Bank AlBilad in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia specializes in financial services that are compliant with Islamic Sharia law. The bank depends on highly available, reliable IT solutions to support its ambitious growth plans and enjoys a strategic partnership with Microsoft. In 2010, the new management team at Bank AlBilad saw that its existing IBM Lotus Notes and BlackBerry® collaboration solution was expensive to support, so it began looking for an alternative. The team chose Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 integrated with the Active Directory service, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, and Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software. By decommissioning Lotus Notes with BlackBerry mobile devices, Bank AlBilad immediately saved thousands of U.S. dollars in support costs and boosted employee productivity. The bank made further savings once SharePoint Server 2010 went live.
Bank AlBilad is a Riyadh-based Saudi Arabian public shareholding company offering specialized Islamic financial products and services that comply with Sharia law, which prohibits the payment of interest on loans. Founded in 2004, Bank AlBilad offers consumer, corporate, and investment banking services through a network of 67 branches and 94 exchange and remittance centers.
In 2010, the new management team at Bank AlBilad decided to evaluate options for replacing its existing IBM Lotus Notes with BlackBerry platform to better support the bank's growth plans. Rashed AlOthman, Chief Information Officer, Bank AlBilad, says: "The bank was paying a high premium for Lotus Notes technical backup, and, at the time-in early 2010-Lotus Notes didn't support web services or smartphones."
The replacement was part of a wider business transformation plan for the 1,500 users at Bank AlBilad. It was designed to change the bank's existing email, workflow, and document management solution into a tightly integrated platform bringing together the latest identity control, workflow, archiving, and document management systems.
AlOthman was aware that if Bank AlBilad replaced Lotus Notes with another solution, his systems administrators would need training. They'd previously worked only with IBM technology. But the new management team had used Microsoft collaboration and communication technology at their previous work places and considered it the benchmark for email communications. In addition, Bank AlBilad had the advantage of an existing Microsoft Enterprise Agreement for low-cost volume licensing of software and support, as well as a strategic partnership with Microsoft Saudi Arabia.
Bank AlBilad replaced Lotus Notes with the early release of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and also deployed the Active Directory service, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, and Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software. AlOthman says: "Our ethos is to use Microsoft products whenever possible. Plus, the new management team had used Microsoft Exchange Server collaboration and communication technology in previous jobs."
Working with Arabic Computer Systems-the first Microsoft Gold Partner in Saudi Arabia-Bank AlBilad used all the features supported by Exchange Server 2010. Hassan M. Hassan, Services Business Manager, Arabic Computer Systems, says: "Arabic Computer Systems was responsible for the design, testing, implementation, and knowledge transfer of the project. Because Bank AlBilad staff had previously worked only with Lotus Notes, they had a major challenge in familiarizing themselves with Exchange Server 2010 but Microsoft Services helped drive the project."
Microsoft Services gave valuable advice on keeping costs as low as possible by avoiding the need for a third-party migration tool. Microsoft Services Architect A.N. Hasan says: "By proposing a two-step migration-Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and then to Exchange Server 2010-we were able to help Bank AlBilad further save on costs."
AlOthman says: "Microsoft Saudi Arabia was critical in supporting us after we went live with the early release of Exchange Server 2010. We initially encountered difficulty in gaining knowledge about how to fine tune the new technology."
The breakthrough came when Microsoft Saudi Arabia brought in an expert in Exchange Server 2010 from Microsoft Turkey, who succeeded in fine tuning the configuration over six hours. AlOthman says: "All of the initial technical issues were quickly resolved and we adopted an email messaging solution that ran perfectly-and continues to do so today."
Furthermore, Exchange Server has integrated easily with non-Microsoft technologies used at Bank AlBilad. The solution is running on VMware® virtualization software and is integrated with Cisco Personal Assistant telephony. AlOthman says: "We're using Exchange Server 2010 to relay email notifications generated from Oracle HR and many other systems."
When the move to Exchange Server 2010 occurred, Bank AlBilad had every intention of upgrading immediately to the Windows 7 operating system with Microsoft Office 2010. However, the team then spent some time evaluating a virtual desktop infrastructure with a thin client solution against replacing physical computers. AlOthman says: "Having satisfied ourselves with Microsoft support for Exchange Server 2010, we started late in 2011 to replace the desktop computers with new machines running Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010."
By replacing Lotus Notes with Exchange Server 2010, Bank AlBilad has achieved its aims of improving the manageability of its collaboration platform and cutting support costs. By integrating other key Microsoft technologies with Exchange Server, including SharePoint Server 2010, the bank is giving its users better communications tools to support business growth. In 2012, the bank intends to integrate Exchange Server with its third-party unified communications solution.
Bank Saves Thousands of U.S. Dollars and Boosts Productivity
Bank AlBilad experienced an immediate return on investment when it went live with Exchange Server 2010. This prompted it to deploy the Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Service Pack 1 (SP1) as soon as it was released because of its confidence in the technology roadmap for the product.
AlOthman says: "By decommissioning the Lotus Notes with BlackBerry solution, we've saved thousands of dollars in support costs and boosted employee productivity. Plus, we made further savings once we started using the SharePoint Server 2010 environment."
New Collaboration Platform Results in Business Transformation
Exchange Server 2010 was the only solution that the bank's management team saw as appropriate to replace Lotus Notes and bring about a complete transformation of the business, supporting growth. AlOthman says: "The benefits have been numerous-Exchange Server 2010 was just the first step in deploying Microsoft applications at the bank. In the past two years, we've transformed our infrastructure. We now have tightly integrated systems."
Fewer User Requests Ease Burden on Service Desk
Bank AlBilad has only recently deployed its new monitoring system, but early indications on performance metrics show that the number of user requests to the service desk has dropped. AlOthman says: "Ease of use and channels of access for our users have definitely improved since Exchange Server 2010 went live. We now rarely get service desk requests for Exchange Server 2010-the ones we do are usually about creation of mail rules and personal folder file management."
Customization Extends the Value of Collaboration Environment
Following integration with SharePoint Server 2010, Bank AlBilad has enhanced the business value of its new collaboration environment. "We've extended the Exchange Server 2010 SP1 solution to be 'active-active' across our main data center and disaster recovery center so if one node fails it is replicated by another," says AlOthman. "Exchange Server 2010 is the foundation of the enterprise-wide services we provide to our employees. In 2012, we intend to integrate it with our third-party unified communications solution."
Partnership Supports Customer
Together, the expertise of Arabic Computer Systems and resources available through Microsoft Saudi Arabia proved a winning combination for Bank AlBilad.
AlOthman says: "Arabic Computer Services provided good support during the project life cycle. However, Microsoft technical services were the key to fixing any issues we had with the Outlook Web App once we went live. Our Microsoft Account Manager at the time worked day and night to make sure our Exchange Server 2010 solution was a success. He persevered and continued to support us by thinking outside the box until we had the solution was working perfectly."
Bank AlBilad has taken full advantage of the health check initiatives available under its Microsoft Enterprise Agreement. AlOthman says: "So far, we've used health checks for Active Directory, Exchange Server 2010, Microsoft SharePoint 2010, and Microsoft SQL Server 2008. Each time, we create an action plan and implement it in all environments immediately."
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