Standard Bank has completed a major branch infrastructure conversion project at 831 branches across the country, moving away from the OS2 operating system and involving more than 15 000 workstations.
Called “Project TUTU”, the eight-month project involved the migration of branches from IBM’s OS2 to Microsoft Windows XP preparing the bank for the widespread implementation of SAP. The entire exercise took just eight months with installations almost exclusively over weekends, despite involving over 15 000 work stations spread throughout South Africa.
Preparation for this project also included converting 230 branches to Ethernet from Token Ring, and implementing 1,200 data line upgrades.
The workstation undertaking alone was enormous and involved upgrading 8 937 desktops to Pentium 4 from Pentium 3, upgrading 270 hard drives, and installing 3 059 memory upgrades. Re-cabling and communications reconfigurations were also part of the arduous process.
Starting off with a pilot at three sites, the project built up serious momentum until it was converting and upgrading up to 63 sites in a single weekend with an average of 15 work stations per site – a large and ambitious project by international standards.
Explaining the rationale behind the upgrades and conversions, Standard Bank CIO Jorg Fischer says the project is part of the bank’s move towards reducing its reliance on older technologies and employing over time a multi-channel, Windows-based Microsoft front-end and a SAP back-end. This involved converting the bank’s branches from OS2 to a Microsoft Windows-based operating environment, which could support SAP applications.
“From an IT point of view, the conversion enables us to respond more quickly to the bank’s requirements and we are much better able to control the systems we have in the Personal and Business Banking environment in terms of asset management, performance management and the like,” he says, adding that SAP is already operational in some areas of the bank.
While OS2 has served the bank well since its adoption in the early 1990s, code is no longer being written for this operating system and drivers are a problem when new equipment is installed.
Seen as the operating system of choice for many financial services companies a decade or so ago, OS2 has now in many cases been overtaken as companies search for more throughout for their operations.
“OS2 was an operating system way ahead of its time. What we have really done with this project is to virtualise OS2 on top of the Microsoft platform to accommodate some of our branch system applications that still require OS2," says Fischer.
He adds that the bank still has some way to go before fully retiring OS2, but some systems have already been re-written into the Microsoft Windows front-end.
A significant feature of the entire conversion and upgrading process is that it had to be accomplished over the weekend, causing no interruption to banking within the branches.
Friday nights were used for “prepping”, getting the environment ready for the change over. On Saturday, after back-ups had been done, the conversion process was carried out. The process included centrally dropping in the new operating system, applications and patches.
Importantly, a centralised console monitored the progress of the conversion process. At any one time it could be determined whether a branch was 30%, 50% or 80% along the conversion journey. Through the use of the Altiris system management tool, most of the conversion process was automated, saving enormous amounts of man hours.
“Some manual engineering input was needed, but if we did not have the automated tools at our disposal we would have needed to use many more people to complete the job,” says Fischer.
Sundays were used for user testing on each workstation and, on Sunday nights, branches were handed back to branch management for business to be conducted as normal on Monday morning.
To ensure that staff within branches could work on Monday in the same way as they had worked on Friday, training/skilling sessions called “test-beds” were held within the branches. A video, aptly entitled “Don’t Mess With My Tutu” was also circulated to the branches explaining the “ins and outs” of the new system.
“The challenge was for us to make sure that what branch staff had on the Friday, and what they were comfortable with, was there on Monday, running on a new operating system,” says Fischer.
Illustrating the success of the project, only two branches out of 831 had to be moved back to OS2 due to problems with their conversions. Once the problems were ironed out, these branches were fully switched over to the new system.
“Considering the size and scope of the project, we encountered very few real problems and had hardly any failures. This was largely due to the amount of planning that was done before the implementation. We worked out very carefully what we wanted to do and achieve and were able to meet these objectives throughout the course of the project,” Fischer says.