Abbey targets cost and service gains from IT overhaul

Abbey has entered the final phase of its programme to integrate the global banking platform of its parent company Santander into its UK operations.

Abbey has entered the final phase of its programme to integrate the global banking platform of its parent company Santander into its UK operations.

The Partenon banking platform, which replaces 30-year-old legacy systems, provides the bank with a single view of its customers for the first time.

When Santander bought Abbey in October 2004, it saw Partenon as a key element in its plans to reduce costs at the UK bank by £300m. Three years later, Abbey has completed 70% of the integration programme. And despite a series of integration hurdles, which have disrupted services to customers, Partenon is already making a significant difference, the bank said.

"We are tapping into a global platform and achieving greater efficiencies as we require less back-office support and administration," said Abbey. "As we progress with these changes, customers will benefit from a higher level of information, more flexibility and easier and more secure ways of dealing with us."

Partenon uses in-house middleware called Banksphere and is built on an IBM database platform.

Abbey has consolidated all of its customer records on to a single database. Eliminating duplication has allowed the bank to reduce the number of customer records it stores from 52 million to 20 million.

This enables the bank to see all of a customer's details regardless of whether they are at the counter, on the phone, or have contacted Abbey over the internet. In addition, customers do not have to repeat information when they sign up for new services, as all their details are stored in one place.

"It moves us from silo-based product systems, where we do not have a single view of the customer,

to a single customer view. We will be able to bundle more specific information to them, reducing duplication and the number of communications they receive," said Abbey.

The bank has migrated its 10 million savings accounts, four million current accounts and eight million card accounts to the new platform.

The project required an overhaul of Abbey's IT infrastructure. This included the renewal of its entire branch communication network, building more than 45 portals for 26,000 employees and third-party organisations and creating back-up datacentre infrastructure.

A key aspect of the programme has been staff training. Abbey embarked on a major education programme before it rolled out the Partenon infrastructure.

Nevertheless, as Computer Weekly reported last month, some staff found it difficult to adjust to the system, leading to complaints from customers about long queues in branches and disrupted services.

"In the majority of instances it was not a systems problem, but was more to do with the change to the processes and the logical learning curve after a change of this magnitude," said Abbey.

Recognising this challenge, the bank provided face-to-face training and e-learning to 25,000 staff before and during the roll-out. Staff were supported in branches and through contact centres, and there were comprehensive pilots before going live to test user skills, it said.

"Ahead of every major change, staff members were fully informed of the timing and actions they needed to take to prepare," said Abbey. "We do not just focus on the 'how to' but also give staff the opportunity to understand the logic behind the change, and we continue to monitor and to revise training and guidance for staff."

Abbey liaised with the Abbey National Group Union to ensure staff were kept informed about the changes. General secretary Linda Rolf said the union was working alongside management to smooth the transition to the new system.

"We are ensuring that staff are trained and if they require help they receive it, and if they stay late they are paid for doing so," she said.

Training cannot be one-size-fits-all because some staff adapt easily to new ways of working, while for others it takes longer, Rolf said.

Abbey said it would continue to monitor the project and reinforce training where necessary, adding additional layers of planning and testing as appropriate.

Before completing the project Abbey needs to move payments from legacy systems to Partenon and integrate its back-office processing engines with the global Partenon infrastructure. It expects to complete the work in spring 2008.

Training and getting users to buy into projects is an important competency which is often overlooked in the banking sector, according to Ralph Silva, analyst at TowerGroup.

He said human error is responsible for 40% of the failures of major IT projects in the European banking sector. Only 5% are caused by problems with the technology.

"Almost every major failure of any significant IT project in the European financial services sector can be attributed to human error," said Silva. "The human element is always the last one to be considered, and yet it is the highest cause of failure."

Abbey's training programme

● Face-to-face tuition and e-learning on tools and ways of working delivered to 25,000 staff

● Support for staff in branches and contact centres

● Dedicated single point of contact helpline

● Comprehensive pilots before full roll-out

● Post implementation consolidation training

● Training includes "contingency" processes to minimise service disruption

● Training is piloted with focus groups

● Senior Abbey management sent to Santander to meet colleagues and see Partenon working.

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