With more than 1,000 branches and 15,000 employees, Alpha Bank is one of the largest banks in Greece with a presence in Cyprus, Southeastern Europe, and the United Kingdom. The bank prides itself on customer service, listening to the needs of customers to bring new banking services to market.
||Now, whenever business asks us to build something new, the IT staff answers ‘Yes, it can be done.
||Theodore Konstantatos, Assistant Manager, Alpha Bank IT Division
Nearly 47 percent of all the bank’s transactions take place through alternative channels including the Internet, via PCs and mobile devices, and phones, which the bank’s call center manages. Behind the bank’s operations is a complex IT infrastructure, comprising more than 17,500 desktops and 2,000 servers. To support the bank’s IT infrastructure, Alpha Bank employs more than 300 IT staff members, of which 30 focus primarily on the bank’s alternative channels.
Alpha Bank considers technology and innovation a top priority, which enables the bank to drive new business. Behind this mission, the alternative channel team charges itself with bringing new products and services to market quickly, to meet the demands of business and customers. When looking toward the future and for new services to bring to customers, the bank took a close look at its existing IT infrastructure and decided to move toward a new, innovative framework that uses state-of-the-art technology to meet increasing volumes and rapidly changing business needs.
“We had reached the limits of our infrastructure,” says Theodore Konstantatos, Assistant Manager of the Alpha Bank IT Division. “When business leaders asked ‘Can you do this?’, we were responding ‘There is no easy way to do this.’”
The Alpha Bank IT team concluded that modernizing its application platform would provide new opportunities for improving its responsiveness to business by freeing up time for IT staff to innovate and perform other value-added tasks. The team aspired that a new infrastructure could help them address a range of needs, including:
||On a day-to-day basis, we can now measure all the transactions through all the channels. We can measure a bank customer’s performance and habits, and eventually, we’ll be able to measure their demographic characteristics, too.
||Lili Kazantzi, Phone Banking Section Supervisor, Alternative Channels Division, Alpha Bank
- Flexible middleware. Alternative channel customers needed to perform transactions that involved Alpha Bank back-end systems in Greece and Bulgaria. The Alpha Bank IT team needed a way to integrate additional branches with the Web-banking system that didn’t require custom development on both the back-end systems that managed Internet-based and phone-based banking transactions and the systems at the individual banks.
- Improved systems integration. Alpha Bank needed a way to share business logic between its Web-banking system and customer relationship management system, enabling the bank to avoid updating both systems to accommodate changes.
- Centralized customer information for effective business intelligence. Customer data was not aggregated in a central database, forcing staff to manually consolidate reports from numerous spreadsheets.
- Enhanced application life-cycle management tools and best practices. The IT team needed collaboration tools, project management tools and best practices to streamline the application development life cycle.
To support long-term growth and meet the needs of the bank and customers alike, Alpha Bank decided to build a new, more flexible infrastructure and engaged Microsoft Services for its expertise in application platform optimization by using Microsoft products and technologies.
“As programmers, we have to work within very tight schedules, so we are not always free to explore new best practices and solutions,” says Konstantatos. “This is where Microsoft Services helped us the most—giving us a helping hand and the assurance that we could implement the new best practices and solutions that we needed.”
Building a Flexible SOA-Based Platform for Banking
Through a Microsoft Services SOA Infrastructure engagement, Alpha Bank worked in close collaboration with senior architects and consultants from Microsoft Services to develop a service-oriented architecture (SOA). The SOA consists of custom-developed middleware based on the Microsoft .NET Framework that exposes all system functionality as SOAP Web services. This middleware, which Alpha Bank calls the Alternative Channel Control System (ACCS), provides the business logic for handling transactions all the way from a customer to his or her local bank. For instance, when a customer accesses his or her account information through Web banking, ACCS checks which bank (of Alpha Group’s banks) the customer belongs to, forwards the request to the final banking system, and sends back the reply to the user interface.
“Our SOA platform enables us to provide customers with Web-banking access to their accounts hosted on different Alpha Bank systems in Greece and abroad—all through one unique interface and by using one unique user name and password,” says Joseph Ziogas, Solution Architect for the Alpha Bank IT Division.
Closing the Gap Between Customer And CSA
The Alpha Bank IT team also engaged Microsoft Services to rearchitect the Alpha Bank call center by using the Microsoft Customer Care Framework. Working with Microsoft Services, the Alpha Bank IT team used the Customer Care Framework to develop a new customer service agent (CSA) desktop application that pulls in the relevant information provided to customers through Web banking. This desktop application also integrates with the bank’s Genesys CTI and ACD call-routing system and adds functionality and information specific to the role of a CSA. With this application, CSAs now have all the functionality that they need to provide effective and quick customer service through only one user interface. Initial estimates show a 10 percent decrease in average call-handling time.
