How BMO Harris Reduced BCP Review Time by 40 Percent
For any financial institution, a customer’s loyalty is built on trust. We expect that our financial and personal information is kept safe and that banking services will be available when we need them. Even a brief service outage can disrupt a person’s ability to pay their bills, cash a check, or make a business transaction. These disruptions and data breaches erode trust in a system that requires it.
Knowing the importance of trust to its business, BMO Harris (BMO), the 16th largest U.S. bank and second largest in Chicago, wanted to ensure that it was prepared for any scenario that threatened its customers’ trust. The bank sought to improve the speed and quality with which it reviewed business continuity and disaster recovery plans. As one of the largest institutions in a highly regulated financial services industry, BMO needed a custom software application that met its unique compliance needs. It hired Forte Group to make it happen.
Prior to partnering with Forte, BMO had relied heavily on manual spreadsheet- and email-based systems of record to review nearly 230 business continuity plans (BCPs) annually. The existing process created a messy workflow that the company found inefficient, time-consuming, and costly to maintain. On average, each audit would take 8-10 weeks.
“With the entire process being manual, it was difficult to keep the integrity of version control and it was hard to keep up with due dates and timings,” Linda Bean, Business Continuity Project Manager at BMO Harris, said. “We were essentially working with spreadsheets that were being distributed back and forth internally between our BCP coordinators and the line of business.”
“The biggest need that BMO had at the time was to create some type of software solution that could facilitate our quality assurance (QA) reviews in a more automated fashion,” Mike Wallace, Senior Vice President, Business Resiliency at BMO Harris, said. “Our federal banking examiners had told us several years ago, ‘you have to get away from this Excel stuff.’”
That’s where Forte came into play. The BMO team sat down with a Forte product owner to outline the basic requirements. From there, the team embarked on a solution.
Forte introduced an agile, value-driven development work model to the BMO project. During the discovery phase, a cross-functional Forte delivery team met with Wallace, Bean and their team, outlining three major needs:
- A software solution that allowed users to review, revise, and approve BCPs, then route them through the varying workflows and checklists in a smooth, centralized pipeline
- A central location to store BCP documentation
- An application that was flexible enough to integrate with its existing and any future business continuity software
Following the discovery phase, Forte created use cases (aligned to solutions for the defined needs), user stories, acceptance criteria, and ultimately, a roadmap to deliver the final product in two-week sprints.
The Forte team iteratively built the product, delivering in two-week sprints, then fine-tuning after collecting user feedback. Over the next several months, the BMO and Forte teams built what became known as Quara, a custom web application that brought the company’s internal systems, compliance regulations, and departments together.
The solution automated manual processes, notifying stakeholders if approval, review, or input were needed. It also allowed users to track progress, revision history, and audit requirements in real time.
Quality assurance is on the leading edge right now,” Bean said. “Quara puts us at the forefront of QA—an efficient, strategically placed position. It’s a great tool and has done a lot to improve our practices. Now, we have a lot of ideas about how Quara can go even further. That’s the best part: Based on how it was built, it has satisfied every requirement we’ve had and more. It’s taken us to a whole new level.
Within eight months, the team completely overhauled BMO’s BCP review system. Quara’s new capabilities enabled BMO to streamline its internal approval processes, resulting in shortened review times, greater organizational transparency, and an accelerated BCP lifecycle.
“It’s one of the quickest technology projects I’ve seen this organization accomplish,” Wallace said. “Full design of the software—from discovery, to user acceptance testing, to development, to the final production rollout—took place over 8-9 months, start to finish.”
In addition to significantly streamlining the BCP review process, Quara came with some added benefits, including:
- An improved “audit trail,” allowing teams to view a record of who said what, and when
- The ability to analyze and build historical data to quickly and easily identify trends and effectively focus on areas for improvement
- Enhanced reporting capabilities by integrating Quara with BMO’s business continuity software
Quara also creates automated reports from the data, making the review process easier.
Previously, a BCP review could take up to 10 weeks. Now, the entire process is completed within as little as six.
“Before we installed Quara, Linda and her team were constantly knee-deep in quality assurance reviews—that’s all they did.” Wallace said. “They were here 8-10 hours a day doing QA reviews, sometimes on weekends. Now, Linda and her team have the luxury of extra time to work on other business continuity projects that require their expertise. Rather than working on the reviews all day, they’re able to help strategize how we can improve our business continuity planning.”
Due to the success of the streamlined BCP process, BMO recently announced plans to broaden Quara to other stages in the risk management process. BMO also plans to expand Quara to service its offices in Canada, the U.K., and Asia. With an improved BCP lifecycle, BMO can focus on what matters: strengthening its security and risk management strategies, which greatly improves its responsiveness to potential security threats.
Trust, the cornerstone of any transaction, is slowly earned and can quickly be squandered. By making an investment in its preparedness for the worst, BMO has committed to making its customers’ trust the bedrock of its business.