Dot-Net profit: Microsoft platform fosters ‘heads up’ banking


Meridian Credit Union Ltd – Ontario’s largest credit union – recently rolled out a range of new software tools that allow its tellers to look customers in the eye.

The new tools – based on the .Net Framework – replace a gaggle of aging business software applications, and help Meridian manage the accounts of its members – more than 180,000 of them.

“Walk into any of the top five banks in Canada and you’ll see tellers bowed down looking at their screens instead of their customers,” said Steve Gesner, chief information officer of Meridian in St. Catharines Ont. “We want to institute heads up banking where our staff looks at clients, not their computer screens.”

Meridian says the technology that will usher in this transition is “.NET Framework” (pronounced ‘dot-net’) – a comprehensive software development platform from Microsoft Corp. Introduced in 2000 as the company’s new programming environment, the .Net framework was designed to compete with the Java J2EE platform.

The need to better serve its huge and expanding membership was one key reason why Meridian moved to the new development platform.

The product of a merger between Niagara Credit Union and Hepcoe Credit Union, Meridian is considered the largest credit union in the province. It has 43 branches, 900 employees and serves more than 180,000 members in southern and central Ontario.

These customers will now enjoy a “high touch” level of service, said Gesner. “We didn’t want desktop tools as complicated as a space shuttle cockpit, that [didn’t give] tellers time to tackle members’ concerns or offer them advice.”

By designing new tools based on .Net Framework 2.0, Meridian says it hopes to integrate third-party packages as well as custom applications in one easy-to-use system.

The financial organization hired Systemgroup Inc., a Microsoft partner, to build applications for new member services on .Net Framework 2.0.

Microsoft products deployed include Windows SharePoint Portal Server, Business Scorecard Manager, BizTalk Server 2006 and SQL Server 2005.

Windows SharePoint Portal Server is used as the platform for Meridian’s corporate intranet and allows employees to collaborate and find information across the organization.

Business Scorecard Manager, SQL Server 2005 Reporting and Analysis Services provide managers and staff with information to make business decisions.

BizTalk Server 2006 is used as the primary message routing and business process execution platform.

The Visual Studio 2005 development system and .Net Framework 2.0 is used to help the IT development staff create business applications and components to support specific business needs.

Recently, Meridian rolled out a loans originator application and a contract management application developed using .Net. The new application significantly reduced the credit union’s processing time, said Gesner.

He said in the past, Meridian had a Java-based application that handled the same processes. “It just didn’t work for us because it could not scale to our needs.”

Meridian’s challenge was creating custom applications that add value to services and solve business problems more quickly, according to Jeff Zado, senior product manager of development tools with Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont.

He noted that a merger multiplies the number of customized and packaged application in the new company and this often causes chaos. Operations are significantly improved when core apps are written to the same framework and “share a common plumbing” he said.

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