Westpac moves to Web-based apps platform

After celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Australia's first bank computer earlier this year, Westpac is now deploying its next-generation application framework which is delivered over the Web.

Paul Jennings, Westpac's head of channel and systems management, said the bank progressed from IBM 4700 greenscreen terminals to PCs in the early 90s, then to a full replacement of all terminals with a PC-server architecture in the mid-90s. This has just been fully replaced with the OneBank platform, or OneBP.

"OneBank is the next wave of evolution; in the past there was not a lot of attention paid to staff user experience," Jennings said.

"We have many applications with convoluted business functions. Now that we have standardized 'plumbing' we are working on an Internet banking experience with the aim of a user-centric experience for our staff."

After less than six months of in-house development with the bank's existing Java skills, OneBP went live in May and was rolled out nationally by July. Being served by IBM's WebSphere on a mainframe, it is now available to 20,000 of the bank's 25,000 staff.

"WebSphere on the mainframe allows access to browser-based systems and this is a new target architecture for us," he said. "We've typically run Web-based applications on Windows NT but that's not forward thinking at this time."

On the client side, Westpac's 8000 terminals are running Windows 2000 and XP in a hybrid, PC and thin client environment spread across 750 branches. The bank's standard browser is Internet Explorer but Jennings said the open source Firefox will need to be supported by OneBP, along with accessibility standards "so we end up on common ground".

Jennings, a 14-year veteran of the bank, said his area deals with business management functions and works closely with IT.

"We specify the requirements and pay all the bills," he said. "There are a lot of mainframe-based applications but some are still local."

Jennings said the bank's roadmap for application migration to OneBP is quite long at between three to five years, but he hopes substantial inroads will be made within two years.

"We've started trialling the online service and the application is good," he said. "For the first time staff can retrieve statements with vouchers accessible directly in the branch. We want all the functionality available when tellers sign in. Rather than knowing things by application we want to bring the bank to a much simpler and customer-oriented interface."

Jennings believes OneBP will reduce staff training requirements because the online service is as easy to use as consumer Internet banking.

"It provides sales and service in an intuitive interface with role-based authentication," he said. "We do see a time when the staff and customer online interfaces converge with staff having a superset of applications. The acid test for service online is its being deployed to contact centres, then Internet banking. The bank's intent is to build once and use across multiple channels."

As a result of consolidating applications on OneBP, Jennings said a dozen passwords are removed in favour of single sign-on.

"We see the Web as the future of application delivery. There may be a need for some exceptions but where you can, deploy it centrally," he said. "It's now a matter of making OneBP the centre of the universe and adding more functions to it."

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