Data Dancing: PCB Foxtrots to Keep Customer Information Current
In early 1999, Terry Ball's boss sent her a magazine ad to get her opinion on a file management product from an Orlando, Fla. company. The ad introduced her to Foxtrot, an advanced scripting solution from EnableSoft Inc. that has helped her organization manage customer information for Pacific Capital Bancorp (PCB), a $3.6 billion, multi-bank holding company headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif.
In June 2000, PCB was named among the 100 top-ranked financial services performers in the United States through December 31, 1999, in two separate industry studies-one by ABA Banking Journal and one by USBanker magazine.
PCB's growing network of independent community banks now serves customers in six counties on California's central coast. The company's holdings include Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and First National Bank of Central California as well as its affiliate, South Valley National Bank. In July 2000, PCB acquired Los Robles Bancorp, the parent company of Los Robles Bank in Ventura County, and San Benito Bank. PCB banks serve more than 104,000 customers representing a total of nearly 175,000 deposit accounts.
Ball is vice president, central operations manager; she and her staff are responsible for all back-office operations including system support, statement preparation, account maintenance and cash vaults for all of PCB's subsidiaries. The company operates an in-house IBM mainframe system.
"At PCB, we try to provide our customers with the best products and services in the most cost-effective way," says Ball. "The challenge for our staff has been converting all the merged systems and keeping the data clean. And since we're planning further expansion, it's critical for us to make sure that all our customer information is always current and accurate. Foxtrot is one of the ways for us to accomplish that objective."
The Foxtrot Solution
Foxtrot is EnableSoft's comprehensive data mass-maintenance technology, which was developed specifically for legacy system users such as PCB. Foxtrot was designed to help organizations enhance operational efficiency, save time and money, and reduce or even eliminate the need for custom programming. Innovative users like Ball have also used Foxtrot to increase fee-income opportunities. Working through a standard terminal emulator that allows Ball to communicate with the IBM host system, Foxtrot enables her to build scripts that drill, mine, extract, move, convert and update host application data.
"It was so easy to set up and use Foxtrot," says Ball, who contacted EnableSoft in July 1999 and received a free trial version of Foxtrot, which sold her on the technology. "We were operational in 15 minutes, so we were using Foxtrot the same day it was implemented."
In July 1999, Ball purchased one seat for the full version of Foxtrot to write the scripts and five seats for the run-time version to run the scripts. She upgraded to Foxtrot 2000 late last year.
Ball considers herself a technical person, so Foxtrot was a snap for her to learn. But she's convinced that the average non-technical person can write basic Foxtrot scripts within a hour of installation. Currently Ball is handling the script writing, but she doesn't anticipate any problems training non-technical staff members to write the scripts or run them.
How Foxtrot Works
Connecting to a host system through a standard terminal emulator, Foxtrot accesses the appropriate database. Using scripts built by technical and non-technical staff members alike, Foxtrot acts as a virtual robot that "keys in" data to the host system from a PC as if someone were entering the information manually. As the script is being built, the results are visible in the host session window, so that it is immediately apparent if script adjustments are needed. Once the script is built and saved to disk, the script can be tested by operating on a few records at a slow rate to monitor any errors. When it's determined that the script is working properly, the "throttle" can be released, allowing Foxtrot to run the script at full speed. Foxtrot's scripts detail the actions the software will perform.
Foxtrot gives Ball control of the company's data as if she has her own team of programmers. [See sidebar "Whose Data Is It Anyway?]
PCB's IT staff initially resisted the use of Foxtrot for security reasons because the perception was that the software accesses the mainframe directly. However, Foxtrot connects to a terminal emulator-not the host system. Security is assured because Foxtrot utilizes all the security protocols already built into PCB's host system. Once the security issues were laid to rest, the IT staff embraced Foxtrot because it relieved them of tedious, time-consuming and error-prone tasks and freed them to manage the company's mission-critical IT projects.
"Our biggest challenge as an organization was keeping up with the day-to-day maintenance of customer data," Ball says. "Our IT staff was swamped because as the company was growing fast, Y2K issues were difficult to handle, and a majority of programming time was spent on new products and services."
"With the development of new and better software applications like Foxtrot, the way we view information has changed dramatically," Ball says. "For example, business accounts generate revenue based on cash deposits through analysis fees. We use Foxtrot to key in data, then retrieve information from the database and run a deposit report every month. What used to take 8.5 man-hours of manual data entry now takes Foxtrot 20 minutes to do automatically. We've noted that revenue generated by these accounts has increased from $2,000 to $20,000 per month."
