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Three-tier client-server architecture involving legacy systems
Microsoft Windows NT Server
Microsoft Windows 95
Microsoft Internet Information Server
Microsoft SQL Server
Microsoft Internet Explorer
Microsoft Visual Basic
Microsoft Internet Assistant for Microsoft Word
Microsoft Internet Assistant for Microsoft Excel
Microsoft Consulting Services
Microsoft Premier Support
Microsoft Solution Provider
Charles Schwab & Company is one of the fastest growing discount brokerage firms in the country/region. To better manage expenses, the Electronic Brokerage Division has equipped its cost center managers with an intranet-based application called FinanceNOW!, built around the Microsoft BackOffice suite of products. Microsoft Consulting Services and Microsoft Solution Provider Lante Corporation played major roles in completing the application in only five months for less than $100,000. FinanceNOW! enables employees to extract corporate financial data, massage and analyze it, and create reports. The application has eliminated dozens of hours of manual data collection and hundreds of thousands of pages of printed reports that are now viewed electronically. Charles Schwab is now looking at integrating key business modules of FinanceNOW! throughout the company for even more widespread savings and productivity gains.
The Charles Schwab Corporation, through its principal operating subsidiary, Charles Schwab & Company, is one of the largest financial services firms and the largest discount brokerage firm in the United States. Some 10,000 employees in 240 branch offices manage $236 billion in assets for 3.9 million investors.
The company's growth has been fast and furious, roughly tripling in the last six years. One of the hottest growth areas has been online brokerage services. Schwab formed an Electronic Brokerage Division in 1995 to allow investors to check stock prices and make trades through their personal computers via the Internet.
With this rapid growth, it became difficult for the company's financial management to keep track of expenses. In an attempt to increase consistency and accountability in spending, Schwab installed a popular third-party general ledger application. They encouraged corporate accountants, as well as divisional financial managers and cost center managers, to use this new tool to better manage their money.
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If It's Easy, They Will Use It
David Veneziano, Director of Finance for the Electronic Brokerage Division, was enthusiastic about better management of his division's expenses but dissatisfied with the tools. "The off-the-shelf solution wasn't intuitive enough. It didn't meet our division's needs; managers had to drill through too many levels before finding the information they were looking for. It was not an easy sell to my people."
Michael Sidell, Senior Manager of Business Systems for the Electronic Brokerage Division, was brought in to design an easy-to-use general ledger solution for his division. "We knew from the start that we wanted a Microsoft®-based solution," explains Sidell. "I was very familiar with Microsoft's products and had created a successful application similar to this one using the BackOffice™ family and Microsoft desktop applications. Also, we knew we wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the Internet. That's our business in this division, and we thought an intranet would be the perfect way to distribute information that changes daily."
Also, Sidell wanted tools that ran well on the Microsoft Windows NT® Server network operating system and the Windows® 95 operating system, which are fast becoming standards at Schwab. "Windows NT Server is fairly well established throughout the company," says Sidell. "It provides superior security to the operating environment we had before and also makes it easier to develop and maintain applications. Mostly, we have to stay competitive with other brokerage firms, and Windows NT Server is helping us be more productive. It promotes better communication through file sharing and is helping us give users all the power we can."
Sidell adds that another requirement was simplicity. "My executive vice president, Beth Sawi, said to me, 'If it's not extremely easy to use, don't even bother.' We thought that the Windows interface would help us create a very user-friendly solution."
"Internet Explorer and the Internet Server Application Programming Interface (ISAPI) technologies are critical to this application. They are powerful and flexible and make it very easy to write Internet/intranet code."
Senior Manager of Business Systems
Electronic Brokerage Division
FinanceNOW! on the Intranet
The result was FinanceNOW!, an intranet-based general ledger application that allows cost center managers to quickly and easily look at financial data, marketing information, multimedia presentations, and scores of other internal corporate resources, as well as to create and submit reports.
Using a three-tier client/server architecture, FinanceNOW! downloads financial data housed in an ORACLE7 database each night and imports the data into a Microsoft SQL Server™ database through an application developed with the Microsoft Visual Basic® programming system. Employees at Schwab's San Francisco headquarters, service centers in Phoenix and Denver, and 240 branches can then pull information from the SQL Server database using the Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser.
The application is being used by more than 50 managers with financial accountability. It will soon be expanding to another 200 users including executive managers, directors, and Electronic Brokerage employees and administrative personnel. It's also in pilot phases within other divisions of Schwab. "It makes it incredibly easy to manage expenses," says Sidell. "People love it. More important, they use it. It walks them through every decision they need to make in a very graphical, intuitive fashion."
