Batching and Beyond: BECU Working to Push Automation Through Enterprise
That's the take from Alex Givens, senior solutions architect for UC4, an Austrian company whose workload automation management tools are used by more than 1,600 companies in a wide range of industries around the world. "We're in practically every vertical there is-manufacturing, health care, higher education, utilities, really everywhere, and the one difference I find with financial institutions is the heavy emphasis on the accuracy of the data being manipulated," said Givens, who works out of the company's U.S. office in Bellevue, Wash.
"If a manufacturer makes a mistake and buys a couple thousand extra screws, it typically won't have a lasting impact. They'll just use those screws next week," he said. "That's not the case when it's members' money you're talking about."
That includes the $8.6 billion that the 589,000 members have entrusted to BECU in neighboring Tukwila, Wash.
Long noted for its embrace of complex new technologies to serve basic member needs, BECU uses UC4 software to automate a number of core functions.
"The easiest way for me to explain it is that it's taking the manual steps that we have used to post jobs and completely automating them," said Sue Jones, IT operations manager at the suburban Seattle institution.
For instance, at the core of a core system is the act of processing member transactions by batch at the end of the day
"If I was describing this to a teller, I'd say that just as the individual transactions they do for each member has to be correct, we have to do the same thing for thousands of transactions every day...make sure they're correct," Jones said.
BECU has been using the company's software since 2004 when a conversion to the relational database core system from Open Solutions created the opportunity to address another need. (The local operation was originally AppWorx and was acquired by UC4 in 2007).
"We went out and looked for an automated tool that would help us handle posting jobs that were not done correctly, something that would really have an impact on our business units," Jones said. "That was our main driver. But we also wanted a solution that was scalable, flexible and would grow with us as our membership and organization were growing."
The company said its flagship UC4 Workload Automation Suite uses software agents and connectors to manage workload across systems and applications.
One of its ancillary solutions is the UC4 Open Solutions Banking/Credit Unions Accelerator, which the company said automates background procedures for that core processor's platforms, resulting in fewer operator errors and collapsed timescales for regular financial reporting processes.
UC4 software does that by managing basic batch workload and extending that further into the enterprise, adding such functions as overseeing file transfers, monitoring the performance and activity thresholds of critical systems, responding to exceptions and errors, and alerting staff.
Automating that error exception functionality is something BECU particularly values.
"Five years ago, our batch processing required all manual steps at several different workstations," said Lori Keehr, a BECU systems administrator.
"We had several staffers who executed jobs and others who copied jobs and others who did quality control," she said. "Now we have a tool that runs our workstations, one platform for monitoring and an exceptional error detection function that lets us know when something goes wrong. And we no longer are working off three or four different run logs."
The system allows BECU to run multiple test environments, while other tools let business units know when live jobs are done successfully. And Jones, the IT operations manager, said she also values the scheduling tools in the UC4 solution, noting that "we still have to do processing 365 days a year. This system recognizes holidays and knows to do the jobs that may not necessarily be done on other days, as well as the things that always have to be done.
"That's a very important component for us."
The BECU technologists are now working on expanding their use of the UC4 software beyond core processing.
"We see great opportunities here," Jones said. "Back when we chose this, we wanted to make sure it would work with multiple applications. Now we're exploring using it with Tumbleweed for file transfers and with PeopleSoft to see how much we can automate what our accounting department now has to do manually."
Automating IT responses to exceptions that occur in ACH processing also is on the table, as is exploring the UC4 software's potential role in disaster recovery and business continuity.
"We're looking at ways to program their application to automatically take steps that a person now has to do manually to get a system up and running," Jones said.
"We haven't implemented it yet, but it's a great concept and something we'll continue to pursue."