Banking on Being There

In the high-pressure world of finance, slow response time is not an option for ING’s network managers and I.T. staff. A reliable remote access solution is more than an option--it’s a mandate.

By Tim Scannell

Almost anyone who has flipped on a television or thumbed through a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room is familiar with advertisements for financial services company ING and its bright orange ball logo that somewhat resembles the fruit.

Peel back the colorful skin, however, and you will quickly discover just how extensive and far-reaching the company is, with Dutch roots going back 150 years, a financial services presence in more than 50 countries, and more than 120,000 employees worldwide. ING is one of the 20 largest financial companies in the world and the ING Direct division is the largest online direct bank in the United States, with $77 billion in assets and more than 6 million customers.

Given its online and exclusively virtual nature, ING is perhaps even more dependent on the reliability of its I.T. infrastructure — and the accessibility and responsiveness of its 70-person I.T. staff — than your average brick-and-mortar bank. 

“Quick access to our network managers and being able to rapidly leverage all of our internal resources and get more efficiencies from our staff is important,” says Mark, VP of I.T. at ING’s Investment Management Group. Based in Atlanta, Kolodzej is in charge of I.T. services provided to all ING locations in the U.S.

One of the daily challenges ING’s I.T. department faces, however, is providing quick access to the 15 network managers and staff. These employees usually don’t spend a lot of time at their desks and must be available to solve a range of support issues. 

In many cases, problems arise during weekends and after normal business hours, when the support staff is away from the office, but nevertheless may need to troubleshoot something as simple as a locked account or malfunctioning password.

Reaching for the Remote

A few years ago, ING adopted a remote administration client server solution from Canada-based Rove Mobile that worked with the company’s Research in Motion BlackBerry devices. The solution allowed the network staff to easily tap into the existing servers and perform simple corrective and administrative tasks. 

Called Network Admin, the server portion of the software is installed on a central system that has access to other servers in ING’s network. Client software is deployed on mobile devices – in ING’s case on about 15 BlackBerrys to date. Since the software is compatible with the company’s Microsoft Operations Manager environment and other Microsoft applications, it works smoothly to provide menu access to network necessary administration functions.

“This is one of the first solutions that came to market that allowed remote administration for our servers,” says Kolodzej. Network administrators can be out of the office and quickly respond to general support issues, he adds. “It gave them more convenient access and that is really what drove our buy decision.”

Network Admin’s ability to extend the reach of remote network administrators is, in fact, the top reason why companies license the software, says Paul Dumais, CTO of Rove Mobile.  In many cases, these people are on site, but may be in another part of a building or across a corporate campus. The application can easily reach them wherever they are to provide rapid response and actions.

The Rove software is specifically designed for remote access to server functions. It does not target mobile device management or the general mobile end-user product, Dumais adds. 

It also does not compete with existing server-based networked management environments from Tivoli, Hewlett-Packard and others.  Rather, Rove simply provides alert and execution options to access these and other network administrative systems remotely via a BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or even a Nokia smartphone, explains Dumais. 

“Network administrators don’t have to be on site and on call all the time, but can still remotely perform a variety of tasks on the server,” he says.

This strategy apparently is successful. Rove Mobile has managed to attract a following of more than 5,000 customers and 70,000 server licenses since its launch six years ago. Rove’s customer base includes more than 100 Fortune 500 companies and six of the world’s 15 largest banks.

Pitching Security

Security was obviously an important factor in ING’s buy decision, since it has a heavy footprint in the financial industry. This is one of the primary reasons why ING settled on the BlackBerry as a mobile device standard throughout the company, with about 1,000 units deployed to date.

Rove’s Dumais admits security is always a concern and usually comes up during a product pitch.  The remote management system takes a three-pronged approach to the issue, relying on client-level authentication and passwords, authentication on the server side, and even additional database authentication procedures. 

The product’s strong security buffers, especially when combined the BlackBerry’s own internal protection, is a major reason why more than 30 different U.S. government agencies now use Network Admin, including the CIA, FBI, Army and Air Force, notes Dumais. 

Before committing to the product, ING’s Kolodzej did his homework and checked with all of the usual analyst suspects, such Gartner and InfoTech, which provided a 20,000-mile view of the technology segment, as well as the generic pluses and minuses. Ultimately, however, it was a pilot project launched soon after a network manager recommended downloading a trial version of the software from the Rove site that cinched the deal. The pilot project provided an opportunity to see how the technology performed in the trenches.

The overall success of the Rove Mobile application has reinforced Kolodzej’s goal to look at other mobile systems, applications and tools that can enhance I.T. services and ultimately help the company better serve its consumer and business customers.

“As the needs of the staff grow, we are constantly looking at mobile devices, because the BlackBerry is such an integral part of what we do and how we operate,“ he adds.

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