Last week Amazon Web Services held its annual AWS Summit in Cape Town, with the company reaffirming its commitment to the region, as well as touching on several of the new technologies that it’s aiming to bring to the local enterprise landscape.

As part of the opening keynote, AWS also invited some customers to tell stories about the journeys taken with the firm to date, and what services in particular have held benefit. One such company was newcomer TymeBank, which also carries the distinction of being the country’s first fully digital bank, launching to the public in the beginning of the year.

TymeBank has only been in operation for a handful of months, but has already registered 500 000-plus customers in that time, with AWS assisting with core business needs.

To gain a better understanding of the challenges those first few months have brought, how AWS has helped develop the organisation, as well as what the rest of 2019 potentially holds, we spoke with chief information officer (CIO) Dieter Botha, who also presented to AWS Summit Cape Town attendees on the day.

Here’s what he had to say.

Hypertext: Your relationship with AWS has only been public for a few months, but how did things first start out?

Dieter Botha: Well a little over a year ago, we were owned by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and they’re actually a big AWS customer, with data centres and cloud services being available in that region for a while now.

Despite being our own entity with African Rainbow Capital (ARC), we decided to continue our journey with AWS. It’s as simple as that.

Hypertext: If you don’t mind us asking, there is currently an AWS competitor which has data centres and cloud services locally. Was there any temptation to opt with them instead?

DB: The blue one? There was absolutely zero desire to go with them.

We’re going with AWS for a number of reasons. Firstly the company has three data centres coming locally, so from an availability perspective that’s a big consideration for TymeBank. Another important aspect is that AWS is the oldest cloud provider, so we know there is resilience.

TymeBank is currently in Ireland at the moment, as the data regulation in the EU is quite compatible with what we do here in South Africa, which is why we’re choosing to operate out of there for the moment.

Hypertext: Being South Africa’s first fully digital bank likely brings with it a number of challenges. How has AWS helped TymeBank solve them?

DB: There are a few ways that AWS has been able to assist.

One that people often forget about is the ability to attract talent. It’s definitely far easier to get people interested in working for you when you have a big sticker on your front door saying that you’re an AWS shop.

On the more technical side of things, the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and serverless computing has proved highly beneficial.

There’s also scalability which has been huge. Often when you hear a new website launches, there are sometimes crashes due to too much traffic. The elastic and agile nature of AWS means we haven’t had to sustain those kinds of interruptions.

Lastly the other benefit that also goes unnoticed is the fact that when you deal with these large firms, you’re talking to sales people. At Amazon it’s very engineering-heavy, so you can talk engineer to engineer, and that helps to get things done relatively quickly.

So our ability to turn things around is a lot faster with AWS, than it is with many of the other providers.

Hypertext: You’ve mentioned scalability. Given the rapid number of sign-ups TymeBank has had in a short amount of time, that must’ve played a key role in operations? 

DB: Yes, absolutely. When we sized all our initial hardware and things like that, we had no real idea of how it would be able to cope. So being able to scale accordingly has helped from time-to-time and saved our bacon on more than one occasion as we’ve able to through more compute at the problem.

What’s perhaps most exciting though is all the new serverless compute functionality from AWS. With the company’s Containers you can actually script them to spin up new computing requirements depending on how busy they get.

When your workloads calm down, it can then remove what it needs to, so it begins to turn into this living, breathing thing.

Hypertext: During your presentation you said 85 percent of TymeBank’s core systems are run through AWS. Do you want to get that to 100 percent, and if so what value will that bring?

DB: Simple answer is yes, as we’d love to be fully in the cloud.

Because we’re a regulated entity under the Reserve Bank, however, everything we do has to balance out the risk. This means that we have to be quite pragmatic as we journey into cloud.

As for the benefits, one of the more important ones is control. When you have all of your environments in there (the cloud), you can control all of the elements far more easily, whether it be your security, technicians, administrators and developers.

Another boring, but vitally important element, is patching. On-premise systems requiring constant patches to address newly found vulnerabilities, but serverless compute does not have to worry about that, as AWS does that heavy lifting for you.

Hypertext: You touched on your interactive kiosks during the keynote. Given AWS’ IoT offerings, is that something you’re considering?

DB: Not really to be honest. IoT for us for now adds a layer of technicality that we’re not looking at.

If you had to open up one of those kiosks, the setup is quite simple and as low-cost as possible. We’re more concerned about how the kiosk is performing, so if we were to add one of the AWS IoT agents to the system, it would be to give us feedback on how the kiosk performs.

It’s about offering the most efficient kiosk experience for our customers.

Hypertext: TymeBank and AWS have been working together for a little over six months now. Looking forward what needs to be done over the next six months?

DB: Yes, quite a few things as you can imagine. 

First is training, and ensuring that our people are up to speed. We’ve also got to keep up with all the new solutions and services that AWS introduces.

That’s more on the general admin side, but the higher priorities lie with consuming more native services. You’ve heard about containerisation and Lambda during the keynote, so it’s a better understanding and integration of services like those that TymeBank is focusing on int he short-term.

In the long-term, we’re looking at AWS’ as-a-service offerings, and for example could move our databases there, and potentially put our toe in the water with the customer engagement hub.

So we’ll continue experimenting.