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Thailand’s TMB Bank modernises IT through the cloud

Bank used a move to Office 365 as a starting point for its transformation into a cloud-first organisation

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This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Asia-Pacific: CW ASEAN: August 2016:

Thailand’s TMB Bank’s legacy IT system was holding it back from being responsive to the demands of its customers and staff – so it set a course for the cloud to sharpen its focus on banking in the digital age.

“TMB Bank may not be the biggest bank in Thailand, but we want to be the leanest organisation possible and provide the best transactional banking services to retail customers in Thailand,” said Lorenzo Tassan-Bassut, COO at TMB Bank. “This means our workforce has to be very responsive, easily share and access information and have the flexibility to work remotely.

“We wanted to break down the silos between our 48 operating groups and encourage greater collaboration. At the same time, we can’t compromise on the need to provide security for our information and customers’ online transactions.”

In 2014, the bank’s executives set out to find a communication and collaboration tool for their 9,000 employees who were long-time users of Lotus Notes. The aim was to enable all banking staff to work together seamlessly – wherever they were – to improve customer service and increase productivity.

After evaluating various solutions, the bank chose Microsoft Office 365 for its well-established email system, collaboration tools, scalable plans and built-in security and compliance features. This proved to be a landmark project for TMB.

In July 2014, the bank deployed Office 365 to 3,000 head-office staff, who gained access to Office applications such as Word and Excel, email powered by Exchange Online, desktop voice and video calling, live document co-authoring and cloud file storage.

By January 2015, TMB Bank had deployed Office 365 to all its employees, including about 4,000 staff at its 450 branches across Thailand. Most employees downloaded the desktop applications themselves, making deployment fast and inexpensive.

“Office 365 is the perfect fit for all our productivity needs,” said Tassan-Bassut. “Our employees are taking advantage of new capabilities, such as simultaneous document editing. The shift in our email culture is a clear sign of success. Employees are increasingly using Lync, or Skype for Business, to communicate any time, anywhere.”

Bank employees now have remote access to corporate data through SharePoint’s centralised document libraries, team sites and workflows. Staff working in teams can drive customer engagement, whether at the office or from a remote location.

A new cost model

By deploying cloud-based Office 365, TMB has not only gained new capabilities, but also saved more than 25m baht ($1m) by moving from a capital expenditure (capex) to an operating expenditure (opex) model. Tassan-Bassut said that was a conservative estimate of what it would have cost to take the traditional in-house approach, with heavy capital investment in on-premise infrastructure with dedicated hardware and software, and hiring skilled employees.

Besides cost savings, the move to opex allows TMB to pay a subscription fee for software usage, and enables it to scale up or down quickly and flexibly at short notice.

The only real concern the bank had about cloud computing was security. That was put to rest by Microsoft’s well-established security standards for its datacentres, with security and disaster recovery capabilities that the bank would find hard to match with its own on-premise cloud.

“Moving to Office 365 means we had to clean up our environment,” said Tassan-Bassut. “Many processes have been automated and standardised, which has led to improved productivity and efficiency. There are also the advantages of collaboration and the ease of working with a single supplier.”

Read more about cloud computing in the Asean region

Adopting a cloud approach required some minor adjustments. The bank was on a very steep learning curve and when it came to licensing, it partnered closely with Microsoft. TMB also increased the number of login attempts a user can have before he or she is locked out, to accommodate the possibility of users mistyping on the smaller screens of handheld devices.

IDC predicted last year that financial services institutions in Thailand would use cloud technology more progressively and willingly than their counterparts in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. This will see Thai financial services institutions benefit from reduced operating costs while setting benchmarks and best practices for cloud adoption.

“Many financial institutions in the region are moving their non-sensitive application to public cloud,” said Sandeep Bazaz, industry analyst – APAC datacentre and cloud computing at Frost & Sullivan. “In mature economies in the region, some banks are even thinking about moving their critical workloads to the cloud. Some of the prominent applications that are being moved to cloud are: customer relationship management (CRM), email, collaboration applications, marketing tools and big data analytics.”

The hybrid approach

For TMB Bank, moving to the cloud for its productivity tools is just the first step. The bank also has its CRM, from Salesforce, in the cloud. It also plans to set up its SharePoint portal in the cloud to allow customers to access the content they need, and to deploy analytics in the cloud to gain greater insights into banking and customer data.

In addition, the bank is evaluating core banking cloud solutions, which it intends to move to Microsoft’s Azure Stack, an on-premise version of its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) public cloud, by 2019. This would enable the bank to create a hybrid cloud that runs the same software for both public and private cloud, and to control both from the same portal.

“With Azure Stack, I can install and uninstall resources of both my public and private cloud from a single portal, and work with a single supplier,” said Tassan-Bassut. “The advantages are that it runs on standardised hardware and supports Windows, Linux and AIX, which are the platforms we have.”

By implementing a public cloud solution, TMB Bank is benefiting from speed of deployment, lower cost, flexibility and scalability. As the bank continues to evolve its cloud infrastructure towards a hybrid model, it is poised to tap into future growth opportunities in the finance industry.

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