Going COLD on data

Going COLD on data

Westpac has undertaken one of the largest installations of computer output to laser disc (COLD) technology to date in the Asia Pacific region. The savings were immediate, reports Hannah Birtles.

Transforming a largely manual-based microfiche process to one combining COLD and imaging technologies has resulted in significant benefits to Westpac.

The system now downloads transaction records from the bank's central mainframes, integrates the data with an imaging application and then puts the records online to call centres around Australia.

With a COLD storage solution providing up to 1.3 terabytes of customer transactions, the bank has realised major improvements in customer service, productivity, reduced staffing levels and an expected three to four year return on investment.

"From a logistics and customer service perspective, the system had to be improved." Jim Roditis, Westpac.

Future extensions to the new system include the integration of the bank's corporate intranet and a new fax server facility in September this year.

Back in 1994,Westpac's transaction account division began looking for an alternative to the process of duplicating customer statements and transaction reports from microfiche records.

According to Jim Roditis, business project manager with Westpac, the bank outputs around 21 million customer statements a year, and around 400,000 of these need to be duplicated due to requests from customers and staff.

Previously, the process involved a customer or branch staff member calling one of Westpac's three call centres located on the east coast. Upon receipt of the call, these staff would then record details in an electronic request system which is passed to one of the five processing centres located in NSW, WA, SA, Queensland or Victoria. A staff member in one of the centres would then have to search the microfiche records for the statement, make a printed copy, print out a standard letter to attach with the statement, and then fax or mail it out.

Each statement took at least 30 minutes for processing. As Westpac generates around 700 requests a day, the inefficient process required large numbers of staff and generally took two days to complete.

Mr Roditis said staff would queue to access the microfiche machines, which themselves required constant maintenance and upkeep.

"From a logistics and customer service perspective, the system had to be improved," Mr Roditis said.

"Three shifts a week, involving over 60 people in total, mostly temporary staff, were required for the process during the peak period (June-August) before COLD was implemented. That number has now been reduced to 10 staff Australia-wide working normal office hours," Mr Roditis said.

The new system also allows call centre staff to answer some queries over the phone. Overall, the response time has been reduced from two days to one.


As an interim measure to provide better access to customer records, the bank used tape to store the information from which statements were produced. These tapes were later used to provide historical data to the COLD system. However, in late 1996 a project team was formed to find a COLD solution and requests for proposals announced.

With no large COLD projects in the region, the team flew overseas to investigate other large COLD installations before deciding on FileNet's IMS (Image Management Services) software.

The bank uses a statement formatting package which outputs data in several formats. The original statements are a produced using AFP(Advanced Function Printing) format and are written to mainframe printers. A second format, ASCII text was produced for input to the COM (computer output to microfilm).

Due to the inability of the software to accept AFP format, Westpac chose to use the ASCII format. This had the advantage of being more space efficient for storage. The text data is rendered using a common template to give the appearance of a statement when viewed or printed. It is also able to be displayed as text.

Over three years of customer statements and transaction reports have been converted since the project went live in June last year.

With the new system, calls are still placed to the telephone centres, however, staff now have the ability to access statement and report information through the IMS software on their client desktop.

If a duplicate statement is still required, one of the four statement processing centres (the SA office has closed since the COLD implementation) receives the request and data from the call centre operator, then automatically prints and mails out the copy. The process is now completed within a day.

FileNet developed a user-friendly Visual Basic front-end for use by staff. Access to the system is via the bank's WAN. Statements are stored in both optical disk (seven years worth) and on a 380 GB hard disk array (cache) for 12 months.


The server is an IBM RISC 6000 with a link to the mainframe from where the files are downloaded each day. Over seven GB of data is downloaded daily.

Westpac purchased a 1100 seat licence of the IMS software and have sized the system to allow 600 concurrent users.

According to Mr Roditis, the response time for documents in the cache is less than five seconds. Older documents can be retrieved from between five to 20 seconds. On average, 100 documents per minute are being retrieved from Westpac's main computer centre in Ryde, NSW.

Offline, the COLD data is stored on three Hewlett-Packard jukeboxes using 12 inch WORM media. Each jukebox is equipped with three drives and contains 40 slots. This stores around 1.3 TB of data in a compressed format, according to Mr Roditis.

There is also a fully remote back up system housed in Chatswood, NSW where all data is duplicated. It has a licence for 300 concurrent users and staff can be online again in two hours in the event of a failure.

Between midnight and 6am, the reports and statements are downloaded, reformatted, pre-fetched, and remote committed, to be available online by 8.30am.

All statements dating before June 1995 are still accessed on microfiche and the bank is also required by law to keep a master copy of all new statements and reports on microfiche for a seven year period. Hence, the bank's COM system is still in operation, although in a much-reduced role.

Mr Roditis said that apart from minor printing problems the implementation was a smooth process. This was mainly due to rigorous testing, which included performance and response time simulations.

The bank has recently implemented stage two of the development which has automated the process. It is now possible for a customer inquiry to be serviced by the call centre and queued for printing and dispatch without any intermediate intervention.

In the next stage of the project the bank will use a corporate intranet to allow other divisions of the bank to access statement and report information.

"With 30 per cent of requests for duplicated statements coming from within the bank, the intranet system will be an important addition," Mr Roditis said.

The intranet pilot is in the final stages of testing and is due to be released in September this year.

Users of the intranet will log into Westpac's STAR (storage and retrieval) system and from that point the system will expand the text and render it as an HTML page on the client. Search response times during testing have been around five seconds.

The intranet will use the already installed IMS software featuring code that has been rewritten for Web enablement and will operate through the bank's WAN. The bank was required to purchase a different type of licence from FileNet to run the intranet. One license per intranet server will allow for 90 concurrent users.

Mr Roditis expects the system will eventually be adopted throughout all areas of the bank as well as the possibility of access being given to Westpac branches Australia-wide.

The project is also undergoing enhancements for the inclusion of an automated fax interface to be available to the call centres by September this year. This will enable customers to receive a fax back request in close to two hours. The facility will operate out of the Sydney processing centre and will access other states through the WAN.