= Subscriber content; or subscribe now to access all American Banker content.
Shifting Gears

Customization Without the Code

M&I Bank faced a quandary affecting lots of banks in the current IT budget environment: how to customize the operations used by its customer service and sales staff while avoiding the expense of upgrading from a service bureau arrangement to a licensed agreement for its vendor-provided software.

For the Milwaukee-based M&I, the answer is an emerging use of middleware that works around the lack of access to the source code that underpins third party platforms in a service bureau agreement, which can make the user-level customizations difficult, if not impossible.

To do this, M&I turned to OpenSpan, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based middleware specialist to selectively stitch together disparate front and back office functions in precisely the ways M&I desires them to run.

The result is improved cross-sell capabilities, since tellers now have access to a scaled-down version of the bank's Salesforce.com CRM system, so they might quickly and more effectively sell other products, like credit cards, to walk-in customers. Also, M&I's loan collection agents need only log-in once now-versus the seven separate times they previously did to get into seven separate systems-to access customers' loan data: OpenSpan consolidated those seven systems into one screen, through which agents can scroll to access what the bank determined were the five key pages of data they require to optimally accomplish their work. The OpenSpan-assisted service rolled out in November. "OpenSpan allowed us to gain control over systems where we did not have source code," says Caroline Shau, an svp at M&I.

OpenSpan achieves this by exposing all the objects and APIs of third-party software onscreen, so users can literally drag separate processes of applications over to other processes to link them; to make what once were multiple steps into "one and done" tasks, says OpenSpan CEO Eric Musser. "OpenSpan can expose objects or APIs in places where the developer had not originally imagined extending the application," Musser adds. "It doesn't matter if this is a mainframe green screen, Windows client-server, Java, or a Web-based application."

In the case of M&I's tellers and bankers, the bank wanted to give increased, but not full, access to Salesforce.com; and M&I's servicing platform from FIS Global. Open Span made this possible through its ability to selectively hide screens, mask certain data, disable particular fields, and limit specific lists of applications, while revealing, enabling and extending others.

For the tellers, the bank also used OpenSpan to link Salesforce.com with FIS' Teller Insight platform. "Rather than buying licenses to tellers for the full-blown platform, we used OpenSpan to pull a few pieces of information from Salesforce.com to send back to the teller platform," Shau says.

Similarly, M&I wanted to service existing customers quicker, but policy prohibited bankers from having full access to the FIS servicing platform. "Using OpenSpan we were able to modify and take control of that back office system without going back to the vendor and funding those enhancements," Shau says. "It allowed us to disable certain fields and force other particular edits, thereby opening the system to frontline bankers."

The banker project also involved boosting usability of M&I's account opening platform from FIS. M&I and OpenSpan completed development and deployment of the new account opening and servicing processes to 2,400 desktops in 10 weeks, the vendor says: OpenSpan claims improved screen navigation and data flows reduced completion rates by an average of three minutes per activity for banking transactions across 400 locations.

Enabling bankers to do more of what were previously back office tasks, by itself, saved the bank about $500,000 to $1 million, Shau estimates. The project also coincided with overall 2009 cost-cutting at M&I, which included headcount reduction, stemming from the bank's distressed real estate portfolio, which it continues to try to sell ahead of M&I's acquisition (expected this summer) by the Bank of Montreal.

Shau would not comment on whether staff cuts were involved in the project. The bank also didn't comment on merger conversion decisions regarding what CRM system or combination of systems will be used in the combined company: BMO's a Siebel shop.