Lili Kazantzi, Phone Banking Section Supervisor for the Alternative Channel Division of Alpha Bank, says, “With the Customer Care Framework, our Genesys CTI integration is now decoupled from the desktop, enabling us to make changes to the system that are independent of the customer and CSA desktop experiences.”
Extracting Business Intelligence from A New Centralized Infrastructure
All customer data captured through ACCS and the Customer Care Framework–based solution is now stored and managed in a centralized Microsoft SQL Server database. Working with Microsoft Services, the Alpha Bank IT team took full advantage of SQL Server to build a business intelligence solution based on Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services for analyzing logs, transactions, and customer subscription data. This solution has empowered decision makers across the bank not only to generate their own reports from a more comprehensive set of data on a day-to-day basis but also to reduce the time to produce them by 50 percent—all without needing to turn to IT or consolidate multiple spreadsheets.
Ensuring Long-Term Success with Application Life-Cycle Management
To ensure they could deliver the most value to the business through their newly established application platform, the Alpha Bank IT team also engaged Microsoft Services to help them streamline their application life-cycle management process. Through Microsoft Services Application Lifecycle Management, Alpha Bank engaged in educational workshops and deployed Microsoft Visual Studio® Team System and Microsoft Visual Studio Team System Team Foundation Server. By using the solutions according to Microsoft best practices, Alpha Bank IT more effectively manages its application development life cycle through source control, the automation of build processes, requirements and task management, bug tracking, and Web test and stress functionality. “Now, we have a very high level of quality in our development process,” says Themos Vihos, Assistant Manager of the Alpha Bank Alternative Channels Division. “User acceptance testers can now have the same unique environment as developers, and developers and testers have access to the same bug-tracking and resolution-tracking system, which is very convenient and reliable.”
For ongoing support, Alpha Bank took advantage of its existing Microsoft Services Premier Support contract. This provides the bank with a range of proactive services to improve and optimize overall systems performance and service management to ensure that needs are expedited through the most efficient channels at Microsoft. It also provides problem-resolution services to ensure any issues are solved quickly. Benefits
By building on the talent of its IT team with the expertise of Microsoft Services, Alpha Bank has established a more open and extensible infrastructure, enabling the bank to further pursue the development of new services for its customers, while fostering easier systems maintenance.
Reduce the Risk of New IT Initiatives
By taking advantage of the expertise of Microsoft Services, the Alpha Bank IT team approaches even the most challenging of IT projects in confidence. Says Konstantatos, “Even though we made huge changes across many areas, applications, and infrastructures, we were able to reduce the risks by working with Microsoft Services.”
Through its successful experience developing the initial platform for alternative banking channels, the Alpha Bank IT team now welcomes future IT initiatives. Says Konstantatos, “Now, whenever business asks us to build something new, the IT staff answers ‘Yes, it can be done.’”
Streamline Application Development
Now, the Alpha Bank IT team spends less time in a role of reactive support and more time developing applications that let the bank support internal processes and serve bank customers. “We are now on time with all of our IT projects,” says Mr. Vihos. “We just completed a project where we added a new account type for our Web-banking customers, and we didn’t experience any issues while developing it. And, we are in the process of joining our stock-trading and Web-banking applications under a unified user interface with common sign in credentials, which we are confident will be a relatively easy job.”
Deliver More Value
The Alpha Bank IT team doesn’t just provide new services and products; they provide a robust infrastructure that enables business success. For example, with the business intelligence solution from Microsoft Services, the Alpha Bank IT team has gained complete visibility into the bank’s customers and eliminated the need to consolidate multiple reports.
Says Kazantzi, “On a day-to-day basis, we can now measure all the transactions through all the channels. We can measure a bank customer’s performance and habits, and eventually, we’ll be able to measure their demographic characteristics, too.”
At the same time, the call center application based on the Customer Care Framework has helped improve productivity in that department, directly enhancing the bank’s bottom line. Says Vihos, “Now, CSAs only have to learn one application, so the time to train them has decreased significantly. And, the time they need to spend with customers on the phone has decreased because now all the tools that they need are in one application.”
Establish a Platform for Long-Term Growth
The Alpha Bank IT team now looks forward to future growth. With solid middleware in place, the IT team now just needs to develop new services to integrate additional branches with the core Web-banking system. At the same time, the systems provide exceptional performance. Says Konstantatos, “We have gained the ability to more than double our current Web customers without facing performance issues. And, business leaders feel that we have established a foundation that will successfully support our future business needs for many years.”
Konstantatos also notes that the insight from Microsoft Services has helped the bank align future IT initiatives to the strategic road map of Microsoft products and technologies. The team currently aspires to create applications that take advantage of Windows® Communication Foundation and Windows Workflow Foundation. Says Konstantatos, “This insight will enable us to respond quickly to the need for delivering high-quality software that will match future business needs.”