Fortis Bank has had a data warehouse covering the area of customer and product profitability based on Oracle and Cognos technologies since 2001. In this solution, however, there was no functionality that automated and streamlined the analysis and budgeting of costs. The bank has dealt with the problem by using extensively Microsoft Excel and e-mail: vast quantities of sheets were sent via e-mail, and then they were discussed and verified. The whole process was very time consuming and the greatest bane were many versions of the documents that circulated among the employees, their agreeing and delays in preparing the analysis.
Fortis Bank started cooperation with Fild.NET in 2004. Its aim was to automate the reporting of the budget of costs (transition from macros and e-mail to a multidimensional database and a web browser) and to improve the process of its creation. As a result of cooperation there has been created a solution – Excelerator® – which supports over 100 users.
About Fortis Bank
Fortis Bank is part of the Fortis group, which was established in 1990 through a merger of the largest Belgian insurance company AG 1824 with the Dutch group AMEV / VSB. The group’s activities throughout the world consists mainly of two divisions: banking and insurance.
In Poland, Fortis Group operates mainly through Fortis Bank Poland SA (FBP), but also through Fortis Securities Poland SA (former Polish Brokerage House) and the newly formed Fortis Lease Sp. z o.o. The Bank employs nearly 1,000 employees in 18 branches in Poland, its headquarter is in Warsaw.
The Customer Profitability System was implemented in Fortis Bank Polska in 2001. Its objectives were, among others, to aggregate income statements at various levels, to determine the profitability of distribution channels and product profitability. Unfortunately, this solution did not solve the problem of budgeting. At the budgeting process the Excel program was used extensively – on average annually thousands of files in different versions had been sent. While in the initial stage of the Bank’s operations such a solution seemed to be effective – at a later stage both the management of the budgeting process and its use by the users became more difficult. The main problem was to control the changes – both in the assumptions for the budget and in the budget itself. Changes in the structure of accounts or organizational structure resulted in poor distribution on account through the macros. In turn, many versions of the budget, the introduction of amendments at the last minute and difficulties to control one, the current version of the budget often resulted in duplication of work and its extension. The whole process generated excessive administrative costs and made it difficult for the Bank to control the costs and budgets precisely.
As a result of this situation, the Bank began to consider the use of a solution, which in the simplest yet most effective way could solve the problem. The Bank considered several systems of different suppliers but it seemed a natural step to extend the technology, which was the basis for the Banks’s current data warehouse – of Oracle or Cognos. Unfortunately, costs associated with the purchase of additional licenses and implementation were much higher than for a solution based entirely on Microsoft technologies.
During the analysis there have been noticed a few essential elements of the existing situation:
- Employees like the screen of Microsoft Excel. It turned out that the problem is not the program’s analytical possibilities and presentation of data, but data processing. To improve it, the Microsoft SQL Server database with a multidimensional Analysis Services for which Microsoft Excel naturally fits as a browser of the data has been used in the new solution.
- Employees are familiar with the browser, so downloading a file from the intranet should not be time consuming – as opposed to finding the next version of the budget from the stack of e-mails. Fortis Bank Polska has already obtained licenses necessary to implement the entire solution.
The solution is based on Microsoft SQL 2000 Server with Analysis Services as a place where all already used business rules, macros, functions, and budgetary assumptions are saved. Data arrives at the base from two sources: the data on the implementation are provided by the Bank’s transactional systems through properly prepared files, the planned data are introduced and edited manually by authorized employees. The user interface is Microsoft Excel, which communicates directly with the database. It makes the data more consistent, always up-to-date, and eliminates problems with e-mails and ever-changing versions. The access system uses Active Directory (AD) as a source of information about the rights of individual employees to specific data and reports. With this architecture, each employee can only see his data and group work is accelerating.
The data in the system is available for users in the form of PivotTable, so it is possible to generate reports in any format based on the available fields. The most important phases of the implementation was a phase to develop concepts and to test the solution. Concept development phase determined the whole shape of the solution. For this reason, a relatively long time was devoted to this phase by both the Fortis Bank Polska and Fild.NET. This resulted in a relatively short time to create a solution thanks to an agreed logic of the system and described business rules. Stage of testing and adjusting the system was the second most important element of the implementation. This translated into a quality of the solution, which enabled the Bank to develop the budget for 2005 already in the new tool.
