Application lets bank examiners tap into data offline

A new distributive database is letting bank examiners with the Office of Comptroller of
the Currency gain easy access to data on their notebook PCs without tying up phone lines.

OCC chose the technology over client-server, intranet or Web technology because it lets
bank examiners download the portion of the database they need and disconnect from the
server, project manager Daniel Berkland said.

In the past, OCC bank examiners, especially those reviewing the books in small banks,
had to ask bank employees to unplug one of their fax lines so examiners could plug in
their notebooks and dial in to the OCC database. Because examiners could not download just
a portion of the database, they would have to tie up the bank’s line, querying the
mainframe for bits of data throughout the day.

Examiners also had to enter the same data several times, based on the format they
needed the data in. When uploading information to the mainframe, they had to convert it to

Examiners had to do a lot of retyping and swapping of floppies to get the information
in the right format, Berkland said.

Now, after four years of development, OCC examiners have Examiner View, a system that
solves several of the problems. Examiners do not have to be linked to the OCC mainframe
over phone lines all day, and it handles several data formats.

The project took a little longer than it had to because OCC got off to a slow start,
Berkland said. The heavy development was done over the last two years, he said.

Because two-thirds of OCC staff is in the field, OCC did not want users to have to be
connected to the mainframe to do their work. Using database replication technology, which
keeps multiple databases synchronized, OCC examiners store a portion of the database on
their notebooks and make their queries while disconnected from the server.

The notebooks, Dell Computer Corp. Latitude CP or LMs, run Microsoft Windows 95. They
have relatively small memory—about 50M of RAM—because OCC examiners only need
data on four or five banks at a time, Berkland said.

The notebooks have either 1.4G or 4G hard drives, but OCC is upgrading to all 4G hard
drives, Berkland said.

OCC also ran a dedicated phone line to the banks so that examiners no longer have to
impose on banks for phone lines. Encryption secures the data as it is downloaded, OCC
officials said.

Examiners now only have to enter data once; the new system puts it in any format the
examiner wants. They can even attach working papers, such as spreadsheets of loan data or
notes taken in discussions with management, Berkland said.

Examiner View is based on Windows, so bank examiners can quickly learn the new
application, Berkland said.

An OCC development team designed the front end of the system using PowerBuilder from
Sybase Inc. They used Sybase SQL Anywhere for the database. The server is a Compaq
ProLiant 6500 server running Sybase SQL Server.

OCC is also working to reduce the paper examiners have to carry and manage. Examiners
used to carry around a stack of papers of recent OCC issuances, exam guidance, banking
bulletins, policy statements, laws, rules and regulations.

All that data—a library’s worth—is now stored on CD-ROM and updated each
month, Berkland said.

“Examiner View has cost roughly $6 million to $7 million, and no doubt we’ll
spend more,” chief information officer Steven Yohai said.

It is a critical investment because at any time OCC has 1,000 examiners in the field,
Yohai said. Increasing their productivity is important, he said.

OCC bank examiners played a part in developing the system, Yohai said. More than 100
examiners either reviewed the system or worked on development. Berkland was a bank
examiner before joining the project.

Examiner View is available for community bank examiners; examiners of larger banks will
eventually get the system. About 80 percent of the system will be the same with some
modules added, Berkland said.   

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