COLD Investment Brings Mainframe Reports To The Desktop

Investment company Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. easily cost justifies a solution that allows more than 1,000 users to access mainframe reports at their desktops. The result: greater productivity and improved customer service.

Want the current price of a stock? No problem. Turn on CNBC and watch the tickers scroll by. Or, key in a company symbol at almost any Internet portal. For those who handle their own investing, online brokers also offer real-time numbers. With all this digital information, it's easy to forget this data is supported by countless paper documents and reports.

For a full-service investment company like Robert W. Baird & Co., hundreds of hard copy, paper reports stood in the way of improving productivity and customer service. When clients have questions about statements, they want answers now. And, Baird's financial advisors want to supply answers on the spot. Good intentions aside, this process hit a logistical snag because reports were archived on microfiche or stored in file cabinets. Answering customers' questions usually required financial advisors to search through documentation and place follow-up calls to clients.

COLD Solution Improves Customer Service
Joe Bosko, vice president and computer operations manager, intuitively knew there was a more efficient method for archiving and distributing the reports generated by Baird's mainframe. This feeling was confirmed when Bosko visited a brokerage house near Baird's headquarters in Milwaukee. "We saw the company was running DataTrade's (Springfield, MO) Spoolview software, and we believed this solution could greatly benefit our company," comments Bosko. Spoolview is designed to solve the exact problem that Baird was facing. The software converts COLD (computer output to laser disk) data generated by mainframes and presents this information to users at their desktops through a Windows GUI (graphical user interface). Documents and greenbar reports are eliminated. Now, Baird's financial advisors can instantly access and view a client's statement during an initial customer call.

The original pilot of the Spoolview solution included 10 users at Baird. The system now has more than 1,000 authorized users. "Of that total number, an average of 25 to 30 people are looking at a mainframe report at any given point in time," relays Bosko. To facilitate the growing number of authorized users, Bosko says DataTrade wrote a program that makes it much easier for Baird to add new users. "This program allows us to add new users on the fly without having to individually key in user information through the GUI. There are days when we have to add 30 users at a crack. We can do that in only a few minutes since there is minimal keystroking," explains Bosko.

Optical Storage Meets Compliance Standards
Very few technology purchases get the green light without calculating an accurate ROI (return on investment). The implementation of Spoolview at Baird was no exception. Instead of using a convoluted formula that incorporated intangible benefits, Baird was able to easily justify the technology in hard-dollar savings. "We justified the solution based solely on the elimination of monthly microfiche expenses. We didn't have to worry about anything else," states Bosko.

Compliance, however, was one aspect of the technology that Baird had to worry about. Within the securities and exchange industry, there are specific guidelines that must be followed. For example, a company must have the ability to archive and store reports for many years. If an examiner visits Baird, the company must be able to access a tremendous volume of reports in backlog. "The product needed to meet both our requirements and the SEC's (Securities and Exchange Commission's) requirements," explains Bosko. "Those are two very different things. Both pieces had to be in place before we could move forward."

Baird uses a Hewlett-Packard jukebox to archive its report data. The data is written to two optical platters with one of the platters remaining in the system. The other platter is stored off-site in a vault. In the event of a catastrophe at Baird's headquarters, platters could be brought from the off-site vault, and the company's system could be restored.

Microfiche archives and paper reports are eventually purged when Baird's legal and compliance departments deem it appropriate. With the new system, however, Baird is not planning on ever purging information. "We have the ability to purge data, but we don't plan on doing that," says Bosko. "We are now configured to store an infinite amount of information if we have to." Eventually, Baird will purge all microfiche and paper. All that remains today is a handful of microfiche readers. In time, the sole purpose of those machines will be to serve as a reminder of the pre-digital age.

Ed Hess