What are the possible pitfalls of client-server implementation at banks?

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Tom Oxendine

Executive vice president, systems,

Olivetti North America,

Spokane, Wash.

The benefits of client-server technology can lead to serious challenges. There are numerous choices at every turn, which can restrict subsequent choices. Sometimes the restrictions limit the capability of the technology to solve the problems originally addressed.

The challenge is to make the right choices. When choices are correct they lead to solutions for business problems and investments that have long-lasting benefits.

Success implementations have two common ingredients: a focus on the business issues and thorough architectural planning. It may go against the grain of a technology discussion to say "focus on the business issues," but it is essential. Keep asking, "What are we trying to solve?"

Once the business solutions are clear, thorough architectural planning will chart a course that remains relevant over time. It is this planning that avoids the pitfalls along the way.

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Coley Clark,

Corporate vice president and group manager,

Electronic Data Systems Corp.,

Plano, Tex.

First is the lack of talent available. Most of the tools used to implement client-server have only been around for a year or two, so finding qualified GUI (graphic user interface) programmers, network engineers, and data base experts is a problem.

Second is the overall complexity of the client-server systems. There are considerably more products and vendors to deal with, which leads to compatibility issues, licensing issues, and the need for standards. But which standards? From the communications level to the operating system to the applications themselves, no one necessarily agrees on which direction to go.

Third is cost. Although hardware and some software costs are significantly less than for legacy mainframe systems, client-server isn't a way for banks to save money. The overall costs are still high, due to hidden costs, such as LAN administration, security and backup procedures, help desk support, and end-user training.

Last and most important is planning. Banks must evaluate their business strategy, their current organization, and their future requirements before beginning a client-server migration. If a bank invests in new technology without first investing in business process reengineering, the results of are often marginal. It's important to remember that you're not just replacing terminals with workstations, or point-to-point networks with distributed networks, or front ends with GUIs; you are also changing how your employees work.

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Steve Williams,

Managing director,

M One Inc.,

Phoenix

There are some blowups and messy times ahead, as one might expect, because people are operating in two different worlds as they try to get these new sets of client-server tools out there.

One risk is that different operating divisions will buy different client-server tools. That could create system anarchy.

This is more complex than a PC rollout. PCs were never seen as mission- critical.

Now we are taking a mission-critical application and putting it on a server as opposed to a mainframe or midsize system. But networks go down, and people have to think about what that means for mission-critical banking applications.

Another flash point for this year is that people say they want Windows (operating systems) and nothing else. The big vendors are still on DOS- based products, and some banks don't want to buy until they can get Windows. The problem with this is that there are few bulletproof Windows applications out there.

Paul M. Loftus

Vice president, industry solutions,

International Business Machines Corp.,

Armonk, N.Y.

You must not lose sight of the fact that in any installation, you are building to serve the client. Client-server often appears daunting because the planning starts with an operating systems choice, not a client need.

Start with a model of your client's need, a data model, and flow your application planning from there.

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John Haley,

Vice president, client-server development center,

Alltel Information Services Inc.,

Little Rock, Ark.

The barrier of entry for client-server application development is very low. Almost anyone can buy application development tools and quickly develop software that performs useful tasks. However, the barrier to successful enterprisewide client-server system development is still quite high.

Some client-server projects are pursued with only a vague idea of possible benefits. Graphical user interfaces create excitement and good feelings, but that alone is not sufficient to justify them. Clear focus on creating business value - keeping one's eye on the prize - is required for long-term success.

Implementation failures also result from underestimating support and infrastructure requirements. The MIPS (millions of instructions per second) may be cheaper, but getting those MIPS deployed and effectively used requires new investments in wide-area networks, software distribution, support, training, disaster recovery, and systems management. If you reach the end of your fiscal tether before dealing with all of these issues, then you have set the stage for project failure.

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Alvi Abuaf,

Partner, financial services industries,

Ernst & Young LLP,

New York

In recent years, financial institutions have implemented client-server technologies to facilitate departmental decision making - to improve the credit and risk evaluation process, for example. We expect this trend to continue. However, banks are now making significant investment in client- server in additional key areas.

To enhance financial management and attain better control over financial information, banks are consolidating their information systems and providing drill-down capabilities on sophisticated executive workstations. They are also using client-server to mine their vast data bases to identify trends within their market-segmentation models. Trend recognition is then used in marketing campaigns and product development.

Probably most important, personnel working in "customer- touching" areas are increasingly being offered powerful client-server workstations providing them with customer profile data, intelligence about customers' buying patterns, and other vital information. This is where client-server technology could have the greatest impact by providing customer personnel with a competitive advantage over the bank down the block.

Finally, many banks are concentrating on the revenue-enhancing uses of client-server, with a growing number of banks using the technology as a user-friendly wrapper around their legacy systems instead of replacing those systems.

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