Branch Automation at Century's End: Narrower Field, Richer Functionality

It's easy to wax nostalgic when reviewing the latest line of branch automation products.

Ten years ago, banks first used PCs to automate and speed up their branch operations. Early versions of simple teller and platform systems made dumb terminals and proprietary technologies seem clumsy. Today new Windows-based, network-connected, full-color, point-and-click applications make the old DOS-based systems seem just as clumsy.

The new-generation products are different from their ancestors in many ways.

Prior-generation systems required proprietary hardware and software that performed a single function.

Today the PC is the platform that supports both branch automation and many productivity functions needed by the bank employee. New systems are built using standards-based architecture that permits easy integration of other PC-based products, such as contact management and word processing.

The migration to Windows has forced a shakeout in the branch automation market. The many small software shops that developed the first-generation products have been whittled down to a few vendors that have the muscle and resources to rewrite their systems in a client/server environment.

During this transition most vendors had to bring on new development staff and train existing programmers in the new event- driven paradigm of the client/server environment.

The industry is just starting to see the benefits of these efforts. Approximately 100 banks are now running new-generation Windows-based systems. The sale of these systems will continue to accelerate as the old proprietary and first-generation DOS systems are replaced. By 2000, most banks either will have installed or will have made plans to install the new branch and teller systems.

Today's branch automation market offers buyers two distinct product choices:

*Stand-alone products that interface with multiple core systems.

*Front-end systems that are owned by the core system providers and are offered as part of a complete product suite.

Stand-Alone Products

CFI Proservices Inc.'s Encore for Windows is the Culverin product that CFI acquired in 1996. It has an installed base of 27 banks, which is expected to increase rapidly as CFI integrates Encore with other products in the CFI family and aggressively markets it to the firm's large customer base.

Encore will be the branch product for CFI and will incorporate DepositPro and LaserPro documents. Encore is a product built to be customized by each bank to fit its specific requirements.

Olivetti North America's Mosaic software is the most mature of the new- generation products. However, it is operational in less than a dozen banks. Mosaic is a functionally rich product and is able to meet the demands of most banks. While its installed base is small in number, the banks are large and place high demands on the product. Mosaic server technology is either Windows NT/AS or UNIX; the desktop can operate as a Windows 95 or NT client. Banks should expect to pay top dollar for Mosaic and to enjoy the many features it provides.

Olivetti's financial problems will make some banks hesitant to commit to the product. Hopefully, Olivetti will weather the storm and remove any doubts about its future viability.

Broadway & Seymour Inc. has now focused on two major product lines and has sold off its others. Its branch automation product, Millenium, operates on Windows NT/AS on the server, with choices of Windows 95, NT, or OS/2 on the desktop.

From Core Systems Providers

Fiserv/Fast (Fiserv Account Sales & Teller) was not originally a major initiative by Fiserv. It initially was produced by a small development group from Fiserv's Fresno, Calif., data center for the company's regional customer base.

As the product's user base grew, Fiserv chose to market the software nationally. Fast has now been installed in 33 banks in front of multiple Fiserv back-end products. Fast's server is Windows NT/AS, and its client may be Windows 3.x or 95. Fast will meet the basic needs of a bank or thrift and provide a cost-effective solution??TO WHAT?.

EDS Corp.'s Sellstation product was acquired in 1993 when the Ampersand company was purchased. EDS will actively market Sellstation as the branch automation product of choice, integrating it into its family of back- office solutions. Sellstation is the base product used in the EDS On-Call system. On-Call integrates branch automation, CIF, and related functions into a powerful customer service front end. Like its competitors, Sellstation uses Windows NT/AS on the server and Windows 95 or NT on the desktop. Sellstation and On-Call are marketed separately by EDS. Sellstation is currently installed in 15 banks, and 20 additional installations will be completed this year. EDS' large customer base and aggressive marketing will ensure a large number of sites.

Alltel Information Services Inc.'s system is based on its very successful Customer Service Workstation product. After a failed attempt to develop a branch automation product, the company folded these development efforts into its call-center initiative. Alltel expects to have its first test installation operational this year;teller systems will be available at a later date. This product will be developed exclusively for Alltel's core processing clients.

M&I Data Services Inc.'s Financial Desktop will be in general release next year. M&I has invested significant R&D dollars to get this development effort right. Its product tightly integrates the front- and back- office products with excellent design and ease of use. This product will be offered exclusively to M&I customers.

By now it should be clear that banks now have fewer choices, but the products are rich with functionality and lack the closed architecture that limited a bank's retail delivery environment in the past.

Branch automation is no longer an isolated application that merely automates processes and prints documents. Rather, it has evolved into a critical tool that integrates information from across the enterprise and allows banks to add more flexibility, responsiveness, and creativity to their retail banking environments.

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