Digital strategy

Delivery driven digital transformation success for Standard Bank

Delivery driven digital transformation success for Standard Bank

Dive into what BBD’s CEO and Executive Director have to say on driving digital transformation and improving customer experience for Standard Bank.

BBD is a global software engineering company that will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2024. It’s a business that specialises in complex software solutions for corporate and government organisations, with financial being one of the biggest sectors it serves. While the business has offices in India as well as offices and clients across Europe, its focus is heavily weighted towards the South African client base right now due to its history within the country and the way banking and technology have evolved there.

CEO Kevin Staples and Executive Director Matthew Barnard are rightfully proud of the way BBD’s humble beginnings have continued to shape the organisation, nearly four decades later. The company was started in a small room with just one computer, while the three ambitious founders created code in eight-hour shifts. “I think it speaks to how we, as a company, solve problems,” says Barnard. “Computers were prohibitively expensive in 1984, so the founders of BBD couldn’t just throw money at the business. As a result, we still approach problems with a ‘what do we have in place already?’ mentality, and I believe that culture comes across in how we work.”

Staples and Barnard have both been with BBD for over 25 years, and that alone is reflective of a positive culture. Staples’ background is as a software engineer for corporates and banks, with some technical specialisations. Barnard has also been a software engineer and project delivery lead, and worked in South Africa for many years in the financial services sector. Both have collaborated closely with Standard Bank during their time at BBD, which has been a client for over 12 years.

Dedication to digital transformation

At this stage in BBD’s timeline, the business finds itself increasingly working on digital transformation projects. “We’ve got such history and depth of experience in the industries we work in, so we find ourselves again and again positioned in a place where we need to innovate with the client to bring about that type of digital transformation,” Staples explains. “The banking sector in South Africa is quite mature, and we’ve got four or five big banks dominating it, but they increasingly find themselves held back by their legacy tech. That makes it hard to innovate for their customers.”

This is where BBD steps in and facilitates the innovation the banks require for their digital transformation. Thanks to the transformative work it’s doing, customers are offering feedback that shows they’re enjoying improved banking services and overall growth. “Those are some of the really rewarding projects,” Staples continues, “especially when we know how hard it’s been to pull it off. These digital transformation projects are always big and complicated, and this is particularly true for banks”.

A complex landscape

A theme we explored in our Standard Bank profile is that South Africa is both technologically and culturally complex. Standard Bank itself operates in more than 19 African countries, and delivering and providing world-class service across all of them is challenging – but it comes with opportunities. For BBD, it’s all about risk assessment and planning, because it’s natural for things to go wrong.

“Partnering closely with clients allows us to plan and figure out exactly how we’re able to get traction despite any internal constraints that are occurring,” says Staples. “We’ve worked with some of our clients for 15, 20 years,” Barnard adds, “so we get to know their people, processes, and technology as well as they do. Part of us ends up really embedded within our client, allowing us to really make a difference from the inside-out.”

This outlook stems from BBD’s overall ethos and culture of collaboration and care. The business has what it calls a ‘culture of delivery’, and it specifically brings people on board who contribute to that for the overall success of BBD and its clients. “We employ the best people in the industry and instil our culture in them,” says Staples. “We’ve got a very low turnover and we bring a lot of our expertise to the fore for clients.”

“A lot of our success comes down to strong engineering skills. Other vendors sometimes think you can simply project manage your way out of challenges, but it really comes down to the problem-solving nature of engineering. At the end of the day, that’s what gets the project moving. A tagline we often use is ‘combined intelligence’, which is really our way of saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. In this case, the parts are us, our client, other vendors, and making them all work together towards a common goal.”

Matthew Barnard, BBD Executive Director

BBD and Standard Bank

When it comes to BBD’s relationship with Standard Bank, it’s been a long road, empowering the bank with consistent improvements. Historically, customers of the bank were stuck with manual processes that they struggled with, which is why Standard Bank opted to digitally transform the customer’s experience of trade finance products.

“That’s what the program set out to do,” says Staples. “We started this particular project about five years ago. BBD was very involved in the initial ideation and design of the customers’ experience and was the primary partner responsible for building and maintaining the solution.”

“As with any complex digital transformation programme, these things tend to start off rocky and there are high expectations that take longer to achieve than stakeholders initially hoped, a but Standard Bank’s customers are now able to do things in less than a day that used to take two weeks, and the transformed products are resilient and future-proof. We were even told about some recent customer feedback where the client said that using the platform was so quick and easy, it was like doing online shopping. If you know anything about trade finance banking products and how complex they are, you know what a big deal that comparison is.”

“One of the key factors contributing to the success of our program was our application of cloud platform engineering practices. As an AWS Advanced Tier Partner we designed and built a modern cloud platform on AWS that incorporated all the best practices of DevSecOps. This allowed our development teams to deliver business value to customers rapidly while adhering to the platform’s cross-cutting concerns and standards, including Monitoring and Advanced Observability, Quality, Security, Engineering Practices, and Standards.”

Staples continues: “We manage the modern cloud platform using the SRE (Site Reliability Engineering) approach, which maximises delivery efficiency while ensuring quality of service to customers. The combination of the cloud platform and SRE practices has enabled the bank to achieve a new level of efficiency, resilience and quality of service to customers. As a result, we are now exploring opportunities to extend the value of these practices to other signature programs within the bank.”

The relationship between the two businesses has shifted through the years, but it remains very much a partnership bolstered by a proven track record of success. “BBD isn’t really a sales-driven organisation – it’s delivery-driven,” says Barnard. “What Standard Bank is seeing is a strong delivery history, rather than specifically a track record of sales, and that works really well for them.”

BBD’s goals for the future involve taking the skills and logic that it’s built up over the years within the complex landscape of South Africa, and applying them to trickier projects elsewhere, such as those where budgets are tight. “We’re applying the solutions and innovative thinking we’ve learned here and are applying them in Europe,” says Barnard. “We’re talking to a lot of our European clients now who need digital transformation, but on a tight budget, and planning projects in smart, simple ways. That’s been a breath of fresh air for some of our clients.”

“Our history in South Africa has proven to be quite attractive to our European client base, where our competitors tend to be more specialised,” Staples adds. “For them, to have a partner that’s been involved in complex deliveries is a big advantage. And for BBD and our culture, we love adding value. We’re still growing quite rapidly after 39 years; and certainly believe our future’s quite bright.”

Whether you’re navigating legacy challenges or envisioning a seamless customer experience, our experts are here to collaborate and elevate your digital initiatives. Contact us today to unleash the power of digital transformation and redefine your success story in the financial landscape.

*As published in Interface magazine, Issue 41 2023

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