APIs: The top secret ingredient for a significant tech leap


In 2017, Emirates NBD Team, a leading banking team in the Center East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT), was confronted with an ever-rising demand from prospects to supply progressive electronic items and companies in a very aggressive marketplace. At that time, the banking team had sturdy company strategies for flourishing even as its competitiveness improved, but its IT delivery had achieved potential, so it could not place all its tips into follow. So the organization made the decision to execute a complete overhaul of its IT infrastructure and parallel capabilities.

In this interview with McKinsey’s Henning Soller and Timo Mauerhoefer, Emirates NBD’s Neeraj Makin, team head of international and group system, and Saud Al Dhawyani, main know-how officer, make clear how the lender developed, rapidly-tracked, and executed its IT transformation by employing application programming interfaces (APIs) to concurrently accelerate specialized modernization and enable new business ideas more than time.

McKinsey: Convey to us what encouraged Emirates NBD Team to undertake its IT transformation in 2017.

Neeraj Makin&#13

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Neeraj Makin: We operate in extremely aggressive marketplaces and were being confronted with an raising demand for digital options for our shoppers. While, at the time, we had been regarded in the region as a chief in digital answers and know-how, our know-how was complicated.

We had a number of distinctive know-how stacks, and the integration between our IT platforms was difficult, which slowed us down and manufactured any adjustments to our engineering quite expensive. Our main IT platforms were being not aligned across our unique locations, causing redundant function. Leading administration was unsure no matter if these areas would remain worthwhile.

Furthermore, we experienced outsourced a ton of key IT abilities, this kind of as our IT engineers. In this set up, we couldn’t react to the raising demand from customers for digital remedies, these kinds of as close-to-conclusion electronic purchaser journeys, permit by yourself leverage impressive banking engineering, this kind of as superior-analytics-based merchandise offerings. We concluded that we wanted to rework our technological know-how to outperform our opposition and continue to be a chief in digital and technological innovation.

McKinsey: How is your transformation diverse from other companies’ know-how transformations?

Saud Al Dhawyani&#13

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Saud Al Dhawyani: A single vital variance was that we improved every thing within IT in parallel. While many corporations focus on, for instance, a core-banking-system migration or force cloud adoption or experiment with agile teams, we determined that to conduct a real quantum leap, we required to pull each lever within just IT and totally change our main technologies.

We upgraded our IT architecture by modernizing crucial IT platforms and simplifying their integration. We optimized our IT infrastructure by making the very first non-public-cloud system in the location, and we modernized our organizational composition, which enabled an agile working design. But we didn’t halt there. Making on the revamp of our core engineering, we created new digital abilities, these as robotics, sensible automation, and highly developed analytics, to crank out the complete organization worth of our transformation.

Transforming essentially all features of IT in parallel is a advanced effort and hard work, which is the motive why lots of other organizations sequence the initiatives about a more time interval. However, in gentle of growing competition, we essential to be quickly and entire our transformation in just four many years. To alter our IT estate in parallel, we experienced to cautiously design a modular architecture with different layers and decouple our main platforms in the original levels by using APIs.

Offered the complexity of this transformation, we understood that we would need to have to noticeably upgrade and exchange our present talent—this is a further essential difference from other transformations. We didn’t start off any technical initiative till we experienced a vital mass of new and upskilled talent in location.

McKinsey: What purpose do APIs play at Emirates NBD?

Saud Al Dhawyani: In 2017, ahead of we introduced our technology transformation, we experienced couple of unstandardized APIs. Today, APIs are at the main of our IT architecture and enjoy a important position in our digital tactic. Our tactic is designed all around 3 important things that are central to our API-centric architecture (show).



Emirates NBD's technology architecture enables plug and play.&#13


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The initial factor is identified as Sahab, this means “cloud.” It is a absolutely automated non-public-cloud platform that is the foundational platform on which all our applications operate. The next we contact Bawaba, meaning “gate.” This is our groupwide API system, which manages additional than 800 microservices and connects our channels, applications, and details system. It also involves our developer portal. Third is our organization-data platform, which we simply call Manara, this means “lighthouse.” Manara allows real-time knowledge exchange among purposes, a key function that we didn’t have in the earlier.