Ball also uses Foxtrot to extract data from customer accounts and imports the data into Excel documents for analysis. Foxtrot saves her organization time that would have to be spent manually keying in the data.
According to Ball, Foxtrot has paid for itself very quickly, and she admits that she and her staff haven't even used it to its fullest extent yet. She is exploring other uses for Foxtrot, but she needs to get more people involved.
"We plan to use Foxtrot to perform Customer Information File conversion after future mergers," she says. "Foxtrot will enable us to clean up the converted data much faster because it handles tasks automatically, quickly and accurately."
Ball says she's worked with many software companies over the past 10 years, and she's dealt with her share of frustrating problems. She notes that Foxtrot is the one product that she's been able to install and use without any problems.
"In the financial world, you're dealing with outside companies because you want to stay competitive, and the software sometimes hinders you," Ball explains. "That's just not the case with Foxtrot."
Rick Milam is president and founder of EnableSoft Inc. (Orlando, Fla.).
Whose Data Is It Anyway?
I am not a lawyer. I am, however, an avid private pilot and have been involved in the information processing industry for more than 20 years. So although this will not be a detailed legal study, it will be an attempt to combine both my avocation and professional experience into a meaningful analysis. My hope is that, as you read on, you will come to discover the importance of maintaining "control" over your data.
As a not-so-causal observer of the information technology industry, I have been fascinated by the phenomenal growth of companies such as Cisco and Dell. There seems to be no limit to their upward profitability. According to Grady Means and David Schneider, Strategy Consulting Leaders at PricewaterhouseCoopers and authors of MetaCapitalism, a book that predicts and measures changes the Internet is bringing to the corporate world, these are brand-owning companies. Instead of selling products, they sell customer satisfaction. Rather than owning the entire production process, including manufacture and delivery, they choose to only own the brand. In the information technology (IT) industry, we've been on this track for some time. We just call it outsourcing.
In one outsourcing model, the Application Services Provider (ASP) focuses on the care and feeding of the critical core systems. This enables its clients to focus on brands and business processes that serve their customers. The ASP can function as a service bureau separate from the physical plant of the client or it can provide software in either object or source code format operating on hardware installed at the client's facility. With IT professionals in short supply, this has become a very attractive alternative for many financial institutions. In this model, the bank is free from developing its own expensive technical expertise. Instead, it can focus precious capital resources on serving customers, gaining market share and increasing profitability.
This delivery model is effective, but comes with a price. That price is control. It works much the same way as when I engage my auto-pilot while flying. I temporarily relinquish control to a device that is totally engaged in flying the airplane, which frees me to look miles ahead, determine where I'm going and decide what is going to happen next. Since the auto-pilot is focused solely on keeping the dirty side (of the airplane) down, it can actually do a better job of keeping the plane aloft. Yet as the pilot, I am still responsible for the completion of a successful flight. In much the same way, when an organization outsources core processing to an ASP, it has engaged the auto-pilot. Since the ASP's sole focus is on the processes involved with the core systems, it can typically do a better job for less cost. However, even though the organization has divested some functional responsibility, it still "owns" the data and is responsible for the business outcome. Therefore, the organization needs a means by which to access and control their data.
Most ASP providers are eager to provide a method by which their clients can do this. These techniques fall into one of two categories, non-invasive or invasive. Ad-hoc reporting systems, ASP-provided mass maintenance functions and even data warehouses comprise the non-invasive methods. Invasive methods primarily involve custom programming.
There are also non-ASP provided/supported, non-invasive techniques to control and access data, including screen scraping and data scripting. Screen scraping utilizes emulators or browser software to access inquiry screens using user-provided passwords to "scrape" data from the inquiry screen into user databases. Data scripting is a technology whereby data from user databases is essentially "keyed in" by user-generated macro-like scripts that move data to or from the user database to the core system's database.
However, the method an organization chooses to access its data is not nearly as important as the means. Whichever method used, the organization's purpose should be to take control of its data to make business decisions. I've had a great deal of personal experience working with large financial institutions that have outsourced their core application services to ASPs. Without access and control over their own information, these organizations would be unable to effectively perform such functions as automating customer file clean-up for householding, making day-to-day changes for officer codes or creating statement cycle user fields.
Even though another party may provide your core services, the data belongs to you and the right and responsibility to control it is yours. Furthermore, without data access, any outsourcing model, just like the auto-pilot, will be ineffective over the long term. You need the ability to push the button that disengages the auto-pilot, make sound business decisions that affect the future direction of your organization and steer a course free from danger towards a beautiful (and profitable) landing.