The Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) has opted to integrate with its core banking systems in a bid to avoid costly and time-consuming upgrades that it would have faced if it had decided to roll-out on-premise solutions, such as Oracle Siebel or Microsoft Dynamics.

Even though Salesforce is slightly more expensive over a three year Return on Investment (ROI) period, COO Mohamed Gamil believes that the benefits of a public cloud platform far outweigh the extra investment required.

The Bank has just completed its third major project using the Salesforce platform, where it is now looking to bring on board as many systems as it can, so as to make application processes for online customers as seamless as possible.

Gamil began exploring options for a new CRM application back in 2009 when employees were using Excel spreadsheets to manage clients.

“The problem started, which is a classic problem, when we didn’t have a proper CRM and sales management system to look after our leads and opportunities – everyone was running from Excel spreadsheets. When the bank started in 2004 we were using a Siebel solution, but after a few years no-one knew how it was set up or how to use it properly, so people ended up using manual processes,” said Gamil.

He explained that IBB had three options at the time – upgrade Siebel, deploy Microsoft Dynamics, or opt for a cloud solution with

“To be honest it wasn’t a comparison between two different systems, but more of a comparison between two different concepts. Dynamics is a good system, but it’s not different from Microsoft Exchange, from SQL, or any other on-premise solution. It came down to two considerations – the costing model (Opex versus Capex), and the security concerns, especially because we are a bank,” said Gamil.

“After a lot of discussion we opted for Salesforce – we went to the FSA about the security concerns, but we got a third party to carry out due diligence and that was all fine. The other aspect was pay as you go, or pay as you grow as I like to call it. Microsoft Dynamics was going to cost £60,000, where we would depreciate that over three years. But after implementation costs, we were looking at about £35,000 a year.”

He added: “If you calculated Salesforce’s annual costs, they were slightly higher – a few hundred pounds. However, after three years you end up in the same dilemma of needing to upgrade. But with Salesforce you pay pretty much the same amount of money, but you get all the upgrades and benefits included. This is a model that appealed to me much more, especially because we are a small bank and it was around the time of the credit crunch.”

Early migrations

Once deciding upon the Salesforce CRM and sales platform, IBB began integrating the cloud tools with its core Misys banking applications so that it could transfer all of its customer data into the cloud. Gamil said: “We had to migrate and push all of our banking data into Salesforce, so that we could manage any campaign or any new opportunity.”

Migration began in late 2009 and completed in March 2010, where the CRM and sales systems were live with all of the bank’s customer data fully replicated in the cloud. Customer data went through an XML file and then was converted into CSV format, which was uploaded directly into Salesforce – all 60,000 customers were migrated this way.

Every few months IBB also carries out a bulk upload, whereby it sends all the data it holds back to Salesforce to make sure that everything matches up with its banking system.

Gamil was quickly assured that Salesforce was the right platform for the bank, thanks to positive feedback from his IT department and 140 employees using the system. Because of this he decided to build an ‘on-boarding platform’ into Salesforce, which would be used by new customers joining the bank when submitting an application form online.

“We had a discussion internally where we looked again at whether we should build something on-premise or if we should go through Salesforce. Once again we carried out a business analysis and came to the decision that Salesforce was the most efficient solution because all of our leads, opportunities, prospects and customer data are sitting there,” said Gamil.

IBB went live with the new on-boarding application in January 2012, where it is now also integrated with the bank’s Misys platform using IFrame, so that existing customers can also take advantage of applying for new current accounts online using the Salesforce tools.

Further consolidation onto Salesforce

After the success of the CRM, sales and on-boarding platform projects, Gamil decided to consolidate further with Salesforce. At the end of 2012 he embarked on a project to migrate the mortgage application process onto the public cloud tool.

“Mortgages had their own systems – one handled front office (sales), another handled middle office (underwriting), the third handled the back office. It was a complete mess, complete disaster,” said Gamil.

“We wanted to build that into one system and integrate it with our core banking, integrate it with evaluation, the credit bureau, card payments, etc. It took less than six months to complete.”

He added: “If I could start again from the very beginning, I would have put everything in the cloud. Without a doubt. But one of the problems that we face, and by ‘we’ I mean people that have on-premise solutions, is that you don’t always get the complete benefits of the cloud. Cloud can do a wonderful job in terms of availability and cost, but it still need to be integrated with back-end systems – that’s always the problem.”

Developer complaints

Gamil also said that one of the problems he faced when moving to Salesforce was dealing with his developers, who were used to working with on-premise systems. He warned that when companies move from on-premise to public cloud, they need to be aware that a multi-tenancy environment is going to place some limitations on how work is carried out.

“You are not alone in the cloud – there are data migration and governance limits. They put some limits on the number of calls, for example, to make sure you don’t run 1,000 queries in one call, which will impact all the other clients in one instance,” said Gamil.

“It took my developers a while to get used to this approach because they were able to do what they liked previously. But after two or three months they found other techniques to develop on a multi-tenancy environment, such as doing one big query instead of two or three queries.”

He added: “On-premise you can do everything, it’s all yours. In the cloud it’s not your environment, it’s got 100,000 other customers. But don’t listen to the moaning of your developers initially, let them settle in first.”

Since 2009 when IBB and Gamil decided to use Salesforce as its main platform for online banking transactions, the bank has not only made things simpler for its customers, but it has also saved 30 percent in administrative overheads and removed 87 hours from each account application process. Gamil is continue to continue making these efficiency gains and has said he will look to continue consolidating onto