Bank of Montreal is looking to a newly implemented data warehouse to improve profitability in several business areas.

The system is designed to help the bank's risk management, product development, and lending units make better decisions by giving them access to a wider range of customer and corporate information.

"With the data warehouse, we can increase productivity and profitability by giving access to high quality data in a consolidated manner," said Rita Nayar, manager of data base management services at the bank.

Since Bank of Montreal is using much of its existing technology as part of the data warehouse project, investment in the system was "negligible compared to the return," she said.

A data warehouse is a repository for information from a variety of processing and applications systems; it makes available to users a complete view of customer and corporate data.

If used in customer service, for example, a data warehouse can give a bank employee information about all the accounts a particular customer maintains. With traditional bank systems, the customer service representative might have to tap three data bases to get information about a mortgage and credit card and checking accounts.

With the new warehouse, Bank of Montreal employees can obtain corporate information in a timely way, determine ad hoc credit risk exposure, look at customer and market trend information, and identify new product and lending opportunities.

"Reports that used to take a week or month to produce can now be done in a matter of hours as long as the data is on the warehouse," said Ms. Nayar.

Though the Bank of Montreal system was launched about 10 months ago, only about 100 employees have access to it.

Another 100 are expected to gain access next year. Soon after, the bank plans to consider moving to a massively parallel system architecture to support the greater number of users and the increasing amount of data filling the warehouse, Ms. Nayar said. The system can now support use by 30 employees concurrently.

The bank is using data warehouse management software from Prism Solutions Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif.

The software extracts information from the bank's International Business Machines mainframes and DB2 data bases and transfers it to the data warehouse.

Bank employees can gain access to the data warehouse using software from Netscape Communications Corp. to navigate the bank's "intranet." Bank of Montreal decided to use the technology because it needed to give managers faster access to information.

The bank - which has more than 1,200 branches throughout Canada and more than 100 in the United States - has grown considerably in recent years and its data had become more dispersed, Ms. Nayar said.

"By the time the information was consolidated, you weren't sure if it had lost meaning or had been diluted," she said. "There was a definite need for a common data source."

Ms. Tucker is a freelance writer based in Hazlet, N.J.

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