Royal Bank Intelligence Portal


The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) implemented a $3 million business intelligence “e-metrics” portal to give 1,500 executives and managers a way to keep track of the banks rapidly growing online banking and e-commerce offerings. Instead of clarity and visibility, reaction from users went from “This doesn’t seem intuitive to me,” to “I can’t seem to get through it, I don’t know the answers – can’t you just tell me what the answer is?”


RBC asked Cognitive to review the implementation and determine if the original objectives could be met. We conducted a comprehensive cognitive ergonomics and task analysis process with representative groups of managers and executives. Based on this research, We  redesigned the e-metrics portal interface to support the goals and tasks of the workers – effectively making the application do what they needed it to do. We developed new query algorithms to run behind the interface layer so that with one or two clicks, users could quickly get to the information they needed. RBC now has near complete adoption of the portal by workers who now say, “This is exactly what I need.”

“After the Cognitive Group came in, the majority of our feedback was full of compliments,” said Steve Crawford, in charge of the RBC e-metrics portal project. “(Cognitive) has a storing understanding of the financial services industry (and) a knack of putting thoughts and ideas into actual practical implementation and execution. I found them an excellent resource and would use them again.”

The rise of the Internet and pervasiveness of personal computing brought a revolutionary shift to the banking industry.

This led to the creation of online banking systems bringing the bank branches to home and office computers. What started as a simple way to monitor bank balances and reconcile account transactions continues to expand into new service offerings for clients.

In 2001, The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) decided to align managers with the technology – online reporting for online banking. Managers traditionally used paper-based reporting which is cumbersome and time consuming. Executives relied on written summaries from subordinates. By the time paper reports were generated and summaries drafted, the data was stale. RBC felt that online business intelligence tools would deliver real-time data that would provide a much better picture of the business. This would be done through a web-based interface RBC called an “e-metrics portal.”

The managers didn’t have anything at all which is why we built the project in the first place,” said Martin Stevens, Senior Manager, Program Integration, e-business Architecture. “These are all statistics of online banking – how many people enrolled, transaction statistics, bill payments, how many applications were completed, that sort of thing. There was a multi-terabyte data base with reams and reams of customer-related information.”

RBC initially worked with a general consultant with as technology background in business intelligence (BI) and a vendor consultant group to help select the right business intelligence applications. Working with these consultants, RBC selected a Tier One business intelligence application with dynamic updating capacity to ensure that as new data and statistics were obtained from the online banking systems, that databases would be seamlessly and automatically updated.

But after the application was selected and the implementation began, the problems also began. The issue was not the performance of the BI product per se, but rather getting the application to do what RBC wanted it to do.

Both consultants were very much unfamiliar with our industry group,” said Steve Crawford, who was in charge of the e-metrics portal project. “While they had strong skills from a technical aspect, they couldn’t translate our own vision into their applications.” The end result was an interface that was complex, confusing and that managers avoided.

The problem was how to present all this in a simple way and we couldn’t figure this out,” said Stevens. “I felt we had probably one opportunity and would annoy executives if we presented them with the wrong information or they couldn’t find what he was looking for.”

The importance of the portal had already been identified prior to the implementation. Not only was it to provide existing information, but to make the right analysis to promote and raise the profile of the channel from a business perspective. “This is a significant contributor to our overall sales activity,” said Stevens. “The only way that was going to be effective is if people actually went in and looked at it and found stuff that was useful.

Everything an RBC customer does online is tracked and captured in a database and can be reported on in graphical formats, spreadsheet formats or a multitude of other reports.

The portal was designed to help users mine the database, with cached queries for regular (daily, weekly, monthly, annual) reporting, or ad hoc queries, i.e. how many customers in Quebec paid their Bell Canada phone bills online in the past year.

Think of it as a pyramid and the bottom layer is this incredible breadth of information,” said Stevens. “How do you build that portal in such a way so hat you don’t intimidate someone coming in through the top of the pyramid trying to find that information.

And it was at that top layer where all the problems coalesced. It took 18 months to identify, develop and implements to back end tools and defining the data elements and definitions.

The portal itself –we didn’t know or think to start at that end first not a lot of thought went into it,” said Stevens. “They just started building the user interface out and adding a lot of stuff to it and we realized this was unworkable. We knew people weren’t using it.” The biggest problem wasn’t a lack of information; it was too much information and much of it irrelevant to the users’ needs. Instead of thumbing through reams of papers, managers were frustrated by having to endlessly click through different screen pages to find what they needed.

Based on a previously successful project at RBC, Stevens suggested that Crawford should contact the Cognitive Group to put the project back on track.

The approach that Cognitive takes is different from a usability consultant or a web designer,” said Stevens. “They approach it from the user’s perspective. They don’t ask the user, “What do you want,” or “What would you like to see,” because most users can’t articulate that. What users can articulate is, “This is what I do.

Still, Crawford said, “When Martin first encouraged me to get the Cognitive Group and engage them, I was somewhat leery, especially after what I’d been through,” said Crawford. But those apprehensions were quickly laid to rest.

Crawford said Cognitive also has “a storing understanding of the financial services industry”  which further helped develop crisp, yet detailed reporting very much focused on delivering the right information to the end user.

Cognitive met with representative groups of managers and executives and commenced an exhaustive videotaped analysis of those workers on the job. Workers were asked to explain what they were doing, how they accomplished tasks and why they did things the way they did. The videotaping captured the workers, their environment and the existing tools and working documents, both paper and electronic.

The videotapes were then analyzed by Cognitive’s team of experts in cognitive ergonomics and task analysis. From this analysis, Cognitive identified a hierarchical structure of goals, tasks and the optimal way to accomplish these tasks. From this complex analysis, Cognitive then designed a new intuitive interface that would meet virtually all user needs. Depending on the information requirements, Cognitive also then developed new query algorithms to seamlessly tie the interface to the BI tools and the underlying databases.

Cognitive brought together the various dimensions, the way we needed to slice and dice our data that was relevant to a broader group,” said Crawford. “We had a lot of one-off requests for specific queries, but they quite capably gathered all those various one-offs and combined them in and still designed a reporting tool for a much broader audience.

The company’s approach to cognitive ergonomics and task analysis puts the firm “a significant step ahead” of other consultants according to Crawford by focusing on the presentation layer and then working with RBC to launch the e-metrics portal with executives.

What I’m generally noticing is (other consultants) walk away with their interpretation of their notes and have at least one, two, maybe three times they want to come back to the table to ask for clarification of their notes because they’re still not clear of what they wrote down at the time,” said Crawford. “Cognitive reverts back to the video sessions and quite capably tackles the issue head on and does not have to continually come back to us for further clarification.

With the portal redesign completed and relaunched in July 2002, Crawford said RBC now has “a strong utilization of the tool over the initial launch” with nothing but complements from users.

“Cognitive has a knack of putting thoughts and ideas into actual practical implementation and execution. I found them an excellent resource and would use them again most definitely if we had that kind of project again.”

Steve Crawford


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