July 29, 2004

Rather than feverishly working to get its systems up and running after a failure, KeyCorp (Cleveland, $84 billion in assets) has adopted a proactive strategy to repair the common wear and tear on its technology infrastructure before problems occur. The bank's current detect-and-prevent strategy has ultimately reduced problems that have plagued its server and corrupted applications, says Michael T. O'Connor, the bank's senior vice president, quality management.

Over the past three years, the number of systems problems has dropped by 78 percent, according to the bank. KeyCorp's detect-and-prevent strategy relies on IBM's (Armonk, N.Y.) Tivoli software, a systems management solution that allows the bank to intelligently monitor, control and optimize its on-demand computing environment, and Cisco's (San Jose, Calif.) Info Center, which consolidates and filters fault and alarm information for the bank's entire network. According to O'Connor, the Cisco Info Center monitors network performance and allows the bank's IT staff to figure out what the problem is, why it happened and how to avoid the issue in the future.

The concept of detecting problems before they occur took hold about five years ago, says O'Connor, when Bob Rickert became the bank's CIO. [Editor's note: Rickert resigned from his position in late July.] The strategy depends on an experienced IT staff and its ability to recognize the cause of common technical problems, such as corrupt files.

"We might have a server with a hard drive that was getting full ... and the server would crash," Rickert says. "Or there would be a change to the router and the change wouldn't go right and traffic would get blocked. Another example would be an application with a corrupt file on it and the application wasn't functioning properly. These are problems that any organization would face." Rickert explains that by tackling these common problems, the bank not only resolved the issues, but also built a knowledge base through process analysis that KeyCorp can now cite to predict the cause of and prevent similar problems in the future.

Prior to implementing the new approach to handling technical issues, the bank experienced hundreds of occurrences of missing information - including loan and balance information - every month, says O'Connor. Now, he says, the bank has reduced the occurrences of missing information to just a handful each month.

"Our whole effort of solving and preventing these problems has improved us as a whole," says Rickert. "When you do a lot of work to understand the problem, you can figure out how to fix it in the first place."

Service Benefits

Ultimately, KeyCorp's detection strategy is improving customer service, says O'Connor, who offers the bank's Internet channel as an example. Keeping the bank's Web site up and running is crucial to quality customer service, he says, because some customers depend on the site for information regarding their accounts. "Online, if the data isn't there, then a customer would be frustrated," he notes. "We had to become more reliable."

The proactive problem solving enhances KeyCorp's customer retention, O'Connor continues. "You have to do it to stay in the game," he says. "If you don't provide that level of service, your customers are going to your competitors to find that level of service."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR