September 28, 2023

Tricia Oak

Business & Finance Excellency

APIs: The magic formula component for a major tech leap


In 2017, Emirates NBD Group, a leading banking group in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT), was confronted with an ever-growing demand from customers from shoppers to supply innovative electronic items and companies in a highly competitive market. At that time, the banking team experienced strong small business ideas for thriving even as its opposition elevated, but its IT shipping and delivery experienced achieved potential, so it could not put all its strategies into practice. So the company made a decision to execute a full overhaul of its IT infrastructure and parallel functions.

In this job interview with McKinsey’s Henning Soller and Timo Mauerhoefer, Emirates NBD’s Neeraj Makin, group head of worldwide and group method, and Saud Al Dhawyani, main technological innovation officer, describe how the financial institution made, speedy-tracked, and carried out its IT transformation by employing application programming interfaces (APIs) to simultaneously accelerate technological modernization and empower new organization strategies more than time.

McKinsey: Explain to us what encouraged Emirates NBD Group to undertake its IT transformation in 2017.


We try to give men and women with disabilities equivalent entry to our internet site. If you would like information and facts about this content material we will be content to get the job done with you. Remember to email us at: McKinsey_Web [email protected]



Neeraj Makin: We run in really competitive markets and ended up confronted with an expanding demand from customers for digital solutions for our clients. Although, at the time, we were being regarded in the area as a leader in electronic methods and engineering, our technologies was advanced.

We had numerous unique technological know-how stacks, and the integration among our IT platforms was sophisticated, which slowed us down and manufactured any changes to our engineering really high priced. Our main IT platforms were not aligned throughout our various destinations, causing redundant operate. Major management was unsure whether these destinations would continue to be successful.

Also, we experienced outsourced a ton of key IT capabilities, this sort of as our IT engineers. In this setup, we could not respond to the growing desire for digital answers, this sort of as close-to-finish electronic consumer journeys, let alone leverage ground breaking banking technological know-how, this sort of as state-of-the-art-analytics-centered product or service choices. We concluded that we needed to change our technologies to outperform our levels of competition and stay a chief in digital and engineering.

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

Saud Al Dhawyani&#13

We attempt to supply men and women with disabilities equal access to our internet site. If you would like information and facts about this content material we will be satisfied to function with you. Make sure you electronic mail us at: McKinsey_Web [email protected]



Saud Al Dhawyani: A single crucial change was that we adjusted anything within IT in parallel. Even though several companies concentrate on, for occasion, a core-banking-program migration or thrust cloud adoption or experiment with agile groups, we made a decision that to perform a accurate quantum leap, we required to pull each individual lever within just IT and completely rework our core technological know-how.

We upgraded our IT architecture by modernizing essential IT platforms and simplifying their integration. We optimized our IT infrastructure by constructing the initial private-cloud system in the location, and we modernized our organizational composition, which enabled an agile working design. But we didn’t stop there. Building on the revamp of our main know-how, we formulated new digital capabilities, such as robotics, smart automation, and advanced analytics, to crank out the total business enterprise price of our transformation.

Shifting mainly all features of IT in parallel is a complex effort and hard work, which is the explanation why a lot of other businesses sequence the initiatives around a for a longer period time period. Nonetheless, in light of rising levels of competition, we desired to be rapid and finish our transformation in 4 years. To improve our IT estate in parallel, we experienced to very carefully structure a modular architecture with individual levels and decouple our main platforms in the preliminary stages by way of APIs.

Presented the complexity of this transformation, we knew that we would will need to drastically up grade and trade our existing talent—this is another vital difference from other transformations. We did not get started any specialized initiative until we had a important mass of new and upskilled talent in area.

McKinsey: What role do APIs engage in at Emirates NBD?

Saud Al Dhawyani: In 2017, just before we released our technology transformation, we had few unstandardized APIs. Today, APIs are at the main of our IT architecture and participate in a major position in our electronic approach. Our strategy is created all around three vital components that are central to our API-centric architecture (exhibit).



