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Gautam Sinha - Sharjah Islamic Bank

Sunday, 12 December 2010 08:10
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Mr Sinha started his career in 1984-85 at a leading private sector bank in India where he worked in various departments (Retail, Corporate, Finance, Treasury, and Trade Finance) before ultimately settling down in IT then he gradually moving up the ladder until he was assigned as head of IT at a newly formed subsidiary of the bank. Later on Gautam joined a software development company (Banking & Finance) where he held several Key management positions before moving to Misys Banking Systems, the leading banking software company where he worked for about 14 years in various positions and oversaw the deployment of Misys banking solutions in many banks around the world including Sharjah Islamic Bank.

In 2008 Mr Sinha joined Sharjah Islamic Bank and in 2010 he was promoted to the CIO position.

 

The Interview

CIO2CIO: Sharjah Islamic Bank, apart from being a bank it also has subsidiaries operating in the real estate and brokerage sectors. As a CIO does covering multiple types of businesses make your job more challenging?
Gautam: It is important for any CIO not only to be able to understand both business and technology but also to be able to apply his understanding of the technology to the business. Over and above the CIO needs to be able to align his technology strategy with the business priorities. In my case, I have been in the banking technology business for some 25 years. That makes it much easier for me to do my job.

CIO2CIO: In your view, what are the biggest challenges facing the CIO today? Is it securing budgets, finding the right talent or dealing with the technology changes?
Gautam: We don’t struggle much to secure our budget as the budget is linked to business growth but I feel that the biggest challenge we face in this region is finding the right talent especially in some of the very specialized areas of IT like Equation (Core banking System), Networking, DB Specialist, security and compliance for instance. Sometimes we even have difficulties finding really talented developers or programmers. The other challenge is the speed at which technology is changing nowadays. It makes it very difficult for you to create a five year plan for instance given that you know that technology will have changed so much in five years. Technology change also brings with it additional budget pressures so you have to be very aware of what is going on with the latest technology developments when you build your plans, and yet you probably can’t build a realistic technology plan for anything g longer than two years. In banking we worry a lot about security, it is truly a very significant challenge.

CIO2CIO: What is the one project that is closest to your heart, the one you are most proud of?
Gautam: You know I spent most of my career on the vendor side so, I was involved in so many great banking projects around the world, but I am very proud of and passionate about the Misys project here at Sharjah Islamic Bank, I was involved in this project while at Misys, we deployed the core banking & other related system across all the departments in the bank and migrated everything from their legacy NCR mainframes. It was a challenging project (due to millennium) but it was well executed and well supported by the management of the bank at that time.

CIO2CIO: How do you deal with the successive technology waves, how to you decide which ones to adopt and which ones to skip?
Gautam: The rate of change in technology has become very fast, on the one hand you cannot take each new technology innovation on board, on the other hand you cannot isolate yourself from what is happening in the market. What we do is to look at all new technologies, we take advantage of the young talented members of the IT team to evaluate and study each new technology innovation, we look at its roadmap, we try to make an educated guess about whether it will survive or not and if so how does it benefit the business either to deliver better services or to cut cost. For instance we had an extensive look at virtualization, and we ended up fully embracing it. We have virtualized most of our infrastructure [servers, storage and networking], and we are currently looking at desktop virtualization. So this is an example of a technology innovation that we evaluated and adopted. It helps us deliver better performance at lower cost.

CIO2CIO: The IT industry is going through a phase of frantic acquisitions; this is creating what Gartner calls ‘Super Vendors’. Analysts believe that this will ultimately create monopolies, tight integration within each vendor’s stack, less openness and even reduced rate of innovation. Does this worry you?
Gautam: There is not much we can do about the mergers and acquisitions, this is a sign of industry maturity and it happens in all industries. So far we do not feel threatened by the emergence of those super vendors and we have not seen signs of slowing innovation or any monopolistic behaviors.

CIO2CIO: A related question, as big vendors acquire more products and broaden their offerings, many of them have changes the way they deal with customers. You no longer have a single point of contact but probably four or five account managers covering different areas of the business. Does that trend worry you as a CIO?
Gautam: Yes in fact it does, and we have discussed that with many of our suppliers, some were more cooperative than others. But in general it is not a welcomed trend and we don’t see why we can’t have a single point of contact from the vendor side, someone who understand our business and our technology priorities and is able to coordinate all related activities.

CIO2CIO: What would be your advice to young or new CIOs in the region?
Gautam: I would tell upcoming CIOs that first they should have the passion for what they are doing and the recognition that they are taking up a huge responsibility. A CIO must be very disciplined in his approach and very determined in his execution. A CIO should have a clear vision and a set of goals that are aligned with those of the business. Knowledge of finance and budgeting is also very important. A CIO should have the mental toughness needed for anyone in a high pressure job and must develop his leadership skills in order to be able to achieve great results. It also goes without saying that the CIO must spend time understanding the business and must be very good with technology.

 

Sharjah Ismaic Bank Profile

Said to be the first bank in the world to convert totally into an Islamic bank (2002), Sharjah Islamic Bank was established in 1975 under the name of National Bank of Sharjah to provide commercial banking services to companies and individuals.  The change from traditional banking to Islamic banking was a significant turn for the bank. Not only were specialized products and services devised, but also all the bank’s accounting and information systems were converted to conform to Islamic regulations.Sharjah Islamic bank  has successfully diversified to offer customers a broad range of Sharia’a compliant retail, commercial, corporate, investment and international banking services through its extensive UAE network.

Sharjah Islamic Bank IT Profile

Core Banking: Misys Banking System’s (Equation)
ERP: Oracle Financials
Enterprise Servers: IBM
Networking: Cisco


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