Fleet Financial Group expects its data warehouse to help add between $50 million and $100 million in annual net income by 2001.

The prediction, made last week at the Bank Administration Institute's bank technology forum in New Orleans, demonstrates the high hopes that large banks have for the centralized data repositories.

Fleet's warehouse, under construction now, is scheduled to be completed near the end of next year. By giving its employees access to better customer data, the bank can improve significantly its sales results, Fleet executives said.

"If we did nothing else ... we believe that we would get full value out of building that warehouse and having one mart spool off it that does the sales and marketing," said Richard L. Anderson, vice president of Fleet technology services.

According to figures from International Data Corp., a research firm based in Framingham, Mass., data warehouse investments generally pay off. An IDC study of 62 corporations showed that data warehouses had an average three-year return on investment of 401%.

But Fleet executives are well aware that building a data warehouse is not easy. The IDC data are "exciting, but that is not scientific proof for management," said Mr. Anderson.

In order to get immediate benefits from the warehouse project, Fleet is bringing some applications to market even as it continues to build the enterprisewide data base.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by fourth quarter. In it, data from the consumer banking, investment services, and small business areas will be loaded into the warehouse and fed to sales and marketing people.

This information will receive weekly or daily updates, depending on the data's urgency and origin. External information sources also will feed the warehouse.

In the project's second phase, the bank's remaining data will be added. The completed warehouse will support 2,000 users-200 of which will able to run queries simultaneously.

Though the project still is in its early stages, Fleet executives said the bank already has learned some valuable lessons.

"The reality that we're faced with in this project is that God is in the execution, not in the planning," said William Lonsdale, vice president of customer data management and analysis at Fleet.

But though data warehouse projects are often complex (Fleet's, for example, will carry data on 10 million retail customers and 350,000 business customers), banks still are attracted by their potential benefits.

According to Charles Griffith, senior vice president and general manager of corporate management information systems at BankAmerica Corp., the benefits include faster and cheaper access to information, and improved reporting capabilities.

"As we move through the '90s and toward the next century, we're going to be moving to a knowledge-driven era," said Mr. Lonsdale. "It will be based on a customer-centric data warehouse."

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