November 03, 2003

Community First Bankshares Inc. (CFB), with offices in 136 communities and 12 states, runs 108 different software applications on its network.

"With that volume of applications, you can imagine the number of upgrades and enhancements that occur on a weekly basis," says Bob Gulsvig, systems engineer supervisor at the Fargo, N.D.-based company. Not surprisingly, the bank had trouble identifying system-level problems and fixing them quickly.

So CFB installed AppSight Black Box version 4.5, the application-support software made by Raleigh, N.C.-based Identify Software Ltd. The $5.6 billion financial services company-which offers banking, investment, insurance, mortgage and trust products-now takes a centralized approach to its technology services. The bank uses the software to identify changes made to its applications and to troubleshoot when problems arise.

AppSight "allows us to see specifically what is modified," Gulsvig says.

SNAFU SLEUTH

Previously, to identify problems with software modifications, the bank built a system replicating its current setup, verified the basic functionality and then tested it with actual users to validate the functionality on a more specific level. Finally, CFB fixed any snafus that users encountered.

"It was a time-consuming process that was inhibiting our productivity," according to Gulsvig.

Then, a staffer at the bank saw some marketing materials from Identify for AppSight. "It was not necessarily that we knew there was a product out there and we were trying to find it," Gulsvig says. However, "we knew we had a challenge."

CFB did not consider other software vendors. "To our knowledge, this is the only product that comes anywhere near doing this type of detailed work with relatively little tweaking on our part," Gulsvig says. The final decision to buy AppSight "really boils down to a couple of points: very little tweaking, and it would deploy onto our system with a very small footprint. We did not need to make any modifications that would be detrimental to the system." He declined to say how much the bank paid for the software.

This past summer, the bank installed the software on IBM servers evaluating Web development, databases (SQL) and business applications. "It was very simple-we're talking 20 minutes," Gulsvig says. "You get instant gratification by using this product. You can see very granular detail instantaneously."

Today, what Gulsvig calls "the typical bread-and-butter use" for the software is with "vendor enhancements that have functionality issues." That could be a widely released upgrade or a special modification done by the vendor just for CFB.

When problems arise with software, Gulsvig says, using AppSight eliminates "the 'he said/she said' element of finger-pointing" with the vendor. When we have this type of documentation, we can go to the vendor and say, 'Here is what the deal is.' "

Already, the software saves the bank money, Gulsvig says, because it takes bank employees less time to solve problems. For instance, when engineers working on the bank's Web development efforts had an incorrect setting, AppSight took only 30 minutes to identify the problem, versus what might have taken two weeks to a month to figure out manually, he says.

Now, the biggest challenge is fully incorporating the software into CFB's processes, Gulsvig says. For example, CFB would like to use AppSight more for log management-basically, "being able to see and manage the access of the users in our systems," Gulsvig says. "That is very much a concern from a security standpoint."

Moreover, he says, the bank wants to utilize the software more directly with staffers who need help with troubleshooting, "so the software would track issues as they occur and not require the user to recreate the problem."

"We have not had a chance to really spread our wings and use it in all the scenarios in which it has the opportunity to support us," Gulsvig adds.

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FAST FACTS

INSTITUTION: Community First Bankshares Inc., Fargo, N.D.

ASSETS: $5.6 billion

BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Implement software that can proactively spot application snafus and alert IT staffers.

SOLUTION: Identify Software Ltd.'s (Raleigh, N.C.) AppSight Black Box version 4.5.

KEY QUOTE: "You get instant gratification by using this product. You can see very granular detail instantaneously."

- BOB GULSVIG

SYSTEMS ENGINEER SUPERVISOR

COMMUNITY FIRST BANKSHARES