Banks and other financial institutions are working harder than ever to remain competitive within the financial services marketplace. They're constantly looking for tools to help them create strategic advantages over their competition and better manage their businesses. Given the enormous amount of data that financial institutions need to analyze, data warehousing is a mechanism to maximize the value of corporate data and turn it into useful information.

Republic Security Bank in West Palm Beach, Florida, began using data warehouse technology in August 1996. It has since acquired and converted three banks, expanding to 34 branches and increasing its assets to $1.3 billion. Rapidly expanding branches can be a logistical and time-consuming nightmare. However, Sue Wagner, branch administrator at Republic Security Bank, says the data warehouse helped the bank keep pace. "With data warehousing, we have the ability to get accurate information in a very short time. For example, we can quickly find out how many accounts are open in a particular branch," she says.

Central Storage

Republic Security Bank employees use the data warehouse to maintain and update loan and customer information daily. This software solution stores information in a central location, allowing users to collect and analyze data from across departments. Bank employees access the data warehouse through Sun servers stored at M&I Data Services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Taking advantage of the open system, M&I Data Services uses disk drives from Amdahl, Sun and Hitachi. For recovery needs, M&I; Data Services relies on a Raid 5 solution. Besides the standard FDDI rings, M&I Data Services also utilizes ATM network connections, which transfer additional information from a variety of data warehouse applications including Internet or home banking. The widely used TCP/IP software, plus NetX provide communication access. With Sun systems, M&I Data Services runs under Solaris with Oracle as the database of choice. PowerBuilder and Micro Focus tools provide front-end access to the data.

The bank obtains data warehouse information using Information Desktop. This information management solution allows financial institutions and other users to gather data from multiple database sources and develop easy-to-understand reports using tools such as Report Edge.

Information Desktop runs on a Windows operating system and employs a point-and-click user interface, making it easier to generate more comprehensive business reports. "The controller obtains financial information from the general ledger with it, but we also use it to track retail performance. This includes reviewing the number of closed and new accounts on a monthly basis," Wagner says.

Prior to Information Desktop, the bank could not separate personal and commercial accounts. "We were unable to generate reports," says Wagner. Report Edge, however, allows the bank to select a particular account type that identifies a personal or commercial account. "This enables us to get more concise information than before," she adds.

Quicker Report Generation

Moreover, Republic Security Bank is getting information faster to aid expanded branch management. Wagner explains that before working with the data warehouse and Information Desktop, the bank had to gather information from several places to generate month-end reports. This often meant employees worked overtime to complete a report. "Now, we have reduced our month-end report generation on the retail banking side from three days to one-half day," says Wagner. "Saving time equates to dollars and reduces overtime expenses."

Once new branch conversions are complete, Republic Security Bank will likely use Information Desktop to enhance its marketing efforts, says Wagner. "I like the product and wish we had more time to maximize its full capabilities. I feel like we're utilizing only about one quarter of its capabilities now, but we plan to increase its use."

Wagner sees a natural progression toward marketing use. "We intend to analyze sales and ATM transactions," she says. Currently, bank executives use Information Desktop to review their top 25 customer lists, evaluating needs and interest.

Improved Integration

For strategic direction, Republic Security Bank managers create reports with Report Edge. It accesses enterprise-wide, cross-application data that helps managers analyze trends, including branch activity for loans and deposits. Users have access to both detail and summary data, as well as historical data for trend analysis.

The management tool supports point-and-click, drag-and-drop painting capabilities. The user controls fonts, color and other options when developing graphics for reports and presentations.

Report Edge also satisfies basic-to-complex query and information management needs. This software solution allows the user to integrate data into spreadsheet programs, such as Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel, downloading data quickly from the warehouse.

In addition, Republic Security Bank uses the Information Desktop Informatter. This customer-controlled production report writer enables the bank to customize and create operational reports. Informatter allows the bank to change positioning of data fields or column headings with drag-and-drop capabilities. The tool reformats and consolidates reports to include only the required information, eliminating the need for comparisons across several reports.

The support of M&I Data Services makes sure software assistance is quickly available. "I can write a program, and the company can walk me through "what-if" statements," she says. While system capabilities were among the reasons why the bank selected M&I Data Services, Wagner also cites the company's reputation of offering detailed information at a realistic price. "M&I Data Services is going where management wants to see data resources go in the future," she says.

Advice for Success

Building a data warehouse that can provide valuable information requires a complete analysis of the business requirements. If you are truly designing a data warehouse, keep the data loosely coupled. This will allow you to serve many different departments. M&I Data Services is constantly re-evaluating its infrastructure and making changes as hardware and software platforms change or are upgraded. Business needs can further drive changes and having a system that can be quickly and easily modified to meet these needs is critical to success.

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