Investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Benson (DrKB) has launched a corporate banking portal to distribute data and applications to its customers and internal users at speed.
The bank is investing tens of millions of pounds to give customers personalised news, research and analysis, together with applications, including investment calculators and online trading tools through their Web browsers.
The service will be available to DrKB's existing client base, although the company hopes to attract new customers with the service, said Isaac Hepworth, head of the portal group within DrKB.
"We wanted to give valuable application and data to our clients," he said. "The portal is key to this and there is board-level determination to see this happen."
The portal, dubbed Pulse, will also act as a framework to offer a range of services to customers over the next year.
Alexander Drobik, vice president of e-business with the GartnerGroup, said DrKB was "running with the pack" in the race to get its services online.
Drobik said services such as this were key competitive factors in commercial banking and it would be disastrous if a bank was not offering this kind of service within a year.
"Providing services like this is efficient and can lower cost for clients," he said. "If a service like this is not available, customers will soon be saying, 'What? You want to send a fax? E-mail a spreadsheet? Have a meeting?' If the service saves a day's work it will pay for itself."
Once most banks have these services online, the quality of technology will be the key differentiator in the market, Drobik said. Services that are slow or have less functions will be driven out of the market.
The portal also provides content tailored to the needs of individual employees. "We are a distributed global company," Hepworth said. "The real problem was team-centric thinking. Different teams would all build their own Web sites, so to keep up to date you had to visit a long list of favourites. We have moved from a team-centric to a user-centric model."
Now teams publish information to the portal, while embedded meta-data tags slice off information that individuals will find interesting.
The portal's security is based on 128-bit encryption. Digital certificates are supplied to clients and internal users for authentication and to act as encryption keys.
Why Kleinwort used XML
In building its business portal, Dresdner Kleinwort Benson was faced with the challenge of integrating data from a variety of legacy and pre-Internet platforms.
To meet the challenge the bank relied heavily on XML, a mark-up language that defines data. The technology has been heavily promoted by suppliers such as Microsoft and IBM, but is still proving its worth in business computing.
"We found the technology delivered when it was used in the right context," said Isaac Hepworth. "We have been using [XML] for a long while now. We started a programme looking at it 18 months ago. We found it allows us to de-couple systems, which means the back-end systems and the portal do not care what hardware and software is running at either end."