Customer Stories / Financial Services
Absa Adopts AWS Skills Guild to Accelerate Its Transformation to Become a Digitally Powered Bank
Absa Group is transforming its business with Cloud Incubator, a large-scale cloud upskilling program based on the AWS Skills Guild framework.
Absa Group (Absa) has a goal to be a digitally powered bank. As one of Africa’s largest diversified financial services groups, it has developed an ambitious strategy to innovate its offerings for its customers’ benefit. Absa sought to combine its pursuit of new technologies with upskilling initiatives to accelerate its digital transformation.
Recognizing the cloud as a strategic differentiator, Absa turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and adopted the training framework from AWS Skills Guild, a comprehensive skills enablement program that builds cloud fluency across organizations. It then launched Cloud Incubator, its large-scale skills transformation program. By adopting the AWS Skills Guild model, Absa has shifted to a cloud-first mindset, created enthusiasm for cloud training, and generated immediate business value by reducing costs and production time.
Opportunity | Breaking Free from Legacy Ways of Working
With a presence in 15 countries, Absa provides banking, insurance, and wealth-management services to global customers. The 140-year-old company was built on a diverse array of infrastructure of varying ages, so it needed to modernize to meet its digital transformation goals. Absa realized that migrating to the cloud could both solve these infrastructure challenges and foster a technology-oriented culture. The cloud would provide valuable opportunities for its employees to learn niche technical skills and help them adopt an agile DevOps culture. Absa values sustainable, long-term results for its projects, so it chose to invest in its people rather than outsource these challenges to third-party vendors.
Absa sought an innovative approach to achieve widespread cultural change and embrace a cloud-first mindset. Its employees not only needed to learn new cloud skills but also how to apply them to their daily work. “When we first engaged AWS, we felt that we needed to pivot from the legacy way of upskilling and do something radically different,” says Ebrahim Samodien, chief information officer of Group Services at Absa. “That’s when we started to look at the AWS Skills Guild model as a basis to develop our Cloud Incubator.”
We transformed from a model of chasing tickets and racking servers to a model of durable teams that can move and pursue value quickly on AWS.”
Chief Technology Officer, Absa Group
Solution | Generating Excitement for Learning Organically
Absa built the Cloud Incubator using a bottom-up model, providing cloud training for all technical levels. “We wanted to develop a common narrative where there wasn’t apprehension about the cloud, but an excitement for it,” says Suren Pillay, chief technology officer of Absa. The company has taken several actions to attract employees to Cloud Incubator. It has created sessions that are inclusive to technical and nontechnical people alike and enlisted executive sponsors to rally behind the program and highlight its importance. Absa also provided the space and time for employees to share their newly acquired knowledge and practice their skills. Those who are passionate about the cloud can sign up to be cloud champions. “We have more than a hundred cloud champions. These are technical and nontechnical people who advocate and help spread the word about the benefits of joining Cloud Incubator,” says Daleen Pretorius, head of cloud platforms at Absa. “It’s thanks to mechanisms like these that learning about the cloud has become cool and exciting.” In only 18 months from the launch of the Cloud Incubator in March 2021, Absa upskilled over 4,500 employees and provided opportunities for over 400 people to earn an AWS Certification, which validate technical skills and cloud expertise. This initiative increased the number of active AWS Certifications within Absa to over 600.
Cloud Incubator has created an environment and framework in which every employee can learn cloud skills and elevate their knowledge of cloud infrastructure and modern application development practices. Now, Absa’s employees are more proficient in building directly on the cloud, shifting its operational mindset to a DevOps model. With Cloud Incubator in place, its multidisciplinary teams have the foundational knowledge that they need to work together at scale, quickly and efficiently driving business value.
Outcome | Turning Learnings into Business Value Quickly
By building cloud fluency, Absa has provided its employees with opportunities to experiment and prototype quickly on AWS. This has led to faster development, resulting in decreased time to value and reduced costs. “We transformed from a model of chasing tickets and building servers to a model of durable teams that can move and pursue value quickly on AWS,” says Pillay.
For example, during its separation from Barclays, Absa built out a new corporate channels estate that was custom developed with the latest open-source and microservices technology. After upskilling its Corporate Investment Banking team, it was able to achieve engineering productivity quickly. The company also rapidly developed an internal solution, called Amber, to archive large amounts of data. This solution relies on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), an object storage service offering industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance. “Amber performs robust archiving and has fractionalized the cost of storage,” says Pillay. “It has also improved processes like records retention and management while making them easier for teams.”
Lastly, Absa could innovate quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to lockdowns and remote work challenges, the company needed to re-envision its Atelier art competition. Absa chose to migrate the on-premises Atelier website to AWS and implement security best practices, focusing on building a reusable and replicable environment to launch new websites. Within 1 month, Absa was able to spin up new environments inclusive of templated sites, continuous integration and continuous delivery, and security requirements in a matter of minutes. The company launched the Atelier website and scaled it across all of Africa very quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing the competition without any interruptions. The design of the Atelier website was nominated for a global Webby Award, a recognition that honors excellence across digital media.
Continuing to Build on a Legacy of Success
With Cloud Incubator, Absa has strengthened its in-house capabilities and fostered a cloud-first organizational culture. Its employees are enthusiastic about learning new cloud skills and want to evolve the program further. Absa will use its experience and lessons learned from Cloud Incubator to expand into more advanced topics, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. It will continue to complement in-class trainings with events, such as Cloudathons and AWS DeepRacer, where developers can get hands on with a cloud-based 3D racing simulator.
Absa will also create technical and nontechnical training streams so that employees have the opportunity to strengthen their cloud skills. “We are continuing to invest in our teams and talent in the organization,” says Pillay. “For the people who went through the Cloud Incubator last year, there’s always a next level. There’s always a new frontier.”
About Absa Group
Absa Group provides financial services in Africa. Headquartered in South Africa, it offers an integrated set of products and services across personal and business banking, insurance, and wealth and investment management.
AWS Services Used
AWS Skills Guild
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Developers of all skill levels can get hands on with machine learning through a cloud based 3D racing simulator.
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