With this drastic change to APIs, we have appreciably amplified our delivery success and efficiency. For occasion, the efficiency of our agile squads rose radically soon after we launched our interior developer portal, which permits people to conveniently lookup for and handle all our APIs. This substantially lowers the integration attempts between distinct teams and applications and decreases the duplication of functionalities by enabling reuse at scale.

APIs had been very important for our transformation simply because they authorized us to modularize our IT estate and modernize some of our core IT platforms, these types of as our payments hub and trade-finance IT platform. We now have just about the exact same “code base” for all entities and spots and can insert new functionalities effectively. This also makes us additional flexible in our global markets, where our progress was traditionally confined by our technology abilities.

A certain illustration of how our API-dependent architecture specifically generates organization value is by way of our retail belongings. Applying APIs, we will be able to access and integrate various back-conclude capabilities and information to give an uncomplicated way for our buyers to use our key retail products and solutions and companies, these types of as loans, cards, and home loans, in a self-assistance way on the internet. APIs now let us to immediately present credit rating playing cards to our prospects, whilst, in advance of, that approach necessary heaps of guide checks and critiques. By way of our modular architecture, our retail property will also be readily available for all our authorized entities and destinations.

From a company standpoint, APIs enabled several strategic organization initiatives. In 2019, we introduced WhatsApp Banking for our customers in a make any difference of weeks. Right now, we have 100,000 subscribed buyers for Emirates NBD and 50,000 for Emirates Islamic, and we have witnessed all around a million interactions in the past 12 months. We now also have a committed ecosystem and API workforce that identifies new company chances enabled by generating our facts, products, and products and services accessible by using APIs.



McKinsey: Can you give us an example?

Neeraj Makin: Confident. We are collaborating with the Office of Economy and Tourism (DET) on a blockchain job to source licensing information and facts. Although blockchain is the underlying platform that delivers a solitary supply of truth of the matter of confirmed firms as nicely as of personal data and paperwork, we can interact with it through the APIs we make on Bawaba. These APIs permit our smaller and medium-dimensions enterprises and company clients to consume this capability as a support. This aligns with our philosophy of constructing at the time, while the APIs permit reusability.

We also supported noqodi, a top provider of on line technology answers in the Arab entire world, with authentic-time transaction-processing abilities to empower operational performance when having to pay its merchants and clients. We executed a few crucial services leveraging our APIs on Bawaba. First, fund transfer, which lets prospects to transfer money in between Emirates NBD accounts domestically and internationally. Second, transaction historical past, which provides prospects access to a checklist of latest transactions. And third, transaction-status inquiry, through which buyers can get current information of a single transaction.

McKinsey: How did you solution your API transformation?

Saud Al Dhawyani: We commenced by designing our goal architecture blueprint based on the three main platforms. We aimed for an solution to integrate these platforms by APIs and to standardize our administration of APIs for two most important motives: to start with, to keep away from making a complex integration, or “spaghetti architecture,” as we had in the past, and second, to be extra versatile and equipped to lengthen our technological know-how by providing specific platforms a more rapidly, extra economical way to exchange info and knowledge, or by integrating new answers from third parties, these kinds of as fintechs.

To prioritize our APIs, we structured the present services we experienced on our enterprise service bus (ESB) in normal banking domains, such as buyer and products. We also prioritized particular nonbanking APIs as “common” or “channel engagement,” this sort of as strategies, features, and optical character recognition (OCR) functionalities.

We then prioritized the companies centered on relevance for our transformation—that is, when we would want to decouple each and every IT system to travel the modernization—as properly as on their stage of complexity. Based on these standards, we could far better realize what the all round hard work of “API-zing” our IT architecture would be. Then we commenced to define the operating model and governance, in addition to detailing the API taxonomy, benchmarks, and pointers. Final, we made the decision on the engineering resolution for the API management system and other applicable factors and started out the initially evidence of principle.

McKinsey: How did you construct momentum at that stage?

Saud Al Dhawyani: We outlined the significance and likely of APIs for each technologies and business enterprise to our management and focused a considerable section of the spending budget to it. We had preliminary funding that was adequate to lay the technological foundation, outline the necessary requirements and insurance policies, and migrate all our solutions from the legacy ESB to microservices available through our regular APIs. We now have roughly 800 microservices available.

