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Posted: 3/13/2014
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The Royal Bank of Scotland Leading UK Bank Gains Rapid Insight into Economic Trends with Analytics Platform System

The Royal Bank of Scotland—the leading UK provider of corporate banking services—needed a powerful analytics platform to improve performance and customer services. To handle multiple terabytes of data and an unprecedented level of query complexity more efficiently, the bank implemented Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analytics Platform System. As a result, it gained near-real-time insight into customers’ business needs as well as emerging economic trends, cut a typical four-hour query to less than 15 seconds, and simplified deployment.

Business Needs

Based in Edinburgh, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is a financial services group with a long tradition of supporting UK businesses. The bank provides personal and corporate banking services worldwide, and it is the largest lender to small and midsize enterprises in Great Britain. To help customers develop better business strategies, the bank needed more insight into the bigger macroeconomic picture and the behavior of its clients.

In 2013, the bank created the Customer Solutions Group (CSG), which relies heavily on Chief Analytics Officer Alan Grogan’s team. Tasked with providing insight to RBS executives and customer engagement teams, CSG has access to data from approximately 1.5 million business customers and sees more than £7 billion per day and £1.5 trillion (US$2.4 trillion) annual transactions.

Initially, Grogan and his team tried working with existing database installations, but loading up to 50 terabytes of data from multiple sources and waiting hours for a query to finish became frustrating. “We had one custom query last year that was probably the most complicated query the bank had ever run, and it took three days to execute,” says Grogan. “I had one of my guys working night and day during the execution of this monster process to ensure that the rest of our analytics structure didn’t go down. The query couldn’t be broken into smaller tasks due to its holistic nature, and if it fell over, we would have had to start from square one.”

The CSG team needed better flexibility and faster performance. Answering immediate questions was a big concern, but so was the ability to develop long-term strategies. Grogan concludes, “If you think about the volume of data—including billions of pounds in transactions and hundreds of products—we needed a platform that we could administer easily and that could handle all manner of business challenges.”

* Using this SQL Server 2012 Analytics Platform System infrastructure, we’ll be able to move customer relationships into customer partnerships. *

Alan Grogan
Chief Analytics Officer
Royal Bank of Scotland


The Customer Solutions Group at the Royal Bank of Scotland looked at leading database vendors before choosing the Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analytics Platform System (APS). With hardware, software, and networking components preinstalled, the solution would be simple to manage and would improve performance while significantly cutting costs. Grogan says, “I knew that it would be easy for my team to transition from managing SQL Server databases to SQL Server 2012 APS, and the solution cost about 85 percent less than products from other vendors.”

In November 2013, Grogan’s team began a proof of concept with Analytics Platform System. Two weeks later, the team had replicated approximately half of its existing analytics environment on the two-node appliance, including tables, processes, and complex algorithms. Grogan says, “Our team started testing SQL Server 2012 APS—essentially trying to ‘break’ the appliance—by running large-scale analytical tests with more than a billion table rows.” But instead of encountering performance bottlenecks, the team was delighted to discover that previously long-running queries finished within minutes.

Next, the CSG team plans to consolidate data from daily account transactions and connect the solution with business software such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The team also shares data online with Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and a variety of business intelligence tools. In addition, Grogan and his colleagues are exploring options for working with unstructured Hadoop data, including the solution’s built-in PolyBase functionality and interoperability with Microsoft cloud services. “The cloud will play some part of the solution, whether now or in years to come,” says Grogan. “This infrastructure is immediately scalable.”


With SQL Server 2012 APS, the Royal Bank of Scotland can gain deeper insight into the UK economy and help customers of all sizes to harness the power of Big Data.

Gains Deeper Economic Insight

Faster access to data is helping Grogan and his team gain new insight into multiple market sectors. “Today, a large portion of our innovation occurs with SQL Server 2012 APS,” he says. “We can do everything from simple system prototyping to predictive analytics, and we can show people things they’ve never seen before in sectors such as manufacturing. For example, we can actively monitor the core currencies used by UK manufacturers in their supply chains, as well as see how the cross-currency interdependencies increase/decrease supply chain risk.”

Historically, the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP) has been analyzed quarterly by the central Bank of England. Now, however, RBS plans to monitor the GDP on an intraday basis to help customers stay on top of emerging economic trends. “With SQL Server 2012 APS, we have a better understanding of our customers’ needs and wants,” says Grogan. “We can model, test, and execute solutions that help customers manage business risk, as well as improve our own offerings ranging from online services to branch transactions. It’s providing the next level of intelligent discussion with our customers. Using this SQL Server 2012 APS infrastructure, we’ll be able to move customer relationships into customer partnerships.”

Increases Productivity by 40 Percent and Responds Faster to Business Needs

With SQL Server 2012 APS, the bank’s CSG analytics team has gained significantly faster performance. For example, an end-of-quarter query that previously took two days to run now finishes within seven minutes. “When testing the solution, the biggest test query we ran performed calculations on a table of well over one billion table rows, far exceeding our expectation,” says Grogan. “One of my team started the query in SQL Server 2012 APS and thought he’d have time for a leisurely lunch. He went to get his keys, and about three minutes later he saw that the query had executed.”

By speeding performance, Grogan estimates that he can increase his workload by 40 percent and respond faster to business needs. “For example, with SQL Server 2012 APS, we can have an overview of the roughly 400 branch-based business transactions that take place every 60 seconds,” says Grogan. “With this kind of computing power, we can provide more real-time analytics for our frontline and customer portfolio.”

Simplifies Implementation

In addition to faster performance, the CSG team wanted a centralized data warehouse that would be easy to manage with the team’s existing skillset. “It was a simple migration from SQL Server 2012 to SQL Server 2012 APS,” says Grogan. “In fact, the data migration was so seamless that my staff were reluctant to let the engineers take the test kit away.”

This case study is for informational purposes only.
Solution Overview

Organization Size: 141000 employees

Organization Profile

Established in 1727, the Royal Bank of Scotland has more than 24 million customers worldwide and is the largest lender to small and midsize enterprises in Great Britain.

  • HP AppSystem for SQL Server 2012 Parallel Data Warehouse

Software and Services
Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Analytics Platform System

Vertical Industries

United Kingdom

IT Issue
Data Warehousing