What's always there but invisible? Space. For banks concerned with squeezing out costs, however, space is anything but invisible.
"Facilities are probably your second-most expensive line item after compensation," said Glenn Thoene, managing director of systems management and administration, corporate administration services, FleetBoston Financial.
For Fleet, the economic downturn and mergers have combined to magnify the space management issue. Several mergers in recent years "had a lot of people moving," said Thoene, and because of the sluggish economy the bank is no longer forecasting the rapid growth it expected a year or two ago. In a downturn, banks can't afford to carry extra space in anticipation of future growth. Armed with better information about space usage, banks may be in a position to shed a leased space or consolidate several buildings into one, drastically cutting expenses.
Typically, the task of space management is left to a collection of disparate solutions, including space management, maintenance, acquisitions/leasing and design/construction tools. "All these solutions are in place but none are connected into a cohesive solution," said Matthew Meyer, founder and chief strategy officer of Centerstone Software, Westwood, Mass.
Centerstone's approach is to link those tools or in some cases replace them. Its Web-based e-Center One product is aimed at companies with at least 1 million square feet of space and 1,000 employees.
e-Center One taps into human resources, space management and security databases to produce a detailed view of what locations are being used and how well. It allows forecasting of space and human resources, tracks leases and renewal deadlines and automatically updates space-related information such as workstation usage following a layoff.
FleetBoston and two other banks, Sovereign Bancorp and Citizens Bank, are using e-Center One. The browser-based system features a navigation bar that pulls up data on a particular site, causing an image of the specific floor of the desired building to appear. "Centerstone allows us to look graphically at the space. It looks like a blueprint," Thoene said.
Areas are color-coded for clarity, and managers can see who sits in what space, what's occupied versus vacant, and the difference between work and support areas.
Today's economy may mean banks are trying to shrink their occupied space, but e-Center One will be just as useful in the next expansion, Thoene said. "Whether you're growing or shrinking, it helps you optimize the space you need."