Absa Enhances Digital Experiences for Customers Across Africa

About the Company

Absa Group Limited is one of Africa's largest diversified financial services groups, employing approximately 40,000 employees in 12 countries across Africa.
Industry: Financial Services Headquarters: Johannesburg, South Africa Use Case: WAN Monitoring, Digital Experience Monitoring, ISP Monitoring
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New Beginnings

When Barclays PLC announced its divestment from Africa-based banking group, Absa, in March 2016, it triggered an opportunity for the bank to not only define a new purpose, strategy and brand, but also to create new infrastructure and technology offering fit for African markets in a digital age.

Andrew Baker, Chief Technology Officer at Absa Group, explains that the operational changes involved in separating from Barclays PLC from an IT perspective made this one of the largest corporate technology projects in southern Africa. "We were given a choice of how we would manage the transition. We decided it was a great opportunity to build from the ground up. We realised that we needed to ramp up our IT competencies quickly, and as part of this we developed a fully open-source, public cloud-based operating stack."
Digital Experience

"We decided it was a great opportunity to build from the ground up.
We realised that we needed to ramp up our IT competencies quickly,
and as part of this, we developed a fully opensource, public cloud-based
operating stack."

Andrew Baker
Chief Technology Officer
Absa Group

Ensuring Excellent Digital Experiences Across a Complex Internet Environment

Ensuring that Absa's customers enjoyed a first-rate digital experience was critical. Andrew explains, "It wasn't just about pushing out applications, it was about looking at everything that affects each and every touchpoint that the customer has with us."

The scale of the technology separation project was further complicated by the geographic range that the bank serves. "We have a geographically diverse territory," Andrew explains, "which includes a range of different carriers and Internet Service Providers that is unique to southern Africa. Availability and performance of network services is not the same as it would be in Europe or the US, and as a result, we include a lot of redundancy. Even then, we find that those connections often converge."

The lack of visibility into the causes of online outages—and the complexity of the carrier and ISP environment supporting the bank's online presence—was a critical concern to the business. Andrew recounts, "We needed to ensure our network recovery times were minutes, not hours, and we needed to identify root causes as quickly. That was the stimulus for realising there was a gap in our monitoring approach."

Creating a New Level of Visibility, Inside and Out

Initially, however, Andrew wasn't convinced of the need for a new solution. "When a member of my team first proposed ThousandEyes I wasn't convinced it would give me anything we didn't already have within the open-source tools we were using. But while running our ThousandEyes proof of concept, we had an outage in which an external service provider injected a route into the branch network, taking down the data centres and the inter-data centre links for about 10 minutes. And we couldn't figure it out. The fact that ThousandEyes had chronology proved to be a game-changer: we could look back in time and see that someone working on a network had been able to inject a routing loop. That's when we realised that we could benefit from this solution."

The collaboration built into ThousandEyes also impressed. "The fact that you can send your analysis to an Internet Service Provider and be able to say 'this is you' is unique; it saves us a lot of time on the phone. ThousandEyes gives us faster diagnosis, which leads to faster recovery."

Smooth Onboarding at Speed

Adopting ThousandEyes was a rapid process for Absa Group, with the team leveraging ThousandEyes Cloud and Enterprise agents. Andrew recounts the solution's ease of set up and use. "The beauty of ThousandEyes is that the training time is around an hour, and all the machinery of the application was fairly effortless. The engagement and contract setup was very simple, and the value proposition immediate. Because we already had the proof of concept running, we saw value even before we'd paid for it."

Having access to ThousandEyes' professional services team further accelerated Absa Group's monitoring successes. Andrew states, "We're now quite competent on ThousandEyes, but I would advise anyone adopting it to also make use of the Professional Services option. We'd have taken a lot longer to get where we are without it."

"The fact that ThousandEyes had chronology proved to be a game-changer:
we could look back in time and see that someone working on a network
had been able to inject a routing loop. That's when we realised that we
could benefit from this solution."

Andrew Baker
Chief Technology Officer
Absa Group

Customer Happiness Is the Ultimate Metric

The ability to visualise issues has increased the stability of Absa's service delivery, leading to improved experiences for the bank's customers. Andrew explains, "We're measuring happiness, and we have more of it. We haven't just implemented ThousandEyes, we've changed hundreds of things, but ThousandEyes has helped to deliver a more stable network that performs better, according to our customers."

Delivering a stable network has enabled Absa to focus closer on delivering digital experiences. "I don't get too distressed when I look at network statistics, because the most important feedback is that which comes \from the customer. I do believe in quantitative measuring, but I want to know that our services are performing better according to our customers. Advanced monitoring makes us far more effective at seeing what's happening and responding to it, but we're moving away from just measuring service levels and to measuring user experience," Andrew adds. "We can't put restrictions on the network, and we need to be driven by customer obsession."

Greater visibility has also led to a more proactive approach to IT management. "We typically wouldn't bother to look at latency and discard, but the fact that you can see it with ThousandEyes means you can avoid a lot of outages. For example, a customer might notice a problem at 9 AM, but we can see it earlier, at 8 AM. It gives us an early indication that things aren't going well."

IT performance has also become more transparent across the organisation, leading to greater trust in IT and greater levels of self-service from internal customers. Andrew explains, "Because ThousandEyes is easy to adopt, we can extend it to our application teams so that they can self-serve, and only come to us if there's an issue. The beauty of our internal customers seeing the health of the network themselves is that it fosters trust in the network. They see what we see, and we can see things we've previously missed and gain a deeper understanding of how the networks work. I like my users to be empowered."

Looking Forward: AWS Cloud Adoption and Getting Closer to Slack Usage

As part of its wider digital transformation strategy, Absa Group is moving forward with greater usage of cloud computing. Andrew explains, "This year, AWS will open three availability zones in Cape Town, and we'll be looking to transition some of our services. We have been working on our own open-source development, using Subatomic, to help with that. One of the biggest challenges with cloud is migration, but you should be able to go from source code to service with no human interaction. Subatomic will help us make that migration much more effective."

Absa Group also plans to leverage ThousandEyes in their productivity solutions, "We've now implemented a Slack integration, meaning I get service alerts via this platform. In the near future, I'll be combining ThousandEyes data with other sources so that we can start to build in more intelligence and automation. Ultimately, this all supports our goal of delivering an exceptional user experience for our customers."

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