Westpac CTO vows to ‘double-down’ on cloud with new Microsoft deal

Westpac Azure Microsoft Deal

Westpac has deepened its longstanding partnership with Microsoft, securing a new hybrid multi-cloud deal as part of a five-year strategic partnership with the Azure cloud provider.

As part of the deal, the bank said it will move to better leverage Azure’s “ecosystem of services”, bringing a more cohesive approach to its application, data, and artificial intelligence capabilities to help scale these services across the enterprise.

Westpac group chief technology officer, David Walker, said the bank is “looking to significantly scale up [its] use of the cloud” across the group, utilising its software-as-a-service (SaaS) partners “to help deliver more digital-to-the-core experiences for customers”.

“This includes areas such as digital, mortgages, business lending, our banking-as-a-service platform, artificial intelligence, and data.”

“At Westpac, our standard for all new systems, whether built by ourselves or sourced from others, is to be ‘built to change’ using ‘evergreen’ cloud-native technologies,” Walker said in a statement.

Elaborating further on the deal during a Westpac Wire podcast, Walker said Microsoft will work hand-in-hand with the bank to enhance its software engineering capability, enabling “engineers to make the right technical decisions”.

“It’s no longer about making the right economic decisions, because that’s sorted out as part of this partnership. It’s about [establishing] the right fit for purpose, and letting software engineers build the software the way they should do – letting them make the choices rather than it being a commercial or financial decision.”

The new partnership agreement with Microsoft will, he added, also be “valuable” in building out the bank’s real-time data and insights capabilities.

The deal is set to expand upon Westpac’s Data Driven Experiences Platform (DDEP), which is currently in the process of “being uplifted onto Azure’s evergreen cloud-native data platform-as-a-service”, Walker said, alongside the new real-time Customer Insights Engine, which was spun out of the DDEP.

The DDEP was first deployed in 2019, designed to “catapult Westpac to the forefront of digital banking”.

Co-designed and built with resources from Microsoft (including Azure DevOps capabilities) and Westpac, the DDEP draws on data sources from across the banking group, providing real-time, personalised customer insights. This could prove particularly useful for leveraging data from, and maintaining compliance with, the Consumer Data Right (or Open Banking) scheme.

Drilling down on Westpac’s AI-backed Customer Insights Engine, Walker hailed the capability as “world-first”, enabling the bank to “tune into our customers”.

“By tuning into them, we’re able to interpret [their needs] and offer them help through nudges and insights, and bring to life what the data is telling us and make it useful to them.”

He singled out a use case in the mortgage process.

“As we look at customers coming on to pick up a mortgage in real-time, what we’re able to do is track all those activities that are happening around that and keep them informed and up-to-date and to… settle them through that process.”

Managing director of Microsoft Australia and New Zealand Steven Worrall said the platform offers a great example of using “world-leading” data and service mesh principles.

“The partnership is uplifting the data and API platform onto Azure’s evergreen cloud-native data platform-as-a-service, which includes services such as Azure Synapse, AKS, Cosmos DB and API Management (APIM).

“This is providing Westpac with best-in-class data and AI customer insights to enable unique customer interactions and benefits whilst ensuring world-leading security and privacy.”

The data hub serves as a magnet for the bank’s innovation in machine learning and cognitive computing services, leveraging Azure’s cloud base to improve the bank’s decision-making and service personalisation capabilities, including through the use of behavioural analytics.

Microsoft said the bank is also utilising Azure’s AI and machine learning capabilities to accelerate the intelligent processing of documents, commencing with mortgages.

“This will help expedite the delivery of important customer services and reduce risk,” Worral said.

Training opportunities

The deal also includes support for digital and cloud training opportunities for the bank’s engineering staff, provided through Microsoft’s Enterprise Skilling Initiative.

“The new training and development opportunities will also provide benefits in terms of upskilling and driving innovation, and help our people become future-ready,” Walker said.

“Cloud is still a fairly new technology, relatively speaking, for a lot of people, and that’s not just technologists but also the business. So, having a good understanding of how to use cloud is one of the most important things.”

“Microsoft [is] going to turn up and provide people and also funding to help accelerate the adoption of cloud, which is always a challenge first up, trying to make that move into cloud… skilling up people. You need support at that level,” Walker said.

Worrall added: “Westpac has a clear vision for the future of banking – combining high performance, trusted and secure cloud-based platforms with a highly skilled workforce to allow iterative innovation that will ensure the bank stays at the leading edge of financial services.

“Microsoft is delighted to help build the digital foundations for this and support Westpac to grow its learning culture and instil digital capabilities that keep it match-fit for the future of banking.”

Westpac has been progressively deepening its relationship with Microsoft since 2019, establishing (around the same time as the DDEP) an Azure-based virtual private cloud.

Walker praised the bigtech as a “great partner for many, many years [for] Westpac.”

Westpac, as part of its multi-cloud set-up, still maintains operations in both Azure and AWS, with Westpac’s Azure cloud having a particular focus on the bank’s data objectives.

Looking ahead, Walker said the bank will be focused on developing its “conversational interfaces”, and ‘ambient capabilities’ – that next generation of services beyond digital”.