Countrywide Bank is moving from legacy technology to hot technology with a multimillion-dollar revamp in favour of Unix, data warehousing and network computing.
The two-year project will replace the core banking system and applications, ensure systems are year 2000-compliant and upgrade the bank’s entire network infrastructure.
Countrywide CIO Ron Hooton says year 2000 compliance (which will cost about $5 million) is a major driver for the massive refit, but the move will underpin future services such as Internet banking, tele-phone banking and 24 hour-a-day service. The bank is currently piloting Internet banking and expects to launch in nine to 12 months.
During the process Countrywide has been faced with some highly topical technology choices. For the replacement of its core banking system, it settled on a Unix platform, although it also evaluated Windows NT Server Enterprise.
Despite Microsoft touting NT’s scalability, Countrywide found not enough banks were using it to make it a comfortable choice. “It’s still not safe enough,” he says. “But we are aware that it will become more so in the future.”
Network computing is another hot technology heading Countrywide’s to-do list. Hooton says after an in-depth evaluation, the bank will pilot and then implement the “thin client” product Citrix/Winframe.
“The improved systems management capability and lower overall cost of operation for thin client technology were key determinants in the decision to proceed with Citrix/Winframe,” he says. At the same time the bank will replace the hardware for its 75 branch servers (which run Windows NT), although a vendor has not yet been chosen.
NCR beat Hewlett-Packard to become the prime contractor for the project. Countrywide for the past 13 years operated a heavily customised version of the banking package INFINET on an NCR 9800 proprietary system.
The new product, FNS:BANCS, is supplied by Financial Network Services (Australia) and will run on NCR’s 5100M parallel processor platform with Lifekeep operating as the high availability middle-ware, and Computer Associates CA-Unicenter TNG for system management. Oracle has been chosen as the database and EMC will provide storage.
Hooton says high availability is a key aspect of the system. The contract with NCR calls for local fail-over of less than five minutes and less than one hour to revert to an off-site disaster recovery location. The new core banking system project started in mid-May, with the first task being a clear definition of the business requirements for a core banking system. Live implementation is scheduled for the third quarter of 1998.
The bank’s year 2000 compliance project is already under way and is scheduled for completion during the second quarter of next year. Easirun, a San Diego- based NCR partner which specialises in year 2000 systems conversion, is working with the bank on this part of the project.
Other initiatives to upgrade information systems include:
• Financials – SAP has been given a letter of intent, Oracle is the other contender.
• Card processing – the applications that support the Diners and Visa card operations will be replaced by Vision+ supplied by EDS.
• Insurance – Countrywide will shortly issue an RFP for the replacement of its insurance system.