AWS Training and Certification Blog

Absa’s cloud champions lead company’s cloud transformation

Cloud is quickly becoming the norm for large companies, and the advantages go beyond the simple efficiencies of storing data outside traditional data centers. One company that recognizes this and is investing in the future of its organization with cloud is Absa Group Limited.

Formerly Barclays Africa Group Limited, Absa is one of the largest financial services groups in Africa, offering various financial services across personal, corporate, and investment banking. With their headquarters in South Africa, Absa’s approximately 37,000 employees serve more than 9.5 million customers across 14 countries. In the complex and competitive financial services environment, superior customer and client experiences are pivotal to maintaining a market-leading position.

In 2019, Absa collaborated with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and is now one of the largest cloud adopters in Africa. They continue to invest in the cloud to drive business innovation.

As part of the organization’s initial move to cloud, Absa found that employees across their businesses needed to be supported to identify cloud opportunities and create more efficient, scalable services and solutions. The confidence to innovate faster and experiment more, which drives business-wide digital transformation, is built through the combination of cloud training and an environment that supports innovation with cloud skills.

In collaboration with AWS Skills Guild, Absa launched their Cloud Incubator program in March 2021 to accelerate cloud skills development throughout the group.

The Absa Cloud Incubator

Absa’s AWS Skills Guild program, named Cloud Incubator, is a comprehensive cloud skills training program with the goals of building cloud fluency for employees and accelerating their cloud adoption journey. In the first five months of Cloud Incubator, more than 1,000 staff across Absa’s African operations have had the opportunity to learn advanced cloud computing skills and make an impact on the business—which is already over 70% to goal for the anticipated 2021 trained staff total. In addition to instructor-led training (ILT) opportunities, free, self-paced training is available to all employees, with 12 learning paths and 192 training titles available on Absa’s cloud training site.

“This program will not only accelerate our move to cloud across Absa’s businesses, but it will also equip employees with the skill sets required to serve our customers in a digital world,” said Suren Pillay, chief technology architect at Absa.

The program aims to achieve three principal outcomes that will support their cloud adoption and business transformation objectives: permission to upskill and innovate, ongoing cloud fluency, and a champion-led cloud community.

1. Permission to innovate

First, Cloud Incubator provides permission and opportunities for Absa employees to develop their skills. They’ve achieved this through nurturing a culture of learning where individuals take ownership and make time for their learning journey. In 2021, it’s expected that 80% of Innovation, Technology, and Operations (IT&O) will complete at least one training course (AWS Classroom or self-paced digital) and 30% of employees who have access to AWS will achieve at least one AWS Certification.

One of the key learnings from other AWS Skills Guild customers is that having permission to experiment gives people the freedom and confidence to innovate. Employees are encouraged to say “yes” to ideas, constantly learn new skills, be curious about what they can achieve, and therefore, turn their newly learned skills into action.

2. Ongoing cloud fluency

Cloud transformation is more impactful when technology and people come together. In other words, you can have world-class technology, but your team also needs to be inspired to try things and feel empowered to use it effectively and in line with best practices. This is why Absa is working to build a level of cloud fluency and understanding across all businesses and teams, including an internal communication campaign with videos to drive awareness and highlight the benefit of the program. The goal is for everyone to speak a common language of cloud.

Absa also intends to implement a quarterly survey to measure and track metrics related to improved cloud understanding and sense of community per quarter.

David Quagraine, who’s an Absa cloud champion, is an example of how cloud learning at Absa is for everyone. He found that by attending foundational AWS Training as part of Cloud Incubator, he was able to find a pathway into learning cloud computing.

“There seems to be a general idea that you need to have previous IT experience to learn cloud computing. I’m here to tell you and reassure you that anyone who has the urge to peek into the cloud can learn it,” said Quagraine.

3. A champion-led cloud community

Third, Absa has built a leading cloud community of practice, led by a group of internal cloud champions. One of Absa’s key performance indicators was to double the number of cloud champions in 2021. They’ve almost achieved this goal within three months, with numbers increasing from 50 to 95.

Absa has found that their cloud champions are vital to creating and communicating the program’s culture. Their vocal, energetic leadership drives momentum and encourages ownership as they spread the “how-to-cloud” culture. Their success has cultivated the success of their informal monthly events evidenced by the strong attendance and an average customer satisfaction rating of 4+ stars.

Sharing knowledge and successes, the cloud champions encourage all team members to get involved, teaching them that world-class technology is at their fingertips.

Cloud champions also find themselves at the forefront of key projects, meaning they play a key role in Absa’s success, and as a result, gain experience and endorsement that enhances their career opportunities.

Building cloud skills also has a positive effect on talent acquisition and retention, particularly for team members looking to advance their self-improvement and their careers. One Absa cloud champion, Liani van Nieuwenhuizen, spoke about a burning desire to see her efforts contribute to exponential change. Since becoming a cloud champion and learning new cloud skills, she feels far more motivated by her ability to inspire and run efficient projects with cloud technology.

What’s next for the Absa Cloud Incubator?

As a leader in cloud adoption in Africa, Absa’s goal is to remain at the forefront of that transformation. World Wide Worx’s ‘Cloud in Africa 2020’ report reveals that 84% of African organizations surveyed viewed cloud computing as cost-effective. According to the report, 56% of respondents estimated that a quarter of their applications will have moved to the cloud by the end of 2021.

“While we have made great progress these last couple of years, we want to go faster. And we want all our teams to have the opportunity to be part of that journey—and that all starts with learning,” said Ebrahim Samodien, chief information officer for the Enterprise Functions, Absa.

Absa will continue to offer staff the opportunity to grow their cloud skills, build their careers, and drive Absa’s next wave of customer experience and business innovations via their Cloud Incubator. They are committed to continuing their program of informal learning events—which have already impacted more than 2,750 employees! Similarly, the structured, expert-led AWS Training will also continue to be available to more employees, in addition to the 1,073 people already trained.

To work towards a culture of continuous learning, champions will continue to lead the way for Cloud Incubator, with initiatives including certification study groups and knowledge sharing sessions. Absa is also creating additional content around the Cloud Incubator, driving the brand internally and creating a buzz so that everyone across the group will know about it and understand why they should be excited to be a part of it.

With a groundswell of cloud skills and knowledge, together with a growing culture of continuous learning, Absa is now better positioned to accelerate innovation, deliver superior customer and client experiences, and ensure they maintain a market-leading position.

Learn more about AWS Skills Guild.