This article was originally published by Microsoft. To read the original posting of this article, click here. Photo Credit: Bloomberg
Metro Bank is a United Kingdom financial institution established in 2010 and was the first high street bank to be granted a license by the UK Financial Services Authority in more than 150 years. Since then, the company has grown to more than 50 branches serving over a million accounts. Metro Bank provides a wide range of consumer and commercial financial services, from savings accounts to mortgages to business loans.
While other United Kingdom banks are closing branches, Metro Bank continues to expand. The company sets itself apart from the competition by focusing strongly on the needs of its customers. Metro Bank keeps branches open for longer hours on more days—including bank holidays—allowing customers to get services in person or online. Metro Bank has also invested in developing an award-winning mobile banking app, meeting its customers’ needs wherever they are.
Paul Silvester is a Microsoft Power Platform Evangelizing Delivery Manager at Metro Bank. It’s his responsibility to deliver Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Power Platform capabilities to streamline data services across the company. He has been helping to lead the company to optimize business processes and accelerate growth by using Microsoft Power Platform, including Microsoft Power BI, and Azure data services.
Metro Bank’s challenge
As a modern financial institution, Metro Bank knew that technology and data would be key to its success and growth. Using the right technologies for each aspect of the business would enable the company to thrive in a highly competitive industry—and using data-driven insights would empower Metro Bank to understand its customers and their business.
Early on, Metro Bank selected Oracle Financials as its core banking system. Oracle Financials had the specialized capabilities that Metro Bank needed for accounts and transactions and to run the company’s day-to-day business, but it soon became apparent that it wasn’t the right platform to run a modern and agile data-driven business.
Running analytics workloads against the Oracle system interfered with financial transactions, and Oracle’s business intelligence tools were expensive and difficult to use. Building new reports or applications that used financial data required developers and data engineers from IT, and it typically took months to complete. Although Metro Bank was happy with its choice for financial processing, the company needed a better solution for analytics, and it needed to find the right solution the first time.
Metro Bank had an advantage that few enterprise companies can imagine: it had no legacy systems. Because Metro Bank was founded recently and had a focus on technology from the beginning, the company did not have the proliferation of platforms and tools that come through mergers and acquisitions, and its leaders understood the value of maintaining this advantage. At the same time, Metro Bank lacked the cash reserves that a more established bank might take for granted, meaning it did not have the luxury to choose the wrong tool and then replace it if needed. Every investment Metro Bank made in tools and platforms needed to be as future-proof as possible.
Building a modern data estate
In 2015, Metro Bank invested in its first data warehouse and selected Microsoft SQL Server and Azure as its strategic data platform. Key banking transactions are still processed by Oracle, but the Oracle data and data from other internal and external sources were consolidated into a single enterprise data warehouse. Between 2015 and 2019, this data warehouse expanded to represent a 360-degree view of the Metro Bank customer and is the single source of truth for all reporting and analytics across the company.
At the same time that Metro Bank selected SQL Server and Azure, the company also selected Power BI as its business intelligence tool. Power BI worked well with all Metro Bank data sources. With Power BI, business users as well as IT staff can develop reports and BI solutions, making the business more agile and responsive. And, just as important to Metro Bank, the company had seen the rapid evolution and sustained investment from Microsoft and knew that Power BI would grow with Metro Bank as its needs evolved.
Metro Bank’s decision to choose Power BI as the company’s analytics platform was instrumental for its move to Azure. Metro Bank’s enterprise data warehouse runs on SQL Server, but most of its data estate is in Azure—primarily in Azure SQL Database. While the data warehouse is governed strictly and evolves slowly over time, Metro Bank has multiple Azure-based data marts that are used for more agile reporting needs. Using SQL Database, Metro Bank can quickly provision a data mart that includes data from the data warehouse and additional sources and can use this for tactical exploratory analytics. Business users in Power BI can mash up data from the data mart with data from internal and external sources, and IT can use this work to inform updates to the central data warehouse.
Using SQL Database for reporting delivers immediate and ongoing benefits. Not only can Metro Bank get the immediate insights it needs, the company can get them without major investments in time or infrastructure. Offloading new reporting workloads to Azure also means that the load on the data warehouse and on the servers running Power BI gateways is more easily managed and predictable.
Power BI and Azure: not just for analytics
Metro Bank uses Power BI with Azure in many aspects of the business. The company uses them in call centers to track call volume, service levels, customer demographics, call times, and shift scheduling. Mobile and internet banking divisions were creating reports to analyze volume and types of transactions from online customers. Power BI capabilities were also helping Metro Bank track customer complaints, including the time it took to resolve issues and the departments involved. Staffing and workload planning was collecting data in Power BI during peak activity times in bank branches. The amount and type of activity tracked and reported allowed staffing to be done correctly to meet customer demand. Metro Bank’s CEO has referred to Power BI as “a bank in his pocket” because with a few clicks the company is able to visualize and interrogate almost anything, allowing everyone at the company to be on the same page.