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


We try to deliver folks with disabilities equal obtain to our internet site. If you would like info about this content material we will be content to perform with you. Make sure you email us at: McKinsey_Web [email protected]




The initial ingredient is identified as Sahab, which means “cloud.” It is a thoroughly automatic personal-cloud system that is the foundational system on which all our programs function. The next we get in touch with Bawaba, this means “gate.” This is our groupwide API system, which manages extra than 800 microservices and connects our channels, programs, and details system. It also incorporates our developer portal. 3rd is our enterprise-info platform, which we connect with Manara, that means “lighthouse.” Manara enables actual-time details trade among apps, a essential element that we did not have in the past.

With this drastic change to APIs, we have significantly greater our supply usefulness and effectiveness. For instance, the efficiency of our agile squads rose dramatically after we introduced our inner developer portal, which will allow end users to simply research for and deal with all our APIs. This appreciably lowers the integration initiatives among different groups and applications and decreases the duplication of functionalities by enabling reuse at scale.

APIs were important for our transformation for the reason that they permitted us to modularize our IT estate and modernize some of our core IT platforms, these as our payments hub and trade-finance IT platform. We now have virtually the identical “code base” for all entities and areas and can add new functionalities proficiently. This also will make us much more flexible in our global marketplaces, exactly where our expansion was historically limited by our technology abilities.

A precise example of how our API-primarily based architecture immediately produces enterprise price is through our retail belongings. Applying APIs, we will be in a position to accessibility and combine distinct again-stop capabilities and details to supply an straightforward way for our shoppers to use our key retail products and services, these as financial loans, cards, and home loans, in a self-provider way on the net. APIs now make it possible for us to instantaneously provide credit history cards to our consumers, while, in advance of, that approach needed heaps of manual checks and testimonials. By way of our modular architecture, our retail belongings will also be readily available for all our legal entities and areas.

From a enterprise perspective, APIs enabled numerous strategic company initiatives. In 2019, we launched WhatsApp Banking for our consumers in a make any difference of months. Now, we have 100,000 subscribed consumers for Emirates NBD and 50,000 for Emirates Islamic, and we have witnessed all around a million interactions in the earlier 12 months. We now also have a dedicated ecosystem and API team that identifies new small business possibilities enabled by earning our data, products, and expert services accessible by means of APIs.



McKinsey: Can you give us an example?

Neeraj Makin: Sure. We are collaborating with the Department of Economic system and Tourism (DET) on a blockchain challenge to source licensing data. While blockchain is the underlying platform that gives a single supply of reality of verified firms as well as of personal information and documents, we can interact with it by way of the APIs we make on Bawaba. These APIs let our little and medium-sizing enterprises and company consumers to take in this ability as a services. This aligns with our philosophy of making once, although the APIs allow reusability.

We also supported noqodi, a foremost company of on line technologies answers in the Arab globe, with authentic-time transaction-processing capabilities to enable operational performance when shelling out its merchants and clientele. We applied 3 essential services leveraging our APIs on Bawaba. First, fund transfer, which makes it possible for shoppers to transfer dollars among Emirates NBD accounts regionally and internationally. Second, transaction background, which provides prospects access to a listing of latest transactions. And third, transaction-standing inquiry, by which clients can obtain modern details of a one transaction.

McKinsey: How did you approach your API transformation?

Saud Al Dhawyani: We started out by coming up with our focus on architecture blueprint based on the 3 core platforms. We aimed for an method to combine these platforms via APIs and to standardize our administration of APIs for two main causes: to start with, to stay away from making a sophisticated integration, or “spaghetti architecture,” as we had in the past, and next, to be far more adaptable and capable to lengthen our technology by delivering sure platforms a more quickly, more efficient way to trade details and details, or by integrating new methods from 3rd parties, these as fintechs.

To prioritize our APIs, we structured the present companies we experienced on our company service bus (ESB) in common banking domains, these as purchaser and solution. We also prioritized specific nonbanking APIs as “common” or “channel engagement,” these as strategies, features, and optical character recognition (OCR) functionalities.

We then prioritized the companies dependent on relevance for our transformation—that is, when we would will need to decouple every IT platform to travel the modernization—as very well as on their stage of complexity. Primarily based on these conditions, we could greater fully grasp what the in general work of “API-zing” our IT architecture would be. Then we begun to outline the operating product and governance, in addition to detailing the API taxonomy, criteria, and suggestions. Very last, we determined on the technological know-how alternative for the API management platform and other related elements and started out the to start with proof of idea.

McKinsey: How did you build momentum at that phase?

