Technology has tackled a lot of issues in the past decade: imaging checks, banking through the Internet, expanded ATM services, check cards and manymore. Now technology is tackling what is possibly the most universal challenge in every organization in America: effective communications between management, departments and employees.
Most banks today use the same communication infrastructure-telephones, faxes, break room bulletin boards, interoffice mail and word of mouth. This process is effective "most" of the time, but rarely efficient and often expensive.
Take the simple matter of advising employees of your loan and deposit rates for the week. The document is created and printed, copies made and hand-delivered to employees, probably through interoffice mail. Banks with two or more locations may fax or email the document to other offices where the distribution process is repeated. This is not efficient and, considering the time and people involved in the process, it is certainly expensive.
This is just one example of the hundreds of such communications. Banks communicate policies and policy changes, personnel changes, work schedules, holiday schedules, and vacation schedules. They communicate benefit information, department reports, notices of meetings, meeting notes and cancellations of meetings. They tell employees about financial results, training opportunities, employment opportunities and instructions on operating the telephones.
And the information being distributed is not short memos but volumes of reference information, including user manuals for computer systems, policy and procedure documents, employee manuals and contingency plans. These documents are costly to create, maintain, distribute and store.
How can technology help?
Enter an information portal.
Information portals provide access, in electronic format, to all the information described above; delivering information directly to the PCs of employees who have access to your LAN or WAN via a Web browser. They can view, store or (if they want) print the information. But why print it? An information portal becomes the central repository for all your documents.
A good example is publishing loan and deposit rates to employees. You create the document on a PC, save it to the information portal "Bulletin Board" and you're done. Every employee has instantaneous access.
A well-designed information portal will feature a corporate bulletin board; store documents, forms, correspondence, and memos; include an electronic calendar, a meeting scheduler; and give you the ability to scroll important, must see messages across the screen. The better information portals include a search engine for locating information stored in your company's vast databases.
If you doubt this is possible, let me introduce you to Rockie Mason, Technology Manager, First Southern Bancorp, Stanford, Ky. First Southern, with $361 million in assets and 173 employees at 16 locations, was determined to replace traditional delivery methods with more timely, efficient, and cost-effective communication. "Our information portal has exceeded initial goals and expectations," Mason said. "Everyone is on the same page."
Mason says the dynamic messaging and bulletin board features keep employees instantaneously up-to-date (making paper forms obsolete) and the calendar feature keeps everyone informed on both corporate and personal scheduling.
Consistency of information distribution is another plus. "Everyone is now viewing the same information. Our organization is running a lot smoother," he adds.
Mason believes that information portals represent a unique advantage for banks. "Because our employees can now access timely, consistent information, we can deliver a higher level of customer service," he says.
He also believes that banks are just beginning to see how information portals will be integrated into business operations. "We are just scratching the surface," Mason says. "I suspect that in the future the information portal will be a necessary product for businesses to be successful."
John Williams is the chairman of Computer Services Inc. (CSI), which provides data processing services to banks across the nation and eBusiness solutions to banks and businesses wherever they're located. He can be reached at [email protected]
This guest column, a regular feature in Bank Systems & Technology, allows industry executives and experts to discuss a key bank technology topic. If you would like to contribute, please send requests by e-mail to Steven Marlin, BS&T executive editor, at [email protected]