Shiv Kumar Bhasin, CTO State Bank of India, on technology transformation undertaken at the country’s largest bank.
State Bank of India (SBI) is a behemoth having 25,000 branches serving 300+ million customers, 550+ million accounts, 55,000+ ATM/CDM network across the nation.
The digital transformation of the behemoth required technology transformation right from the foundation of IT infrastructure, not just delivering few mobile and digital applications. Network is like the veins and arteries for a retail financial organisation whose revenues are dependent on CASA and loan products sales and servicing. It has been the bank for baby boomers, now to transform it to a bank of choice for GenX/GenY, its infrastructure transformation is key for its makeover.
A branch is one of the key customer touch points that is going to remain in the Indian banking industry in spite of various levels of automations put in place, right from Artificial Intelligence-based bots serving the customers to best customer experience-based Omni Channel front ends—Web Portals, Smartphone Mobile Apps, Smart Devices Apps, etc.
While transforming the bank into the digital age, it’s very essential that Customer Experience at the branch is also transformed, and the branch is available for business during business hours. In our country network issues get compounded not only due to service quality of telcos, but also due to development and construction activities going on across the country, which leads to lot of cable cuts and severe downtimes in the retail outlets.
State Bank of India branches had been on Point 2 Point network till 2014, 85 per cent of branches were on 64kbps link from BSNL, and redundant network link in the branches was the ISDN line.
To transform the State Bank of India into the digital age there were two key objectives to transform its network:
- Transform its Point 2 Point network to MPLS cloud: Achieved in record time of 12 months in December 2014, right from concept, planning to execution.
- Upgrade entire Branch Network to last mile primary link to 2 Mbps Leased Line Connectivity from BSNL, and provide active redundant link of 2Mbps from alternate telcos (Bharti/Airtel, Vodafone, Tata Communications) on alternate technology (RF/4G/3G), ie each branch post-upgrade leapfrogs to minimum active-active 2 links of 2Mbps (resultant bandwidth of 4Mbps in each branch outlet).
Immediately after migration to MPLS cloud upgrade, planning for above network upgrades started. BSNL, key strategic partner for State Bank of India for all Primary Links across the bank, took up the task to upgrade its infrastructure to make it happen. In April 2016, BSNL got the entire infrastructure in place, and started upgrade of 22,000 circuits in record time of 10 weeks (350-500+ branches upgrade per day from April third week to end of June 2016). This is the fastest and largest project execution by two largest public sector organisations across the world.
Project execution was carried out by finest teams across BSNL, SBI and Dimension Data (network integrator for SBI) in the most collaborative fashion, with every minute tracking of various milestones across the project lifecycle. More than 600 people put in efforts 24 x7 to make this dream true on the State Bank’s foundation day (July 1, 2016).
In the third quarter of 2015, alternate links (RF/4G/3G) upgrade also started, which requires huge physical infrastructure to be setup across country. Currently more than 42 per cent of branches have got alternate links available on RF/4G/3G. Therefore, about 10,000 branches across SBI have got 4Mbps (two active/active links of 2Mbps each). VSAT branches have been cut down to 2,700. Further feasibility has been carried out to bring this number to a much smaller number.
Roadmap for network upgrade is to take State Bank of India branches to Optical Fiber Connectivity (OFC) to truly fulfilling the dream of a digital India. It will be network bandwidth on demand availability.
Branch operations have tremendously improved since the network upgrade of 2Mbps has taken place.
- Long queues in front of teller counters have disappeared.
- Customer service levels have tremendously improved. Various senior citizen customers who used to come to branches for hanging out are wondering why tellers are delivering faster services.
- Performance/response times of anywhere banking functions in Core Banking System for non-home customers have improved significantly.
- Loan systems performance has improved significantly—loan booking response times have been cut down by 70-75 per cent.
- Intranet Applications across branches are accessible, which increases the collaboration among staff, and enhances the channels of communication from top management to those in the bottom most part of the pyramid, enhancing customer services and launching strategic products/policies faster.
I can truly say that State Bank of India has arrived as the True Digital Bank of the Nation. It really gives immense pride and professional satisfaction to see huge numbers of customers being served promptly at the SBI branches. It’s fueling enhanced levels of customer services, tremendous growth of Prime Ministers Financial Inclusion and the banks’ business.
Next steps in the direction of infrastructure optimisation, bringing stability, reliability, right level of disaster recovery, security, compliance and high availability is the branch applications virtualisation. It will be largest virtualised applications cloud…watch out in this space… The elephant has started dancing and is going to be a rock star sooner rather than later.
Shiv Kumar Bhasin is CTO at State Bank of India
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