Founded in 1916 with offices in 15 states and Puerto Rico, AgFirst Farm Credit Bank is the country’s largest agricultural lending institution with assets of over $26 billion. AgFirst Farm Credit Bank is a regional funding and financial services cooperative serving 23 agricultural credit associations in the eastern United States. Indirectly, AgFirst serves 80,000, mostly rural, customers. The credit associations and their customers rely on AgFirst, based in Columbia, South Carolina, for a range of centralized information management services critical to their daily business.
Based on a solid business foundation, AgFirst saw its business grow tremendously in the last decade, with new branches, new business offerings, and more customers. To keep pace with the success, the company knew it needed to invest in more technology to continue to provide the high level of service its customers expect. The company identified four key areas for IT infrastructure improvement:
- The IT staff needed a standardized set of tools to streamline the way they installed, maintained, upgraded, and inventoried their extensive IT infrastructure throughout the 15-state region.
- Many sites relied on varied backup schemes and multiple operating systems. As a result, the backup-and-restore processes across the enterprise were a patchwork of different solutions.
- AgFirst management felt it spent too many IT cycles patching security vulnerabilities rather than taking a more proactive security stance, such as identifying threats before they became a potential problem.
- With the growth of the enterprise came a deluge of email and email system versions. AgFirst sought a way to enforce retention policies and regain control of email proliferation.
Over a period of six years, AgFirst IT administrators deployed specific Symantec solutions to help them upgrade their enterprise to address these challenges. A business value analysis conducted by The Alchemy Solutions Group details how these improvements resulted in significant cost avoidance and higher IT productivity.
First, to better control and supervise the burgeoning growth of regulatory requirements across the organization, the AgFirst IT team deployed Symantec Control Compliance Suite. The IT group uses the solution to generate compliance reports and to monitor regulatory and IT policy procedures. In addition, the solution provides an administrative portal for user and group configuration of IT assets. “Symantec Control Compliance Suite was deployed to the customer associations and attached to our role-based administration model,” said Rick Hydrick, system security administrator for AgFirst. “We’ve had great reviews from the customers because it provided them the flexibility and control they desired. With this control they now are in a position to support their own users without having to contact the AgFirst bank staff.”
Second, the AgFirst team rolled out Altiris Client Management Suite for automating the installation of desktop software, troubleshooting technical issues, and providing an extensive inventory asset tracking system. The IT group now has an automated way to track and report on both hardware and software assets throughout the enterprise, and it can address troubleshooting and software installations on a site-by-site basis.
Third, AgFirst tackled the problem of upgrading and standardizing its backup-and-recovery processes across its many data center servers. “In many cases we were using individual tape drives on individual servers for backups,” explained Larry Hollandsworth, lead network analyst and operations storage and backup administrator for AgFirst. “We didn’t have the necessary library mechanism in place, so that required time going from server-to-server changing tapes and managing backups of multiple systems each with their own tape drives.” The IT team settled on Veritas NetBackup as the standard software solution for its backup and disaster recovery. With the help of Symantec Consulting Services, the bank then began a systematic upgrade of its backup software and hardware.
Fourth, the IT department addressed the task of its mounting email problem. Not only was email consuming storage at an alarming rate, but email installations were not consistent across the enterprise. In addition, compliance with email retention regulations was becoming a significant issue. “From the standpoint of in-house counsel, one of our main concerns was being able to comply with best practices,” said Wes Sutton, senior attorney for AgFirst. “Additionally, we needed to have a better method to retrieve and produce emails and/or documents in a very short time timeframe, if required. The process we were using required too much time and effort from the IT staff to retrieve and produce the requested information.” With Symantec Enterprise Vault in place, AgFirst now has a cost-effective email archiving solution that allows the company to enforce retention policies at the user level. Hollandsworth also discovered it had drastically reduced the backup window for Exchange servers in the enterprise.
With the new Symantec software implementations in enterprise management, security, backup, and email management, AgFirst Farm Credit Bank will realize over $3.6 million in productivity gains and cost avoidance over a six year period. The Alchemy Solutions Group has performed a detailed business value analysis of the AgFirst improvements. But increased productivity was not the only benefit, as each AgFirst location saw improved customer service and satisfaction after the upgrade in the IT infrastructure. “We’ve had great reviews from the customers because it’s provided the flexibility and control they desired,” said Rick Hydrick, system security administrator at AgFirst. “With [Symantec Control Compliance] they are now in a position to support their own users without having to contact the AgFirst bank staff.”
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to read the full Business Value Analysis Study from the Alchemy Solutions Group.