At First Tennessee, being at the wheel of a remittance processing upgrade initiative means adding and subtracting spokes from the hub on demand.

In a move designed to foster flexibility, the institution will set up lightly equipped remote collection centers, or "spokes," to funnel remittance and payment data to a centralized "hub" location for complex processing, IT maintenance and information storage.

"On our old system we didn't have a robust group of services that we could sell to our customers," says Gary Hubert, vp of operations for First Tennessee Bank National Association in Louisville, KY.

The new deployment means more function for less infrastructure. For example, the use of remote image capture allows corporate customers to access records online rather than waiting for faxes or snail mail; and IT maintenance can be accomplished from the centralized "hub."

The regional bank is using architecture purchased from 3i Infotech subsidiary J&B Software, actually called "Hub & Spoke," in conjunction with J&B's transaction management system. The system captures, digitizes and archives the information contained in checks, stubs and other paper remittance material, then tracks processing from image capture to crediting the client. The software uses Microsoft SQL server to store data in an "open" environment and generate reports to a bank's business and corporate customers that can be customized to spec.

The purpose of the remote "spokes" is operational; making these locations more flexible than if the locales housed administrative functions. "If the volume of business shrinks in a given area, they can move quickly and inexpensively," says Tom Benedetto, director of industry solutions for J&B.

Since First Tennesse's payment and processing servers are centralized in the hub in Louisville, the remote sites at Nashville, two sites in Memphis and Knoxville only need less costly scanners and workstations. IT staff are housed only in the hub, though Hubert did not say how many non-IT staff were needed at the remote sites, or give specific cost savings or budget figures connected to the project. "We can open a site with minimal equipment and configuration," Hubert says, adding sites can be operational in as little as 30 days.

First Tennessee's hub and spoke is just one way banks are creatively deploying IT staff and equipment to meet the expansive demands of clients with flexibility and thrift. Banks industrywide are increasingly using newer project management strategies to remove bulk from staffing, infrastructure and planning.

Kevin Aguanno, a Toronto-based project management consultant who has advised banks in Canada and the U.S. on large IT initiatives, says banks are expanding agile staffing techniques to organize large projects.

"Agile" derives from legacy software development processes, and breaks down large projects into smaller "subproject" components, allowing progress and ROI to be measured and tracked incrementally, creating and opportunity for short-term adjustment and funding. Agile can be a replacement for traditional "waterfall" techniques, in which a project is viewed as larger chronological progression from planning to implementation to maintenance.

"It's kind of like deploying a series of pilot projects," Aguanno says.

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