Using FinanceNOW!, one manager quickly spotted $80,000 in expenses that didn't belong in his cost center. In another area, Schwab has eliminated a time-consuming monthly reporting process that involved manually compiling financial data, trying to correct all the errors that human intervention introduced, three-hole-punching printouts, and collating binders for distribution. "We spent 70 to 80 hours on this report each month and wasted probably 100,000 sheets of paper," says Sidell. "Plus, everyone hated doing it. It was ridiculous." With savings like this surfacing after only two months, FinanceNOW! has the potential to save Charles Schwab hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Sidell continues, "Now we simply pull this data off the corporate database and put it on the intranet. No one touches it, so we don't introduce any errors. FinanceNOW! makes it easy for people to find what they need, so we don't need to print it out. Mostly, people like David (Veneziano) and his finance team can spend more time analyzing data instead of collating paper."
"SQL Server is a key part of the overall Microsoft architecture. The administrative tools are intuitive and extremely easy to use. It's very graphical, very reliable, very solid."
Senior Manager of Business Systems
Electronic Brokerage Division
Microsoft Technologies Are the Key
FinanceNOW! is based entirely on Microsoft technology. The client side of the application consists of Microsoft Internet Explorer version 3.0 and 3.01 running on Windows 95. The server side is based on Windows NT Server version 4.0, Microsoft SQL Server version 6.5, and Internet Information Server (IIS) version 2.0. The system runs on a Compaq ProLiant 4500 with dual 166-MHz Pentium processors.
In addition, many Microsoft desktop products, such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, and the Microsoft PowerPoint® presentation graphics program, are accessible from FinanceNOW!. The application even takes advantage of Microsoft NetMeeting™ conferencing software, which enables Charles Schwab employees to share applications and documents — and even collaborate using whiteboard features.
"Internet Explorer and the Internet Server Application Programming Interface (ISAPI) technologies are critical to this application," explains Sidell. "They are powerful and flexible and make it very easy to write Internet/intranet code. Special file types within ISAPI allow us to store SQL Server calls and stored procedures, which can then be called by the browser."
Electronic Brokerage chose SQL Server because it is easy to use, set up, and administer, and because it is well integrated with Windows NT and browser-based applications. "SQL Server is a key part of the overall Microsoft architecture," says Sidell. "The administrative tools are intuitive and extremely easy to use. It's very graphical, very reliable, very solid. And it's scalable, which is important as we grow this application." Sidell says SQL Server has reduced staffing needs for application development, help desk and user support, and overall operations and management. "From a technical standpoint, I needed a database that had tight integration with the intranet and Internet," he continues. "We make data in our SQL database available to our intranet users through integration with Microsoft Internet Information Server in our production area and Denali or IIS on our development site. I am also very happy with Microsoft's new Internet Assistant, which automatically delivers information in HTML format."
Sidell opted for a separate database in order to provide more control over Electronic Brokerage data without the worries or security issues involved with touching the corporate database.
"The synergy between Charles Schwab, Lante, and MCS has been fantastic. Thanks to this three-way partnership, we finished the project in less than five months and spent less than $100,000 to produce an application that's generating great productivity improvements and cost savings for Schwab."
Director of Finance
Electronic Brokerage Division
A Team Effort
The FinanceNOW! application was the result of a collaborative effort between Charles Schwab's Electronic Brokerage Division, Microsoft Solution Provider Lante Corporation, and Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS).
Senior MCS consultant Ser Kuang Wang acted in an advisory nature, providing product updates and technical assistance when needed. "Whenever we came up against a technical roadblock, I would turn it over to Ser Kuang," says Sidell. "For example we wanted to build an application that would fire off HTML code to bring up a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Ser Kuang showed us how to do this from within the browser with a single line of code, saving us a huge amount of development effort. If she didn't know the answer herself, she would find the resources at Microsoft—often the product developers themselves—to solve the problem. MCS and Microsoft's Premier Support service have been great resources for us." He adds that he frequently consults Microsoft TechNet to "stay in touch with the latest developments."
Says Veneziano, "The synergy between Charles Schwab, Lante, and MCS has been fantastic. Thanks to this three-way relationship, we finished the project in less than five months and spent less than $100,000 to produce an application that's generating great productivity improvements and cost savings for Schwab."
Charles Schwab's executive management has decided that FinanceNOW! will be a vital corporate tool. Electronic Brokerage has forged a strategic alliance with Corporate Finance Administration to roll out critical modules of the application to other divisions. According to Veneziano, "We see it as a model of how to efficiently utilize intranets to gain business advantage."
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (800) 563-9048. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information about Microsoft via the World Wide Web, go to the http://www.microsoft.com/ site. To learn more about Charles Schwab, visit the http://www.schwab.com/ site.