High Returns: Multi-Level Command Console Allows Growth Without Increasing Staff

UMB Financial Corp.'s computing and communications systems operate around the clock. The installation of a multi-level command console in UMB's new Technology Center is allowing the IT Command Center staff to handle growth without an increase in personnel.

UMB Financial Corp., with $7.5 billion in assets, is a multi-bank holding company offering complete banking and related financial services to both individual and business customers. The company owns and operates more than 170 banking centers throughout Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Illinois. The holding company processes $3.3 trillion annually in electronic payments and transfers for its customers, and ranks 19th in the nation, in terms of operational volume and cash management services provided.

The installation of a multi-level command console in UMB's new Technology Center is allowing the IT Command Center staff to handle growth, without an increase in personnel. The new command console houses all of the 50 terminals needed to monitor the bank's computing and communications systems within a single, attractive, ergonomically designed unit. It is more efficient than UMB's previous arrangement, where terminals were situated on desks and in cubicles. Perhaps, the biggest drawback to the old command center was that some terminals were in a different room altogether. Now that operations staff members can see everything they need to see without leaving their desks; each person can handle more monitoring points than in the past.

UMB's computing and communications systems operate around the clock. During the day shift, eight people work in the command center, monitoring the systems to make sure they are functioning properly. The staff is somewhat smaller at night and on weekends. But, at all times, someone is monitoring the performance of UMB's mainframe and the extensive client server network, as well as the equipment that connects the ATMs and branch banks to the central computers. When a piece of equipment goes down, an ATM or branch location can lose its connection to the Kansas City headquarters. Those who monitor the equipment strive to prevent this, but their goal is actually bigger than that. They want to know about trouble before an end user calls and reports a problem.

Until recently, the operators who monitored the computing and communications systems worked in a command center that was less than 600 square feet in size. The room was arranged with a combination of desks and cubicles. Terminals were placed on desks and on the shelves of the cubicle furniture. For the most part, they were not stacked, although in a few places the terminals were placed two high. Because of the small size of the command center, not all of the terminals fit into the room. Those that didn't fit were located in the nearby computing center.

When an operator needed information from one of these terminals, he or she had to get up from his or her desk and walk to the computing center. Having some terminals in a different room was a drawback because those terminals weren't monitored as carefully as the ones in the actual command center. This made it difficult for the staff to meet its goal of being the first to detect a problem, because they normally looked at the computing center terminals only after they learned of a problem. When they needed to monitor these terminals closely, operators were away from their desks at a time when they really needed to be there to answer their phones.

UMB decided to create a new building to house the data center, all IT technical and development support groups, and the bank's back office operations. One of the goals for the new building was to improve the efficiency of the command center by moving all of the terminals into one room. The space dedicated to the command center was 66 by 26 feet, approximately three times as much space as in the previous location. Another goal for the new building, called the UMB Technology Center, was to convey the bank's high-tech image. Management wanted the building to be a showpiece for its state-of-the-art technology.

Furnishing the Command Center

When it came time to furnish the command center, management took time to explore a number of options. They wanted a computer console that was comfortable for operators to work at, attractive, and able to accommodate the 50 terminals currently in use, with space for future growth. UMB gave its requirements and the dimensions of the room to several computer console vendors.

Although the vendors' products did not differ greatly, one vendor, Engineered Data Products, stood out by providing extra support during the selection phase. After designing a console to fit the new command center, the EDP representative made some 3-D computer images of the room with the new console in place. "This lets us see exactly what the new arrangement would look like," says Duane Fischer, UMB's Senior Vice President of MIS. UMB and EDP went through several iterations over the course of a month to fine-tune the console design for UMB's needs. When the bank representatives had decided that this was the console they wanted to purchase, they used the computer images to get approval from upper management.

The console that UMB purchased is the NetCom EX, which provides a range of modules that can be combined to effectively manage nearly any configuration. It includes one-, two- and three-level high consoles with 25-inch, 48-inch and 72-inch widths that provide nearly infinite configuration possibilities. UMB selected fifteen 25-inch, three-level high consoles; eight 25-inch, one-level high consoles; two 48-inch, three-level consoles; two 48-inch, one-level consoles; and two 72-inch consoles. This configuration provides space for 63 terminals in all. Fifty are now in place, covering all of the monitoring points currently needed. If more than 63 terminals are needed, UMB can add space by replacing some of the one-level consoles with two- or three-level units.

State of the Art

The NetCom EX includes a number of features that make it easier and more comfortable for the operations staff to do their jobs. For example, on the three-level consoles, the first level monitor bays are tilted back 10 degrees to provide ergonomically correct viewing angles to reduce eyestrain. Each monitor shelf is adjustable in one-quarter inch increments to accommodate physical differences among operators and maintain comfortable sight lines on all levels.

The new command console contributes to the "state-of-the-art" look that UMB wanted by managing all the cables that used to clutter up the old command center. Horizontal cable management is provided by pass-through ports that give ample room for complex wiring requirements. Vertical cable management channels, separate power and data cables. Wire management covers along slide panels detach to provide pass-through ports for cabling. Top and bottom cable ports every 24 inches along the unit framing simplify floor-to-unit and ceiling-to-unit cabling.

