Desjardins opens up Web access to employees

The Desjardins Group has invested in Microsoft technology that improved staff access to Web-based applications at its locations across Canada – a move that has resulted in time and cost savings for the co-operative financial group.

Lévis, Qué.-based Desjardins, which has a network of five million member-owners, deployed Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2004 SP2 last December. The ISA server is being used at more than 1,500 service points throughout Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick.

Microsoft ISA server offers an integrated firewall, virtual private network, and content caching technology. With its February launch, it expanded to include new features for organizations facing bandwidth challenges.

Microsoft Canada typically provides its Web-caching solution to customers with “a proliferation of branch offices,” such as financial institutions, retail chains, and companies in the food and entertainment industry, said Derick Wong, senior product manager, security and management, at Microsoft Canada Co.

The decision has resulted in improvements in “time response and availability of different applications at our foreign sites,” said Josée Corriveau, applications architecture and infrastructure manager at Desjardins.

Desjardins had run into bandwidth problems using its four-year-old in-house data compression tool because many of its service points were located in small or remote communities. Isolated locations with under-developed IT infrastructure had experienced network speeds of as low as 56 kilobits per second, compared to speeds of 256 kilobits per second common to urban areas.

The in-house tool worked well only with applications developed internally. Desjardins was often forced to limit Web-site access and negotiate with vendors to change application specs.

Using the old system, branch staff would access government sites as part of their job, including PDF files with graphics, which are activities Desjardins could not bar, Corriveau said.

“We were not in a controlled environment for the Internet content,” she explained.

Wong compares the situation to a dial-up connection on a home laptop that forces one to wait for a Web page to load.

“Well, unfortunately, this is a customer-service representative trying to get someone’s RSP information in…while the customer is waiting to have those funds transferred,” said Wong.

Now that Desjardins has switched to the ISA server, low-bandwidth users experience speeds that have improved by 50 per cent, Corriveau explained.

The financial institution has also saved operating costs by getting “rid of some of our servers and other proxy solutions” linked to the former compression tool.

“We know that it should improve (staff efficiency), but we don’t have a figure on how much cost of operations will be reduced,” Corriveau said.

Part of the difficulty to articulate this, said Wong, lies with bandwidth charges and overhead costs that vary from company to company.

He said in the case of Desjardins, the cost and time savings the company garnered from choosing the ISA server did not mean it had to invest more in its network, which is a common customer fear.

In trying to fix its bandwidth difficulties, Desjardins realized no other suitable software solutions were on the market. A potential hardware solution, in turn, proved to be too costly. She said the other option would have been to continue developing the company’s internal solution, but adding bandwidth would also have been expensive.

In the end, Desjardins turned to Microsoft Canada because it was already using the Microsoft operating system in its branches.

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