Bank of NZ lets staff help themselves

The 4,500 staff at the Bank of New Zealand Ltd. are to gain access to a range of employee applications and Web-based forms thanks to a human resources portal that's been developed by the IT department of its parent, the National Australia Bank.

NAB is aiming to create a "Web-based workbench" for its employees that provides a unified and centralized view of company information and self-service applications. It launched the portal in January 2001 and has added functionality in progressive upgrades thereafter. New Zealand staff of the bank, which has over 40,000 employees in Australasia, the U.S. and Europe, will gain access to the portal in the first quarter of 2003, according to project director Brett Ellison.

Applications from the SAP suite that the BNZ is currently implementing are first on the list for New Zealand staff. They will in time gain access to some 100 applications, including a policy manual, forms catalogue and training support.

The business drivers for the project, says Ellison, who was speaking at a conference held by IBM, a key technology provider, in Shanghai last week, are cost reduction, increased revenue and better employee productivity. Devolution of decision making to individual business units and letting them manage the change of processes to the intranet is another driver.

The bank's Internet development center, of which New Zealand-born Ellison is manager, used a modular architecture and took a standards-based approach so that new applications can continue to be quickly and cheaply rolled out. These include HTTP and TCP/IP, J2EE (though .Net is used in NAB's treasury), JSP and EJB, XML and an LDAP directory.

The framework behind the portal is heavily IBM: WebSphere Portal Server and Application Server, DB2, Lotus Notes-Domino to develop some applications and even Lotus's SameTime collaboration application.

At one end of the technology stack is the various possible interface technologies -- Web, WAP, XML, interactive TV and the like -- through the personalization, security and presentation layers handled by WebSphere, on to Web systems services layer covering business logic, content management, groupware, OLAP and search, past an enterprise application integration translation layer, to the applications. These include SAP, a data warehouse and Siebel CRM, plus Domino and OS/390.

Challenges were much the usual: managing change and education, and ensuring usability -- two human interface specialists were employed fulltime on the project and mock-ups were made.

What was learnt, says Ellison, was that taking a modular, gradual approach enables relatively quick implementation -- unusual in banking, he says. "Launch and learn" was adopted, the theory being that such a project is never finished or perfect. Everything should be tied to benefits, such as that the more transactional applications put online the better, as more processes can then be "re-engineered."

It's a business project, says Ellison, who specializes in change management. "It doesn't really have much to do with technology."

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