The same benefits that make the combination of Power BI and Azure a logical choice for Metro Bank’s data marts make it a great fit for other workloads, including line of business applications like tracking and managing project costs.
In November 2015, Metro Bank implemented a system for project data to be collected across the organization. This system is part of an ongoing initiative to optimize and manage spending costs on projects to enable better service for customers. By producing accurate project budgets and forecasting future project cost demand, Metro Bank can spend more time and money delivering solutions that its customers want and therefore save customers money. The project system was implemented using InfoPath forms for data entry and SharePoint lists for data storage. This system met Metro Bank’s immediate needs, and although the process was sometimes inefficient and reporting was limited, for the time being “good enough” was good enough.
In mid-2019, Metro Bank decided that it was time to replace this time tracking system with a solution that better met its needs and that would align well with the organization’s emphasis on data-driven decisions. Metro Bank needed a solution with the ability to track project work at an hourly level—not the daily tracking provided by the current solution—and that could be updated throughout the day. But at the same time, the company was still constrained—any new system would need to be delivered in a timely and cost-conscious manner and would need to grow as the needs of the business grew.
Over the course of six weeks, Paul Silvester developed an end-to-end time tracking and resource management tool using Azure and Power BI. The tool includes a user interface built in Microsoft Power Apps and process automation delivered in Microsoft Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow).
In this new solution, data is collected by any colleague throughout the company who does work attributed to a project, and it is entered using Power Apps; depending on the context, either of two apps may be used. The data from Power Apps is stored in SQL Database and Common Data Service. Data is loaded into Power BI using dataflows, and information and insights are delivered to the users and teams who need them via Power BI reports and dashboards. Metro Bank also implemented a reminder and notification process using Power Automate to ensure that information is seen by the employees who need it, when a project work summary is required but not yet completed.
Figure 2. App built with Power Apps that’s used to store project data and examples of reminder emails sent to employees by Power Automate
The system developed met the needs of Metro Bank to gather information from across the company, store it effectively in one place, visualize it at a granular level—and enable project budgets to be efficiently managed, governed, created, and controlled. This new system captures hours spent on projects each week and enables reporting on time spent at multiple levels for multiple business user personas. Having this detailed information gives Metro Bank granular control over activity within projects.
Figure 3. Data collected using Power Apps is aggregated to create a dataflow
All the data is then surfaced in Power BI, where Paul Silvester delivered a set of reports that managers across the company use to manage their budgets. The reports are interactive, including drill-through capabilities and bookmarks, so managers can manage project budget spend easily and effectively.
Figure 4. Power BI dashboards show detail about the hours worked on specific projects, and give users drill-through functionality to analyze detailed data
AI and Power BI
Metro Bank has also focused on empowering end users to easily explore their data with more freedom. They have done this by leveraging AI features within Power BI, letting users conduct their own root cause analysis and ask questions of their data.
“All of our colleagues at Metro Bank are big users of the natural language Q&A functionality.” says Bruce Rioch, Director, Microsoft Technologies & BI at Metro Bank. “Ever since we implemented Power BI, we have always optimized our data models for Q&A purposes as this is where the real value of self-servicing comes from. Colleagues having the ability to ask questions naturally adds huge value to the end user experience. In addition, the decomposition tree visual has been a huge success in being able to analyze data quickly. In the image shown (below), we are able to quickly find which projects have had the most time spent on them and the people involved, helping us cross transfer costs accordingly.”
Figure 5. Q&A and the decomposition tree provide end users with innovative ways to drive their analysis
Agile success with Azure and Power BI
Tracking project data is now simple. Reports are detailed and interactive, and they contain current data. Making changes in the solutions model has put power into the hands of the project managers. With accurate oversight of colleagues, project managers are empowered to challenge others to grow and make the best business and budget decisions. Managers throughout Metro Bank can now understand what is happening throughout the company at a granular level.
Previously, Metro Bank had difficulty getting data processed in a way that helped the company truly understand, predict, and control project spend. With the new solution implemented using Power BI and Azure, Metro Bank has quickly delivered a more efficient business both in employee capability and business solutions—and the company did it without purchasing new server hardware or requiring involvement from IT.
Where are they now?
The new solution was rolled out in a pilot program in August 2019. After a successful trial, Metro Bank rolled it out companywide at the beginning of October 2019. The company now visualizes current and granular project information for easier understanding, and managers across the company have a common solution with reports and dashboards that deliver the knowledge and insights they need to better manage and forecast project budgets.
Metro Bank has more than 100 reports in production, all of which consume data from Azure. The company loves the use of Azure with Power BI because of the strong and highly secure connectivity. With the coupling of Azure and Power BI visualizations, Metro Bank has reached new levels of understanding of what’s happening in the company by tracking the details that matter.
Metro Bank is continually growing and improving on features within the company. Moving forward, it is excited about taking advantage of machine learning capabilities to view forecasting project demand by leveraging Power BI and Azure.