Established in 1945, Wema Bank PLC has steadily grown to become Nigeria's most resilient and the longest surviving indigenous commercial bank. It was converted to a public limited liability company in 1987. In 1990 the bank was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and was granted a Universal Banking License in February 2001. It offers its diverse client base a comprehensive bouquet of services including, amongst others, commercial and consumer banking, institutional banking, corporate finance, retail banking and trade finance operations.
After a restructuring and the appointment of a new management team in 2009, the bank experienced an increase of 200% in its profits. This was mainly achieved after a re-visioning exercise that provided a new strategic focus on good corporate governance and providing exceptional customer value.
The bank operates an integrated computerised banking system that enables it to offer on-line, real-time banking services to its customer base. Around 1500 employees provide sophisticated banking service to its clients from its head office in Lagos and its 154 branches and service stations dispersed throughout the country. Wema Bank also offers a wide range of electronic banking products accessible on its website, and has deployed a host of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) to all major branches.
The fresh focus following its restructuring 2009 highlighted several significant weaknesses in its internal and external communication channels affecting some 450 users within the bank. The bank was using an outdated traditional analog PBX (Private Branch Exchange) system - a private telephone network used within a company wherein users share a number of outside lines for making external phone calls - for all internal communication, leading to huge numbers of phone calls across the large country, resulting in unacceptably high phone bills. Apart from its technological restrictions the maintenance of analog PBX systems was also becoming prohibitively expensive.
To aggravate the matter, each location also had its own external telephone lines. The analogue PABX system had to be phased out gradually, yet fast enough to employ the new solutions across the bank as soon as this could feasibly be achieved.
Its external communication was driven by Microsoft Exchange server 2007, but it was running on a very unstable infrastructure with no form of redundancy, leading to frequent crashes and data loss and completely lacking a proper communication and collaboration platform. The data storage problems were made worse by the lack of an automated back-up solution. The Exchange system was quite adequate, but the infrastructure needed a radical upgrade to deliver a stable and reliable service to it.
Employee mobility was very restricted as they could only access corporate emails using the Blackberry Enterprise Service which was serviced by the bank. This also, had to be addressed as a matter of urgency. At the same time senior management required technological support to enable them to become available around the clock. This meant more flexibility and the harnessing of a range of solutions that would reduce extensive travelling time required to attend meetings across the country by facilitating remote meetings and online collaboration.
This existing situation was untenable in the light of the bank's declared new vision and its desire to deliver world-class customer service to its clients who expected nothing less from Wema Bank. At the same time it wanted to drive down costs and increase productivity levels optimally. The solution clearly was to be found in technology.
The fundamental premise was that the existing Microsoft services and agreements had to be leveraged to deliver the required solutions as far as this was possible.
With Microsoft and Microsoft partners, Dimension Data, they designed an integrated communication platform, linking a variety of solutions to enable the bank to achieve its technology and communication objectives in one integrated project. They deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 to serve as the critical hub of its unified communications strategy. The software was installed on a new pre-integrated platform, provided by the HP BladeSystem Matrix. This system offers the network, storage, and power capacity to run their applications on numerous combined physical and virtual servers, all seamlessly managed as one environment.
They then deployed the Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V to deliver the virtualization needs for the project. This platform provides reliable and scalable platform capabilities with a single set of integrated management tools to manage both physical and virtual resources; the latter of which will be expanded considerably in the next few years to support core functions, such as business continuity, disaster recovery, testing and development, and remote office management.
Exchange Server 2010 includes several features that are already contributing towards the achievement of Wema Bank's integrated communication needs, including email, calendaring and contacts management on personal computers, phones and web browsers. It delivers mobile synchronization of these applications to various devices, including senior managers' Windows Phones, iPhones, and Android phones, allowing them to access, respond to, and update information while on the go. With it comes multi-layered anti-spam filtering with continuous updates to assist the bank to guard against spam and phishing threats.
Microsoft Lync 2010 has been rolled out to enable them to evolve their infrastructure to gradually replace their traditional PBX system. Lync integrates all the different communication channels such as voice-over-Internet, video communications, email, instant messaging, co-authoring and conference calling. Almost any interpersonal interaction, both between individuals and groups, can now be experienced as a face-to-face conversation, because it can include video- and audio-conferencing, telephony, desktop sharing, instant messaging, and physical presence in one application.
Finally, EMC VMax Enterprise Storage was installed to take care of the bank's comprehensive data storage needs, already designed to meet the needs of virtual data centres.
The full project was completed in 2011 and most of the attention is now given to extending and managing the learning curve. Senior and middle management embraced the changes fast and effectively. This has required a lot of focused training on various levels, but the rewards are visible in the rate at which employees embrace the new technology. Short and simple one-page pamphlets have been printed and distributed to assist users in the learning process.
Where only seven months ago messaging was very erratic, unreliable and without any form of proper audit trail, the situation has swung around with considerable improvements in all aspects of communication. Emails are properly tracked and can centrally be revived easily as and when this is required.
Data has been migrated to the new applications with relative ease and data stability and integrity has improved considerably, delivering the most tangible proof in the form of radically reduced customer complaints and queries relating to data issues. The same outcome is reached by employees and managers being able to serve customers while away from the desk. It is not necessary for the service provider to be at his desk to deliver good service any more. Response times are faster and critical information is not only readily available, but also much more reliable.
The analog PBX system, although still in use, is gradually being phased out as internal and external communication is evolving towards the new technology, notably Microsoft Lync and Microsoft enabled IP Phones.
The collaborative potential of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and Microsoft Lync 2010 was realized, particularly by senior managers, and more and more meetings are moving into the virtual space, freeing managers and staff to focus their attention on functional issues and decision-making. The indirect cost impact on travelling and hotel expenditure is expected to be significant. Staff now access emails "on the go" using any device of their choosing using ActiveSync to remain up to date on any changes to calendars, contacts, etc.
At the enterprise level the collaborative potential of knowledge sharing has not fully been harnessed yet, but senior managers continuously expand their skills in this field, experimenting with the newly won tools.
Olayinka Oni, Group Head, IT & Operations at Wema Bank PLC, also served as the Customer Champion for the project. He was particularly pleased with the smooth running of the entire project: "One has to appreciate where we came from to really understand and appreciate the success this project. Less than a year ago we were all still using the outdated PBX system, laboriously making calls all over the country and the world with huge expenses to the bank. Senior managers were travelling in droves to attend meetings at remote areas almost weekly. The new technology and the assistance of Microsoft changed all of this almost overnight. Much still has to be done, but if this is how we manage projects, I can only look forward to the next one."