Progress helps Nationwide deal with data

16 July 2016

The Nationwide Building Society is said to be the UK’s second-largest provider of household savings and runs an analytics system which has more than 300 developers working on it. 

Many departments across the organisation depend on the data the system produces to complete their daily tasks. For example, the fraud department uses it to analyse transactional data, looking for patterns that indicate fraud; the data modelling group uses it for predictive analytics; and marketing uses it for segmentation and trends analysis. 

The system is critical to keeping Nationwide’s business running smoothly and therefore has to be highly available. However, monitoring in 2013 showed that the growth of the company together with demands from regulators and management for more sophisticated and faster analysis could not be accommodated on the existing platform over the long term. The system had limits to its scalability, particularly in term of data throughput.

The firm decided that major changes were needed. These involved moving from Windows to Unix, and upgrading from SAS version 9.2 to SAS 9.4 Grid. In fact, it was an almost completely new system, with new server hardware, security and file systems, and backup software. Additionally, user data were reorganised into standard file structures by department, and the software modified to work under Unix and address the new structures. 

But well into the system build the team encountered issues, as Nationwide’s head of transformation Paul Matthews explains: “We had problems connecting to our SQL data on Windows servers. And it was a complex link that presented tremendous technical issues. We needed standard, and most crucially, supported software to resolve the problem.”

This is where Progress came in with its DataDirect software. Because SAS supplies a version of the DataDirect driver in its software, Nationwide contacted Progress to supply an up-to-date version of the driver along with a support agreement. Within days, the vendor provided Nationwide with trial drivers, and working closely with the building society and SAS technical experts, provided a hot fix. 

Following a two-month test period, the DataDirect solution went live in July 2013. With the new system, average jobs are said to be running in 25 per cent of the time they used to, and there are significantly more sophisticated analytic tools, system monitors and controls available. “Overall, we are getting our month-end processes done in five days instead of ten,” says Matthews.