When Nitin Agarwal joined Edelweiss Financial Services as the President & Group CIO, CTO & CDO in December 2018 he had a breadth of business experience to draw on. He started off by scrutinizing the business model of the company, relooking at the business challenges and setting them in the context of emerging future technologies and reengineering its business processes and systems to wring extra value from technology.
In doing so, he anticipated shifts in customer requirement and new digital imperatives. The groundwork in his early days helped him research, refine and champion the digital transformation of the company and derive tangible business benefits.
In an exclusive interview with CIO Dialogues, Nitin Agarwal, President & Group CIO, CTO & CDO, Edelweiss Financial Services shares how he put the IT organization in high gear to deliver on business opportunities.
You have amassed a great deal of business experience in your career span. Before your time at Edelweiss Financial Services, you were the Chief Operating Officer at WeCash. Prior to that you were the Chief Operating Officer of Incred and the Director of Equirus Capital. You are now the Group CIO, CTO and CDO of Edelweiss Financial Services. As someone with extensive business experience how do you see the interplay between the three roles?
In the modern business landscape, the CIO, CTO or CDO roles involve some overlap and businesses may either opt for only one position or a combination. While the titles are sometimes interchangeable, there are some trends suggesting differences in the role and responsibilities of CIOs, CTOs & CDOs.
A CIO is expected to be more business-led and responsible for technologies that run the business internally while a CTO is considered to be a highly technology-led role & is responsible for technologies that grow the business externally. A CDOs role is to develop the enterprise to a state where digital has become the norm and where digital DNA is deeply embedded in the very fabric of the organization.
How have you pulled your experiences on the business side into IT?
We have adopted a new approach to technology deployments. We are creating organization level tailwinds for the technology initiative by conveying the business value to all the concerned stakeholders. In order to foster a culture change we are developing frameworks and best practices for upskilling/reskilling resources. We are creating a close collaboration with the service providers by treating them as partners and not just a vendor.
You have been in your current role for about a year and a half now. How did you create an IT organization oriented towards creating value for business?
In my current role, I’m driving the digital transformation at Edelweiss by implementing technology initiatives through a business lens. This has helped deliver value to businesses thereby reinforcing the digital commitment.
There are certain things I did in my early days to set the digital transformation drive on the right course. I organized demystifying sessions for senior management educating them on technology concepts in a business-friendly manner. We conducted targeted sessions on the technology landscape with Legal and Compliance teams to get them onboard for the digital transformation journey. We also hosted townhalls showcasing the future of technology, global best practices and changes in ecosystem to set the context with the teams on ground.
Much of what you just described is the aspect of cultural change at the leadership level and for the organization at large. How did you approach technology change? Could you give us a perspective of the technology evolution that Edelweiss Financial services has undergone since the early days of your tenure?
We adopted cloud native platforms: migrating applications from on-prem data center to the cloud for improved scalability, agility and resiliency
Formulating a robust data strategy framework was also a priority in my early days so I focussed on building a framework for storing, sharing, reporting and governing data
I focussed on redesigning IT networking and security by deploying cloud proxy for faster, secure & open Internet access, publishing cloud applications as secure Intranet applications using reverse proxy concept, etc.
We also modernized the workplace by rolling out unified communications and collaboration suite for enhancing employee productivity.
Can you talk about some of steps that you have taken towards digital optimization within the organization?
We have embraced agile methodology for delivering projects. This has helped us to accelerate the time-to-market.
We have undertaken several initiatives for increasing operational efficiencies and making process improvements.
We undertook an exercise in application rationalization and were able to bring down the enterprise application inventory to 140 from over 400 by leveraging the 4R framework of Retire, Replace, Refactor, Retain; thereby simplifying the IT landscape
We are also focusing on automation. We have successfully automated various processes like procurement-to-payment, transfer pricing, airline GST input tax credit, etc.
We have taken a significant step towards data warehousing by creating a single version of truth for financial data by unifying data from over 40 core business systems into a cloud-based data warehouse
Networking and security redesign has been another priority as we are trying to provide faster, secure open Internet access by deploying Cloud proxy leading to improved employee productivity
We are also working on various AI/ML initiatives like anomaly detection, real-time recommendation for clients, image recognition, sentiment analysis, etc.
How are you advancing the use of cloud platform to maximise synergies across the group?
We have created a Cloud COE within the central IT team for defining best practices, supporting business IT teams on migration, etc. We also need to bring our workforce up to speed on the cloud approach. To that end, we have organized pro-bono trainings from AWS & Azure for upskilling resources across the group. Additionally, we are focussing on the ability to quickly set up BCP/DR on the cloud without huge capex costs. And while doing all this, we have passed on various benefits like sponsored migration study, billing discounts, etc. to the group thereby accelerating the cloud adoption
As Edelweiss Financial Services expands its digital footprint with each of these technologies, how are you trying to manage the risk to enterprise security, customer data and also protecting innovation in the long run?
Security is a constant battle. Applications are moving out of the datacentre to multiple data centres, employees want to work from any device anywhere and at any time. Against this reality, perimeter security is not enough.
We need to move away from traditional castle-and-moat security model to zero trust security model. It is imperative to adopt the zero trust model, which requires strict identity verification for every person and device trying to access resources on a private network, regardless of whether they are sitting within or outside of the network perimeter.
We have implemented state-of-the art security solutions for data loss prevention, advanced threat protection, zero day protection, ethical walls etc. For customer data, we have gone the extra mile where all our customer data is well identified and encrypted at rest and in-motion (from storage to transmission).