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FNB South Africa Gains a Global View of Data

First National Bank of South Africa adopts SAS' next-generation Enterprise BI Server to gain a global view of data.

The secret sauce at First National Bank (FNB) of South Africa is an entrepreneurial owner/manager structure that gives departments autonomy and authority in return for operating as profitable business units, according to Robert Schmikl, FNB's manager of strategic credit and risk. Yet even in this culture, he admits, inefficiencies can arise.

"By 2006, four separate departmental analytics environments had grown up," Schmikl explains. "These environments were server-based and drew information from the same warehouse, resulting in a data duplication rate of about 80 percent. Further, the environments were managed by business users rather than trained IT staff."

In early 2007 the Johannesburg-based bank, a subsidiary of FirstRand (Sandton, South Africa; US$119.4 billion in total assets), began the consolidation process by forming a project team comprised of key stakeholders from each of the affected departments as well as Schmikl. "At a corporate level, we can make solutions available to departments, but they elect whether to use them," Schmikl says. "So the challenge wasn't selecting or deploying a technology; it was managing change. Therefore, to maintain continuity, all of the team members would serve from the design phase through implementation and continue on until the migration process was completed."

To start, the team developed a change management framework for the initiative based on author Spencer Johnson's popular work, "Who Moved My Cheese?" Within that allegorical framework, according to Schmikl, technology selection and implementation processes began. "The existing solution in all four departments was the SAS Institute [Cary, N.C.] product Base SAS," he recalls. "Although the team sought other vendor options, the predominant need was enterprise-class data mining, and at that time, the only suitable tool was SAS."

Strength in Numbers

FNB pooled departmental budgets to purchase the SAS Enterprise BI Server solution and the necessary IT infrastructure, as well as to hire a dedicated SAS administrator. For hardware, Schmikl says, "Our CTO was moving the organization toward Linux, so we eventually settled on multiple IBM [Armonk, N.Y.] x3950 enterprise servers running Red Hat [Raleigh, N.C.] Enterprise Linux."

After the hardware environment was installed during late summer 2008, the SAS integration began. By November of the same year the new system went live and each department began migrating onto the platform. By March 2009, Schmikl reports, three of the four original departments had fully migrated onto the system. "The remaining department has now moved most production and labor-intensive processes onto the platform," Schmikl relates. "It's expected that the department will fully migrate when its existing Base SAS server reaches the end of its life [within the next few years]."

In the meantime, data duplication has dropped to zero and efficiencies are adding up, Schmikl says. "Reduced licensing costs allow us to plow those resources back into the environment," he adds. "This has permitted us to invest in additional tools, such as a job scheduler, which was cost-prohibitive at the departmental level before."

In addition, sharing data and programming code is no longer an ad hoc function carried out on USB drives. "Now it's permissions-based and occurs within the environment, which improves operational efficiency while enabling auditing and audit trails," Schmikl notes, stressing that this reduces organizational risk.

FNB will upgrade in early 2011 to the SAS platform's new web-based interface, which will encourage analysts to leverage the solution's metadata, reporting and other capabilities to further automate tasks, Schmikl says. "We'll be migrating from a 32-bit platform to 64-bit. And we'll be expanding storage to accommodate the exponential data growth," he affirms.

"In retrospect," Schmikl adds, "some aspects of the BI journey have taken longer than expected. But ultimately, we're making our organization more efficient and effective than we were before."

Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio

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