Implementation was completed within a few months making available an integrated system of reporting and budgeting using analytics to more than 100 users throughout the Bank.
The solution has improved the efficiency of the Bank’s operational activities (e.g. shortened time of servicing the reporting and cost budgeting process by 80%) and has allowed to keep some financial indicators at the desired level by avoiding significant capital expenditures for new IT solutions. In the context of further development plans of the Bank, such solutions that maximize available resources are the preferred course of action.
Better control of financial indicators
By centralizing the process of gathering controlling information, the data obtained are of better quality than before what enables employees to make better decisions. This is mainly due to the fact that by automating some repetitive elements of the process significant part of human errors have been eliminated.
In addition, by introducing access privileges to certain groups of data, the transparency of responsibility for the quality of data has increased. At the same time the possibility of introducing erroneous data where not needed or not by those who should has disappeared.
The solution also allows for faster and more accurate calculation of financial indicators. With the access privileges introduced, it is possible for multiple users to work on the budget and after the introduction of the data, they are immediately available for analysis. This allows for much faster execution of the analysis of “what-if” or estimating such forecasts for subsequent periods based on data about the implementation of the budget. In this situation, the information needs of the Board are much better met.
The most economical system, which has solved the problem
Wondering about the choice of the best solution for budgeting, Fortis Bank had to choose an alternative: to buy a system with ready-made business logic (for controlling), which then will be matched to the Bank’s needs – or to choose such a technology partner, which reflects the Bank’s existing business rules in a new system.
Fortis Bank has put on developing its own system because of several elements, the most important were:
• Knowledge of Microsoft Excel by employees of the Bank – including not only the ability to move through the program, but also practically minimal user training costs, minimal maintenance costs of the system and removing the perennial problem of all financial departments: “how to pass data from my system to Excel?”
• At least several times lower implementation costs compared to other, ready controlling systems – due to the fact that much of licenses to create the solution have been already in possession of the Bank.
• A reliable partner – Fild.NET, equipped with appropriate technology and having a great experience – guaranteed execution of work in accordance with the specifications and requirements of the Bank. The important factors there were also Fild.NET’s flexible approach to emerging changes in the course of the project and communication skills in the conduct of the whole project.
A user friendly interface
Microsoft Excel has got “a new face” in the new solution – the workers discovered that a familiar tool offers a much richer functionality than they originally thought. What’s more, new capabilities include not only the possibility of analysis (data mining) but also support the group work on a document, which is the budget plan. Thanks to the new system for collecting and accessing the data there was no need to download hundreds of files and reports from the stack of e-mails anymore. Instead of that, data is available from a single location for all participants of the process in an efficient and simple way.
Reducing the workload on employees
With the implementation of budgeting and reporting system, the employees of Fortis Bank’s controlling department spend less time on meeting the needs of reporting, modifying already defined sets of reports, and their distribution.
SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services provides a managed reporting environment with a defined level of protection, caching, distributing, accessing and reporting of usage. An integrated set of tools enables the IT department staff to centrally manage the creation and delivery of reports.
The budgeting and reporting system implemented in Fortis Bank is scalable – it can be expanded with the growth of the Bank.
Excelerator is not a product licensed separately in the strict sense – it is the brainchild of Fild.NET that makes it possible to create a data warehouse or analytical system or the system supporting the budgeting process using only commonly available Microsoft technologies:
SQL Server 2000 or 2005 with Analysis Services and Reporting Services for the processing and data analysis, the Office – in particular Office Web Components for SharePoint product group collaboration and information management.
Fild.NET directs its offer to medium and large companies. Depending on the size and individual needs of customers, proposed solutions are tailored to specific business processes of a company.
The offer of Fild.NET includes solutions of the three strategic competencies: Teamwork Supporting Systems (Project Portfolio Management – PPM, corporate portals, workflow), Business Intelligence (Excelerator – a system for budgeting, planning and reporting based on SQL Server) and Microsoft CRM.
The main idea of Fild.NET’s solutions is to maximize the use of Microsoft programs in the planned solutions. Thanks to such an approach, Fild.NET proposes cost-effective way to improve the functioning of the organization to customers, for whom the purchase of several different systems from different vendors is economically inefficient.