectations and with the “new customer” that has been shaped by this pandemic.
CIO Middle East: Do you think your team and the company will go back operating as you did pre-COVID?
Misnik: I think the world has changed for good. We have developed new habits that will remain with us in the future. We have all become more technology-savvy than before, as individuals, as employees and as customers. I don’t believe on-site working will disappear because human touch and relationships remain key, especially for certain roles.
Nevertheless, smart working is something we have learnt and is here to stay. Smart working is much more than remote working. It has to do with the ability to make teams cooperate even when people are not able to be all in the same room. In the past, we already had businesses like consulting companies who were able to do so. But for more complex organizations, like banks, this requires all sort of things, from a new way of management to new tools enabling remote co-working. We have made an incredible experience during the pandemic and we should not waste these capabilities for the future.