Saud Al Dhawyani: We outlined the importance and probable of APIs for equally technologies and business to our management and committed a considerable portion of the funds to it. We had first funding that was sufficient to lay the technological basis, outline the essential benchmarks and insurance policies, and migrate all our expert services from the legacy ESB to microservices available by means of our conventional APIs. We now have approximately 800 microservices accessible.

This basis permitted us to establish three agile squads that worked only on making APIs in the distinct domains. We kick-commenced our API hard work by running numerous API consciousness periods in IT, and we also distribute consciousness between our business colleagues to aid our staff recognize the chances.

To travel API adoption, it was very important to put into action a consumer-friendly developer portal with very good documentation and sufficient lookup functionalities. We seemed for very best procedures throughout the globe. Furthermore, we invested in coaching our developers to familiarize them with the developer portal and with the API pointers and specifications suitable from the commencing. We wanted to lay the ideal foundations so we could quickly scale when the time was ideal.

Soon after initial small successes with the interior use conditions and some exterior types, the organization demand grew noticeably. They needed added APIs—and they wished them rapidly, so we made an agile budgeting and prioritization system to cater to the elevated desire.

McKinsey: What were being the most important worries?

Saud Al Dhawyani: One of our major troubles was to get the correct expertise to travel our API approach. Entirely redesigning the integration architecture, setting up an API administration platform and developer portal, and constantly prioritizing the first API backlog are quite elaborate responsibilities. On the a single hand, we desired professional engineers who realized the technological particulars, and on the other hand, we necessary professional products homeowners to ensure a laser target on the ideal priorities.

In the beginning, there have been numerous issues about becoming in a position to create up the required expertise in Dubai, considering that tech talent is not easily out there. Having said that, we managed to do it via a balanced mix of hiring and producing our present talent. A person crucial component to our achievements was setting up devoted finding out journeys for the diverse roles we wanted with a blend of internal and external programs as nicely as certification systems.

Later on on in our journey, we confronted the challenge of rising the efficiency of our agile API squads. When we started out, it was satisfactory for our groups to supply a single API in two-to-a few-week sprints. Even so, to comply with our street map, we desired to boost our productivity drastically. We leveraged DevOps automation resources to enhance the integration and retain steady deployment and supply and doubled our API output.

McKinsey: Is there anything at all you would do in different ways if you were starting again?

Saud Al Dhawyani: Even though our approach of clustering and prioritizing the current ESB solutions was a good starting place to limit our preliminary scope, I would not follow this method without limits. I would alternatively devote more time detailing the target layout of the domains and appraise in far more depth which APIs allow the best company value—though this absolutely doesn’t suggest a reduction in IT integration expenditures. I would also leverage existing frameworks, these kinds of as the Banking Industry Architecture Community (BIAN), as significantly as doable to greater detect and prioritize the APIs that have larger company value.

McKinsey: What are the rewards of your API endeavours? How do you quantify them?

Neeraj Makin: We have enabled quite a few strategic business initiatives as a final result. A person case in point is our digital onboarding, which is readily available on cell phones for self-company and through pill for help in our branches. We have onboarded far more than 100,000 customers with our new approach, doing up to 85 % with straight-by means of processing in less than ten minutes.

We have also carried out many successful data and analytics use scenarios that generate our business enterprise performance. For instance, by our API-based architecture, we were being in a position to launch a new corporate and institutional banking portal—we call it Organization Online—which is fueled by serious-time information. With this tool, we can supply our corporate customers an immediate overview of their payments, open letters of credits, and more—a provider that is unparalleled in the region.

McKinsey: What essential achievement aspects ought to other companies appear for when embarking on their personal API journeys?

Neeraj Makin: When reflecting on the API transformation of Emirates NBD, we can obviously see 3 good results variables. The very first is to determine a apparent API approach, aiming to increase the amount of APIs as quick as doable and drive adoption with a user-helpful API developer portal. Next, be sure to construct the appropriate know-how environments in purchase to correctly scale and increase the team’s productivity—for illustration, by means of implementing cloud or DevOps. With conventional nonautomated infrastructure setups, it is difficult to notice the added benefits of APIs. Finally, there is talent. Getting the appropriate engineers and product homeowners is important to scaling an API-driven ecosystem. That demands a well balanced mix of using the services of new customers and upskilling existing workers.