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Interview with Saud Al Dhawyani, CTO at Emirates NBD


Jun 6, 2023

How would you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as a highly curious and ambitious individual who thrives in challenging environments. I am a dynamic thinker who is constantly seeking new ways to improve and grow. I am a goal-oriented person who is always looking to achieve the best possible outcome. Additionally, I am a highly organised individual who places a strong emphasis on time management and prioritisation to make the most of my time. I believe that through careful planning and hard work, I am able to accomplish my goals and achieve success.

What does your typical workday look like?

As a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), my typical workday starts early as I am an early riser. I begin my day with a morning exercise routine to energise my body and mind. After that, I take some time to review my daily plan, main objectives, and priorities. This helps me to stay focused and aligned with the goals of the organisation.

Once I arrive at the office, I have a morning huddle with my leadership, peers, and direct reports. These huddles provide an opportunity for reflection, alignment, and reaffirmation of key priorities.

I spend a significant portion of my day working with various teams to drive forward key strategic initiatives and agendas. This includes meetings with business stakeholders to ensure that our plans and objectives are aligned.

I make sure to take a break for a midday meal, which is essential for re-energizing the body and mind. I also make time for prayer, which helps me to refuel my soul and sustain my focus and performance throughout the day.

Overall, my typical workday is focused on driving key initiatives forward, fostering collaboration and alignment with stakeholders, and making time for self-care to maintain focus and performance.

What are your key responsibilities in the organisation?

As a CTO, my key responsibilities within the organisation include leading the technical engineering efforts across the bank. All core technical roles, such as software development, architecture, and other engineering disciplines, report to me. I am responsible for attracting and developing top talent, nurturing their growth, and ensuring that they are effectively contributing to their teams.

I am also responsible for enforcing and maintaining best practices in software and technology architecture and engineering across all Emirates NBD platforms and digital products. This includes working closely with my IT delivery peers to deliver best-in-class technical platforms for the bank and digital products for our customers, across all segments in both our local and international markets.

Furthermore, I work closely with other senior leaders to understand their needs and provide them with the right technology solution to support their business goals. I also ensure that the technology systems and services are in compliance with the regulatory requirements and industry standards. Additionally, I work closely with the security team to ensure that the bank’s data, systems and infrastructure are secure and protected against threats.

How do you leverage technology to help your organisation achieve its business goals?

In today’s world, technology plays a crucial role in banking operations, and I understand the importance of being technology-enabled. We make key decisions based on technology and we interact with our customers through technology.

Emirates NBD recognized the importance of technology many years ago and as a result, we initiated a large-scale technology transformation program. This program aimed to revamp our core infrastructure, architecture, security, data and even our IT/ Business operating model by adopting agile methodologies.

We embrace cutting-edge software architecture practices such as cloud-native micro-services, event-driven and API-centric architecture, and we have almost 100% of all our platforms running on the cloud. This allows us to be much more effective in our ability to make data-driven decisions based on advanced analytics capabilities powered by analytical models and next-generation data platforms.

These technological advancements have enabled our business to adapt quickly to macroeconomics and regulatory changes, accelerate our digital product innovations and evolution, and be relevant to our customers’ needs while building an innovative ecosystem.

In summary, I leverage technology to drive efficiency, scalability, and innovation across the organisation, and help us to make data-driven decisions that align with our overall business goals and objectives.

What are the main challenges you face and how do you overcome them?

The technology industry is highly competitive and finding skilled and qualified professionals can be difficult. To overcome this challenge, I have shifted my focus towards developing and growing the right talents within the organisation. I find this approach to be more sustainable and effective in the long-term.

Another major challenge that I face is the dynamic nature of the technology world. Keeping up with the latest advancements and trends can be challenging, especially while maintaining a balance between cutting-edge technologies and stability. To overcome this challenge, I strive to foster a mature system and operating culture that encourages controlled experimentation in safe environments. This allows us to embrace failure and learn from it, which in turn helps us to build robust systems and teams.

Additionally, I also make sure that we have a solid technology roadmap in place and regularly review it to ensure that it aligns with the business goals and objectives. Furthermore, I also ensure that our IT and business teams are well-aligned and communicate regularly so that all teams are aware of the latest advancements and technologies.

In summary, I overcome the challenges by fostering a culture of innovation, experimentation, and learning, developing and growing internal talent, and regularly reviewing and aligning technology plans with business goals and objectives.

How do you stay up to date with current technology trends?

Staying up-to-date with current technology trends is crucial for my role as a CTO. To keep abreast of the latest advancements and trends, I take a multi-faceted approach.

First, I regularly read various publications and articles, such as industry-specific journals and publications, technology blogs, and news outlets. This helps me to stay informed about the latest developments and advancements in the technology world.

Second, I actively participate in different expert networks and communities, such as Medium, Stack Overflow, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These platforms provide a wealth of information and resources and allow me to engage with other experts and professionals in the industry.

Third, I am a part of professional networks such as CIOMajlis, which consists of experts at leading technology positions from different industries in the UAE. This allows me to connect and collaborate with other technology leaders and gain insights from different perspectives.

Lastly, I attend online and physical forums and conferences to learn from experts, stay updated with the latest developments, and network with other professionals in the field. This not only helps me to stay current but also allows me to think strategically about future developments and trends in technology.

What are the key technology trends that you consider implementing?

I am always on the lookout for the latest technology trends that can help my organisation achieve its business goals. I am looking to increase the adoption of public cloud solutions, as it offers a more cost-effective, scalable, and flexible option for hosting and managing our IT infrastructure. I am interested in scaling our advanced analytics deployments to gain more insights from our data, and make better data-driven decisions. I am also exploring ways to leverage AI and ML to automate repetitive tasks, improve customer service, and gain a deeper understanding of our customers’ needs.

In your opinion, how do you see the future of your industry? And how technology will play a role?

The future of the banking industry is promising as technology continues to play a central role. Advanced analytics, data, and AI will enable banks to offer tailored digital services and leverage alternate data sources. Trust, credibility, and security will remain critical and technology will play a vital role in enhancing these aspects for customers.