Microbank Software, Inc., a solution provider to the international banking and business communities, is a recognized leader in the areas of information storage and management. The firm's clients include two-thirds of the world's largest banks, and it has offices in London, Tokyo, Singapore, and Toronto, as well as in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Distributed-processing technology is something that Microbank has been pushing since it started in business in 1984, when local area networks (LANs) were new. In those days, almost everything in the financial industry was run on midrange and mainframe systems, and Microbank found itself in constant battles with information service departments to install LAN technologies. according to Brendan Neville, Microbank vice president for product development. Although LANs have become widespread, the preponderance of production applications still remain on the bigger systems. The future, however, Neville believes, points squarely in the direction of client/server solutions.
"With BackOffice, Microsoft plays right into the court where we've been focusing our application for the past ten years," says Neville, "and as Microsoft succeeds with this product line we're anxious to be associated with it. The whole Backoffice suite will give IS people increasing confidence. It's got the features, it's got the technology, and, ultimately, it's got the performance that financial institutions are used to seeing in very expensive, mainframe systems.
Microbank's newest product, Stor/QM, is an advanced, Windows-based application for archival storage, retrieval, and report generation, employing COLD (Computer Output to Laser Disk) technology Many of Microbank's customers use Stor/QM in conjunction with Microsoft NT Server and Microsoft Mail Server. There are a large number of COLD products currently on the market, but Stor/QM's sophisticated query-management capabilities distinguish it from the field.
Several years ago, few COLD systems were deployed in banks, and institutions were reluctant to adopt the new technology. Today COLD is fast becoming the de facto archival standard in the financial industry, as all kinds of institutions, including many of the world's largest banks, are abandoning or severely limiting their use of paper and microfiche in the back office.
According to a recent Imaging in Finance survey of financial institutions in the United Kingdom, 49 percent of respondents have a COLD system already in place, and more than half of those without COLD capabilities have plans to implement systems within the next twelve months. Domestically one sign of the change in climate for optical-disk technology is that nearly 50 vendors featured COLD systems at the recent AIIM convention in San Francisco, this past April.
The benefits of COLD systems in terms of cost savings and improved customer service are undeniable. Paper and microfiche are expensive and unwieldy by comparison, and they present special storage, handling, and retrieval problems. Cost savings alone have prompted increasing adoption of the systems in a diverse group of industries.
In 1993, for example, the SEC issued a no-action letter sanctioning the optical storage of records, citing an estimate by the Securities Industry Association that firms would save between $250,000 and $1.6 million annually in materials, storage, and equipment by converting from microfilm to optical disk storage.
In banking, COLD also offers substantial economies. "The business case for even the smallest organization is quite evident," says Neville. "These systems are relatively easy to put in place and the payback is virtually immediate. Within six to nine months, in most cases, a COLD system will pay for itself. And from the ecological standpoint, you're not killing all those trees, and you don't have to warehouse all this paper and film, saving on space, storage fees, and the operational management of physical media.
The cost-savings side is only part of the COLD story, however. Even generic COLD systems provide significant advances over earlier archival systems in the areas of back-office research and customer service. A Microbank study of the work processes of several large clearinghouses, for example, found that 60 percent of the time spent dealing with an exception was in researching the original documents.
COLD automates the search process, saving valuable time and effort. While most such systems provide only "page level" access, however, Stor/QM provides its users with "record level" access. This allows operators to focus an inquiry almost instantaneously on a specific transaction and all its particulars.
All COLD systems interface with a variety of hosts and understand different report streams. They then archive the data on removable media, prefetch selected data for storage in magnetic caches for quick retrieval, provide text search facilities, define a hierarchical security system ensuring user access to reports relevant to specific tasks and clearance, and have notes facilities so that users can replicate processes available with paper
As part of the archival management piece, users need to know where and how to find data. A form of indexing is required, and the minimum information needed includes the name of a report, the date, and where it is stored. The Stor/QM system, however, takes indexing to a much higher and sophisticated level involving pattern recognition--a feature that places Microbank's product is in a class by itself.
The pattern building tool, which is embedded in the Stor/QM application as part of the interface, enables end-users to go from existing reports into a virtual database to create new reports of their own design without re-keying information. Once the pattern is built to the user's satisfaction, it continues to live in the functionality of the system, and is available on demand to provide alternative views of existing reports on a daily basis.
This previously unavailable tool in the hands of users helps them to revise approaches to work tasks as needed to get their jobs done in the most efficient manner. To design a new report configuration in a mainframe environment, by contrast, involves costly and time-consuming reprogramming by highly trained technical personnel--and by the time the new capability is delivered, users often already have new requirements.
Stor/QM is a powerful solution for not only storing archival data, but for making it available and putting it to use in a distributed environment. This is facilitated by Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE), which allows users to write SQL-like queries and place information from Stor/QM files directly into other Windows applications, as well as interface with best of breed imaging systems.
Stor/QM is in current use by banks in Moscow, Jakarta, Bombay, throughout Eastern Europe, and in smaller banking centers of the Far East, as well as in the world's major banking centers. U.S. users include several of the largest money-center banks in New York. Although Microbank focuses its sales efforts on the top 500 international banks, it has recently concluded agreements with several domestic and international reseller organizations that are offering Stor/QM and other applications to smaller financial institutions.