This foundation allowed us to build a few agile squads that worked only on developing APIs in the various domains. We kick-commenced our API energy by jogging quite a few API awareness periods in IT, and we also spread awareness among our organization colleagues to help our workforce understand the chances.

To drive API adoption, it was essential to carry out a consumer-helpful developer portal with fantastic documentation and ample lookup functionalities. We seemed for very best methods across the globe. What’s more, we invested in education our developers to familiarize them with the developer portal and with the API recommendations and criteria suitable from the beginning. We wanted to lay the suitable foundations so we could conveniently scale when the time was suitable.

Right after initial small successes with the interior use scenarios and some exterior types, the organization demand from customers grew significantly. They wanted additional APIs—and they needed them immediately, so we established an agile budgeting and prioritization process to cater to the increased demand.

McKinsey: What were the major difficulties?

Saud Al Dhawyani: 1 of our largest worries was to get the appropriate talent to generate our API approach. Wholly redesigning the integration architecture, environment up an API management platform and developer portal, and constantly prioritizing the first API backlog are quite complicated responsibilities. On the 1 hand, we required expert engineers who knew the technological specifics, and on the other hand, we required experienced item proprietors to ensure a laser target on the right priorities.

In the beginning, there were a number of fears about being capable to develop up the expected expertise in Dubai, considering that tech talent is not commonly readily available. Having said that, we managed to do it as a result of a well balanced blend of choosing and acquiring our current talent. A person crucial ingredient to our achievements was setting up focused learning journeys for the various roles we desired with a mix of inner and external programs as effectively as certification packages.

Later on on in our journey, we faced the problem of expanding the productiveness of our agile API squads. When we begun, it was suitable for our groups to provide 1 API in two-to-three-7 days sprints. On the other hand, to follow our highway map, we desired to enhance our productiveness considerably. We leveraged DevOps automation equipment to enhance the integration and keep continuous deployment and delivery and doubled our API output.

McKinsey: Is there anything you would do in another way if you ended up starting off once more?

Saud Al Dhawyani: Even though our method of clustering and prioritizing the existing ESB providers was a good starting up stage to restrict our initial scope, I would not follow this strategy with out constraints. I would as an alternative commit more time detailing the focus on structure of the domains and evaluate in much more element which APIs permit the maximum enterprise value—though this surely doesn’t imply a reduction in IT integration prices. I would also leverage current frameworks, these types of as the Banking Industry Architecture Community (BIAN), as considerably as feasible to far better discover and prioritize the APIs that have bigger company benefit.

McKinsey: What are the added benefits of your API efforts? How do you quantify them?

Neeraj Makin: We have enabled several strategic organization initiatives as a outcome. A single instance is our digital onboarding, which is offered on mobile phones for self-company and by way of pill for guidance in our branches. We have onboarded far more than 100,000 consumers with our new system, accomplishing up to 85 percent with straight-via processing in significantly less than ten minutes.

We have also implemented numerous effective info and analytics use situations that push our business enterprise efficiency. For instance, by means of our API-primarily based architecture, we were being equipped to launch a new corporate and institutional banking portal—we call it Small business Online—which is fueled by actual-time data. With this tool, we can present our corporate purchasers an instant overview of their payments, open up letters of credits, and more—a provider that is unparalleled in the area.

McKinsey: What crucial accomplishment components really should other companies look for when embarking on their possess API journeys?

Neeraj Makin: When reflecting on the API transformation of Emirates NBD, we can clearly see three results variables. The initial is to outline a apparent API system, aiming to improve the quantity of APIs as rapid as possible and push adoption with a person-pleasant API developer portal. Second, be confident to establish the suitable technological innovation environments in purchase to properly scale and maximize the team’s productivity—for example, by means of applying cloud or DevOps. With traditional nonautomated infrastructure setups, it is hard to notice the positive aspects of APIs. Eventually, there’s talent. Possessing the suitable engineers and solution proprietors is key to scaling an API-pushed ecosystem. That requires a well balanced combination of selecting new members and upskilling existing employees.

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