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Fear Factor: Spaghetti Code

There's no reason to fear change, especially if it comes in bite-size pieces.

There's no reason to fear change, especially if it comes in bite-size pieces. "If you're not constantly changing, you're generally dead," remarks Scott Matthew, vice president, office of technology and applied practices, Pacific Capital Bancorp (PCB; Santa Barbara, Calif.; $4.9 billion in assets).

Through the adoption of a new technology architecture, PCB is pursuing "continual improvement" instead of big, department-shaking projects, according to Matthew. "We keep chipping away at a lot of little things," he says. That's a necessary stance in a changing marketplace. "Customers are continually getting more and more educated, and our competitors are constantly coming up with new ideas."

PCB's architecture shift was accomplished using software from Avaki (Burlington, Mass.), which supports a data virtualization layer within the bank. Data virtualization hides the complexity involved with where information is actually stored and in what form, so that applications can easily access information without having to worry about the details.

Previous iterations of information technology similarly attempted to simplify the spread of business-critical information throughout an enterprise. Most failed. When multiple applications try to access multiple data sources, the result is often "spaghetti" code. Enterprise application integration (EAI) software had some promise, but "that just moved the spaghetti," Matthew says. "Instead of having spaghetti in our applications, we had spaghetti in the middleware."

But PCB hasn't given up on simplification. To the contrary, it's pursuing the adoption of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and event-driven architecture, powered by an enterprise service bus.

One major benefit of data virtualization will be component reuse in application development. For example, a stored procedure can do a calculation for average daily balance that all applications use, "so that the data is consistent across all of the applications," Matthew says.

The technology also supports integration after mergers and acquisitions. By creating an abstraction layer, queries to the old system of record and queries to the new system of record appear identical to the upstream, consuming applications. Therefore, fewer systems are impacted when combining the operations of two or more firms.

Also, data virtualization aids compliance efforts, which often demand controlled access to data. "Now you have a common gateway where all that sifting can occur," Matthew says. "Your compliance becomes a lot easier."

With a flexible architecture and the ability to move information across the firm as needed, PCB hopes to achieve its target of customer-centricity. "The organization has been, and continues to be, very customer-centric, not only to the external customers but also the internal ones."

The adoption of a data virtualization layer will permit new levels of innovation by PCB's business analysts and technology staff, all in service of the customer. "What we ultimately want is a menu of products and services that our customers can pick from and determine the channel that they want it delivered through," Matthew explains. "We can take our products and our business rules and recombine them in ways that customers are asking for, in the channels that they want."

Behind the scenes, PCB's technology infrastructure relies upon Avaki, Informatica (Redwood City, Calif.) and IBM (Armonk, N.Y.). The bank currently uses Fidelity National Financial (Jacksonville, Fla.) as its core system provider but is considering other alternatives.

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Wescom Credit Union (Pasadena) - Collecting and disseminating customer satisfaction data across the firm, for benchmarking and immediate follow-up.

Scotiabank (Toronto) - Driving compensation and sales approaches using an integrated view of its business customers.

Security National Bank (Laurel, Neb.) - Setting pricing strategy and service levels using customer profitability metrics.

First Fidelity Bank (Oklahoma City) - Improving customer service in a multi-branch network using cross-channel, integrated CRM.

Northstar Financial (Bad Axe, Mich.) - Building a de novo bank network from the ground up, based on customer-centricity.

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