For the head of Banc One Corp.'s technology and operations subsidiary, what some would call the end is just a beginning.
Thomas Hoaglin, chairman and chief executive officer of Banc One Services Corp., has seen one of the most massive banking consolidations through to completion. But competition-and the general pace of banking life-hardly affords him and his co-workers time to rest.
Even while executing the reorganization known as Project One, Banc One Services had to ensure the Columbus, Ohio-based banking company's services were functioning smoothly and keeping pace with those offered by competitors.
Though Project One was in some ways unique it addressed an unusually large amount of decentralization Banc One's experience over the last two years exemplifies the technical juggling acts all major banks must perform at a time of rampant merger activity and intense technological change.
The seeds of Project One were sown in February 1995, when Banc One chairman John B. McCoy, announced the intention to become a more national company.
The $116 billion-asset holding company, the nation's eighth largest, is spread across much of the country, and its relatively autonomous units ran a patchwork inconsistent systems and services.
Project One was an effort to create a standardized infrastructure that would allow the delivery of common services to customers nationwide.
Much of the way Project One proceeded was dictated by a revised organizational structure. Mr. McCoy's plan reduced the number of bank units from 59 to 12-one for each state in which Banc One maintains a presence. The lines of business, cutting across state lines, were whittled down to five: retail, commercial, consumer finance, investment management, and credit cards.
For Mr. Hoaglin, planning for Project One began in late 1995 when a couple of hundred top executives formed groups to decide the types of services the future technological environment would have to support.
"It was the line-of-business people, as opposed to the back-office people, who were painting this picture," Mr. Hoaglin said. "I think the approach of giving that kind of involvement to the lines of business as opposed to the back room went a long way to ensuring our ultimate success."
From the outset, managers from various regions differed on what services and changes the bank should focus on.
"Certainly there was a lot of talk about what was best in particular geographies," said Susan Miller, the Banc One Services executive vice president who headed Project One.
"We focused people in small groups-no more than 12 on a team-because we knew that we'd never get to an answer otherwise," Ms. Miller said. "We gave them a definite time line for completing the target design, and then we had it reviewed across all the functional areas to ensure that it would work."
Based on this brainstorming, Mr. Hoaglin and his staff created a formal plan in June 1996. Implementation began the following fall.
In concept, Project One was consistent with the type of action being taken by most of the biggest banks, said Lawrence A. Willis, managing vice president at First Manhattan Consulting Group.
"Most of the major superregionals have undertaken a massive centralization of some kind," he said. "Being a national company means giving a consistent look to the products and services nationwide."
Because of Banc One's history of decentralization, its project was more involved than the average post-merger consolidation.
Project One touched about 35,000 of the bank's 50,000 employees, Mr. Hoaglin said.
It also encompassed 583 systems consolidations and a huge reduction in the number of operations facilities. For example, the number of call centers dropped from 23 to two; the number of locations handling account analysis for cash management went from 32 to one; the number of check processing centers handling the key proofing function decreased from 76 to 17.
"It obviously represented tremendous upheaval, tremendous change," Mr. Hoaglin said, "but the businesses were all behind this, because they got to lead it on the front end and guide the result."
As planned, virtually all of Project One had been completed by last month. And the benefits of the effort are starting to show.
For disaster recovery, for instance, Banc One is "mirroring off-site all core national systems that are critical to the bank's operation," giving the bank "some of the best disaster recovery capabilities in the industry," said Marv Adams, chief technology officer at Banc One Services.
Mr. Hoaglin added, "To be able to do that in a nonstandardized environment where we had to be concerned about every bank just made it so complex and so prohibitively expensive that we just couldn't get there."
"In the old systems and programming environment we were forever putting through changes to files for each bank every night, and this had the potential to make it an unstable processing environment," Mr. Hoaglin said. "Now with things much more common, if you will, it's also tremendously more simple to handle on the programming side."
The consolidated structure also gives the bank economies of scale that keep costs low and simplify decisions about what processes to outsource.
With Project One complete, Banc One now has more time to devote to other pressing technological issues, such as the bank's use of the Internet and its approach to data warehousing.
But the skills gained consolidating and revamping computer systems never really will go to waste, with the year-2000 issue still to be resolved and acquisitions continuing apace.