by December 5, 2009 0 comments

Being the IT in-charge of Shri Arihant Co-op Bank Ltd, since the last 17
years, I introduced computerization in the bank, by selecting OS, developing and
managing applications, training staff,  looking after network, connectivity and
all IT related challenges you can think of. Our banking application was
developed using FoxPro on DOS. We also used NetWare 3.2 OS, Word Star 7 and
Lotus 4 for document and spreadsheet needs. This was a low cost and secure way
of transacting across branches. However when Intel stopped supporting DOS and
Windows 98, we started looking for alternatives.

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Application planning and deployment
We sieved through a slew of solutions from Open Source and Microsoft domains
and found the implementation challenges getting balanced across both domains.
While Linux proved to be better in Security and Licensing issues, Microsoft
products scored in manageability. After a careful evaluation, we decided to sign
an MoU with a Linux based CBS solution from VSoft Technologies, Bangalore. We
are paying for support services and updates to Vsoft. The vendor chose RedHat
Linux enterprise edition as he wanted to spend more time in makng the
application stable rather than experiment with multiple Linux distros. A major
change for the users was the difference in interface between  DOS and Linux.
Right from the change in hardware to acceptance of application by users, we
faced lot of challenges. Thankfully, most issues have been resolved. We selected
Open Office as the document management application. After a brief training, our
staff transited from the DOS based applications to GUI based ones in a very
short time.

We got 4 GB storage on our branch server and transferred old data from 1st
April 2008 to the new application and ran both systems for 15 days in parallel
in the pilot branch. Most problems and issues faced were with the working of the
application as this was the first installation of its kind in Mumbai for VSoft.
Most banking practices and routines were found different than what was available
in the application. Moreover we had to change all PChardware
of our entire branch as the nodes started giving driver problems for the LAN
card. We contacted Intel and searched for solutions on the Web but the only
solution that we found on one of the forums was to shut down the machine for
five minutes and restart for the nodes to come up normally and work smoothly
throughout the day.

Better security
While on DOS, security was always an issue, but using Novell NetWare’s
features and DOS batch file concepts, we could control visibility of the DOS
prompt. The users logging in to the application and those logging out due to
termination of the  application were ably recorded. Database was modified in
such a way that no one could work on previous dates. Interbranch transactions
happen without intervention of staff, and were fully secure. PC Anywhere and
Windows 98 were used to connect through dialup, At the first connection (host at
the other end validating the connection), the transaction transfer is through a
secure, encrypted script. The whole process of transacting through the
application and getting back flags in real time from other branches regarding
success of the transaction, make it a very cost-effective solution.

How it works
The new Application’s maiden installation is in Mumbai region. Even as most
practices followed are the same as with the old application, we’ve introduced
the customer code concept. The interest calculation is on a per day basis in the
new application against the monthly process followed in the older application.
The speed at which this application works is pretty decent and all other
benchmarks are working perfectly. The remote helpdesk, management and support is
working on ADSL and fixed IP from MTNL. Our bank shall get MPLS connectivity
soon and create a WAN network. We have six branches and one head office. Two
branches are live on CBS and the head office gets backup the next day on its
server, located there itself. However HO can see transactions and reports,
online, of two branches as of now. Our pilot branch is now totally on the Linux
platform and one of our new branches at Dombivli started its operations on the
Linux platform. Another branch is planned for migration in the near future. The
remaining three branches will get converted by December 2009 and this will
kickstart our CBS. The old application was not scalable, but new application is
indeed scalable. We are using PostgreSQL open source database and is capable to
handle for about 30 branches data with ease.

Right now, about 75 users, comprising 2 branches are on CBS, which are
running on Linux OS. Windows is used on only one node where the hand scanner is
used for utility bill collection or signature scanning. The WAN bandwidth is 128
Kbps for all branches but 1 Mbps for HO, which we have contracted with Sify
Technologies. We have outsourced our Data Center to Net Magic, who offer us an
Opex model where Server, Backups, OS management and Router/Firewall (everything
except connectivity facility) will be provided 24 x 7. Tape cartridges will be
delivered to us every morning. A DR site will be planned in the next financial
year. So from 1st week of January 2010 we will start Internet and SMS banking,
helpdesk for clients, centralized clearing department to save costs and increase
efficiency, centralized account opening monitoring and KYC audit department,
loan processing, etc. Our bank plans to open a new branch at Navi Mumbai in
November or December 2009, where we shall introduce touch screen kiosks, cash
dispensing machines, etc.

How we benefit
We’ve saved a lot on our sanctioned IT budget due to savings on licensing
cost of OS and savings due to low requirement of resources with the applications
running on Linux, savings on anti-virus and other application licenses and the
added benefit of securely installing new services like video conferencing,
Intercom facility, email solutions, etc. Now, PC Anywhere is out. And since
Linux does not face the same virus threat as Windows-based platforms, our
anti-virus requirements are limited.

Kirit Shah, IT incharge, Sri Arihant Co-operative Bank

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