Time for a Fresh Approach
Organizational changes led to a complete re-architecting and re-build of Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole's retail banking infrastructure. The new system had a number of unique and important requirements. Specifically, users needed a single screen capable of displaying internal information, as well as branch management and operational data. Users across the 230 branches required real-time data access to intranet bank news, Lotus Notes email, Business Objects reporting, teller management, customer visit information, value tracking, quick settlement and a host of other applications.
To ease the burden on IT, the new system also had to limit the number of fat clients as much as possible and replace them with Web-based technology. Additionally, Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole needed to include a single sign-on feature allowing all users direct access to their required applications. Finally, the system had to support easy integration of business partner applications, as well as work with the existing hardware (P II 300 MHz workstations).
Buy or Build?
"Our main objective was to create a low-cost option that would enable all applications to ‘talk' with one another as the need arose," says Yves Danneels, ICT Manager at Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole. "A Web portal was the ideal solution. At Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole, the typical customer visit scenario starts out in the access application. This is the first level in the process, where identifying the customer is key to accessing all of the data available in the next level of detail. In the best case scenario, all of this information can be displayed to an employee at the branch. This user will usually start from the payment application, then click through to the insurance portfolio so that, for example, he or she can put a new financial instrument into action."
This grand plan would certainly require expertise and solid technology. Danneels explains the decision process, "Our decision to select Sybase technology was made from a classic ‘buy or build' consideration. Because we are dealing with a wide variety of functions such as payments and insurance, building an integrated access platform ourselves would have been costly. It was clear from the outset that a Web portal would be ideal due to its simplicity."
In the case of a ‘build', Danneels' team was concerned that the presentation layer would be too complex if it had to provide both smooth maintenance and the availability of all modules. It would also be necessary to separate out each specific application (micro-navigation) from the overall application structure (macro-navigation). By opting for the Sybase solution, the macro-navigation layer became a non-issue.
Project Requirements Fulfilled
The Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole Web system had to fulfill the organization's many requirements. It must be capable of linking the existing applications of various suppliers, as well as facilitate interaction between these applications. The system must also supply a comprehensive security and profile management system, and the content of various sources of assistance (such as help files) had to be indexed seamlessly. Additionally, the portal function had to run on the bank's existing application server. Lastly, it had to be simple to roll-out and easy to maintain.
Given the complex list of requirements, the ITC department at Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole envisioned the ideal structure for the web portal:
- Branch portal
- Macro-navigation structure
- Integration of applications via a multiple platform
- Communication between portlets (sub-portal accesses)
- Single Sign-On functionality
- Indexed help files for all applications
- Additional functionality
- Web-based customer search module
- Integration of the identify card application
- Transaction module for front-desk operations
- Images of customer products for sales support
- Business Objects reporting module
- Communication resources – Lotus Notes, news from the bank's own intranet site, link to the bank's own public Internet site, ability to link with external websites
- Option to integrate additional applications
Today, the Sybase solution meets all of Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole's requirements with a system that accurately provides a complete customer profile via integration with existing applications. The total project was completed in 50 days, excluding the security functionality.
To manage security and management of user profiles, branch managers, staff and auditors are given role-based access to applications through the built-in user profile mechanism. With the single sign-on function, users have simultaneous access to various applications. Sybase also assists the customer in adjusting the framework to the meet the Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole's specific security requirements.
Landbouwkrediet/Crédit Agricole had already been using Sybase EAServer for four years for Internet banking and Internet J2EE applications. This made for seamless development on the existing application server.
A Satisfied Customer
"Our study showed that the Sybase was the way to go," says Yves Danneels. "Not only did we already have EAServer, but comparisons with various other offerings indicated that there were a number of decisive advantages with Sybase: a low learning curve, an accurate price quoting system and total coverage of our questions and requirements."
"The total cost of ownership is assured over a period of 5 years. Sybase PowerBuilder had already given us a good deal of experience in terms of the logic to the middle-tier, as we were not as familiar with Java. Sybase also supported us throughout this project by providing what we needed in terms of personnel, functionality and the ability to act quickly in the event of emergencies," says Danneels.
"We are both satisfied with the solution and the way the project has gone – and the system is still running," concludes Danneels. "We have what we wanted. We have achieved our return on investment and maintenance costs appear to be low. Looking back on the project, it was all relatively complex. The project had a reasonably large critical mass and meant dedicating about ten people to the effort. To leverage all of the benefits of a portal, actually using it has to become second nature. You can only build portals based on a clearly defined view of what you want."