Since installing the command center, UMB's growth has required the addition of monitoring points, but the day-shift staff has held steady at eight employees. The other benefit is that operators can monitor all systems closely, detecting potential problems in time to prevent headaches for the end users.

The most important aspect of the new console, however, is practical. It helps the operations staff do their jobs better, something UMB customers around the country will appreciate.

About the Author: Steve Collins is Assistant Vice President/Manager of the MIS Data Center Services for UMB Bank (Kansas City, Mo.).

Streamlining E-Business Through Directory Technologies

Streamlining E-Business Through Directory Technologies

By Yoram Baltinester

Complicating today's e-business infrastructure is the emergence of a new breed of business partnerships. An increasing number of these industry partnerships include two or more companies that have agreed to create an alliance while remaining competitors. For the IT organization, having e-business partners who are also competitors requires walking the fine line between allowing access to partners and keeping a keen eye on security, authentication and privileges. Access to sensitive data, therefore, must be allowed on a per-user basis.

Managing users and their equipment is not so simple. The organization is constantly changing, even as IT attempts to consolidate vendors, the job of redefining the network and updating user setup appears unending. This complex situation is only compounded with the release of new systems by major vendors. In fact, administration issues - configuration, update, rollout and more - represent a dramatic 30 percent of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of networked workstations, according to a popular 1998 GartnerGroup study. TCO skyrockets when administrators spend countless hours walking - sometimes even flying - from one desktop to the next to install, update or configure software.

Two of the most common approaches to reducing this IT bottleneck are centralization and remote administration. Centralization is not new: Most workstations in the pre-PC era were centrally managed because everything had to run on a central computer.

Remote administration tools, too, are constrained by the sheer number of users who require management. Whether provided as a component of another software product or as an overall enterprise management system, scalability remains a significant obstacle. As with centralization solutions, remote administration still requires IT to continue to address every change on every workstation.

The volume of administration work for IT can be defined using the following formula:

Volume of Work = Average effort per task x

number of tasks per workstation x number of workstations

With this simple formula, the failure of the TCO reduction initiative becomes clear; while the reduction in the average effort per operation would realistically never be more than 50 percent, the increase in the number of workstations grows much faster.

Consequently, a more intelligent approach to reducing IT cost would shift the focus away from trying to eliminate the difficulty of every task and, instead, toward managing the number of required tasks. In other words, IT would manage users rather than workstations. By administering a user and producing a result that automatically propagates user configurations to the equipment they use, wherever they use it, complexity would decrease substantially.

User-Centric Management

Employing a system that allocates software, defines usage policies, and prepares configuration just once per user would greatly reduce IT administration costs. Once set up, this system would provide users with access to applications and legacy data based on the user's identity. The system could then deploy software to the user's computer as appropriate and on demand.

IT administration costs would be further reduced through a system that also categorizes groups of users and is able to make group definitions inheritable by each group member (unless overridden by a personal definition). The resulting system would change the IT administration formula to the following:

Volume of Work = Average effort per task x number of tasks per user x

number of unique users and groups

(where the number of unique users is greatly reduced by group definitions)

Building upon the directory technologies of Microsoft Active Directory and Novell NDS would further facilitate user management. These directories are hierarchical databases of entities with strong indexing features. They can be used to define people and organizations, and support such organizational features as multi-level grouping of people, thereby enabling a person to belong to a group that is a member in another group.

By using directories, an IT organization becomes user-centric rather than resource-centric. Dealing with users enables the administrator to transcend the mechanics of what a particular workstation does and concentrate, instead, on what users need. The use of directories would virtually eliminate desktop maintenance and provide an extremely scalable environment whereby IT manages central administration servers while software is installed and run on users' desktops.

The implementation of directories provides IT with a formidable, yet flexible, defense against the risks that result from insufficient authentication, lax security, and non-existent or unenforceable use policies. At a time when most organizations are beginning to implement e-commerce and e-business, it is more critical than ever to have a system in place that identifies users and includes mechanisms that help IT define and enforce users' privileges and restrictions. In addition, as the number of users grows, the implementation of directories is an effective tool for controlling the cost of keeping corporate systems running, accessible and secure.

The use of directories breaks IT administration down into three clear phases: System Setup, Application Deployment, and Administration and Management. During the System Setup phase, the network administration group defines users and other entities in a directory. Usage policies are then set and appropriate software installed on a server from which it will later be deployed.

The Application Deployment phase occurs on demand when users need an approved application. Deployment might involve dispatching full applications to desktops or Java thin clients to PDAs, or simply providing a URL that allows the user to access more information through a Web-based portal. Again, every time software is deployed, it is first checked against the user privileges stored in the directory and only provided to approved users.

About the Author: Yoram Baltinester is Director of Product Management at NetManage. He can be reached at balti@netmanage.com.