Sparkassen on their way to the digital future
SIZ Service GmbH

“The lifeblood of the Sparkasse”

With its communications service provider, SIZ Service GmbH, the Sparkasse-Finanzgruppe (savings bank financial group) is setting the course for the “digital future.” One mammoth project in this endeavor: Converting all member companies in the association – totaling around 800 individual customers – to a nationwide All-IP. 
Author: Sven Hansel
Photos: Norbert Ittermann
The gate system of a parking lot. The driver presses the buzzer, the gatekeeper responds – through a telephone line. The elevator inexplicably halts between the third and fourth floor and stays put. At the press of a button, passengers are able to reach building services – using the elevator phone. Or even turnstiles and entrances, where cameras provide security and transmit their data along the ISDN network. “There has always been telephony in the Sparkasse banks, which themselves have a long history. But only now, with our project, do you notice just how it’s in everything and how much you rely on it every day in all aspects of business,” said Benno Rieger.
Rieger knows exactly what he is talking about. A business IT specialist, Rieger is the head of SIZ Service GmbH in Bonn. The company supplies communications solutions to the Sparkassen­Finanzgruppe, which primarily refer to fixed and mobile telephony. In this role, Rieger is heading a mammoth project these days: He and his teams are working with T­-Systems to oversee the conversion of around 10,000 classic telephony connections throughout the nation to All­IP. This is one of the largest conversions by Deutsche Telekom to date; a blueprint for future IP projects with other companies.


From The Landesbank To The Sparkasse

Setting the course for the digital future of Germany’s savings banks, the Sparkassen, is made particularly challenging by the company’s unique structures. SIZ Service GmbH serves 800 individual customers. These include both large institutes, such as the Sparkassen in Hamburg or Cologne, and stateowned commercial banks, called Landesbanken, with several thousand employees, as well as small offices such as those of LBS or Provinzial, with three or four employees. 
All of these business units require the same reliable care when it comes to switching to a modern communication network. This also originates from the Sparkassen­Finanzgruppe’s legally mandated function. Its institutes are no ordinary banks, rather they are typically what is described as “nonprofit, municipally­owned, public universal banks.” Unlike hip fintech companies or pure Internet banks, they are required to provide services to the public such as dispensing cash or facilitating payment transactions. This means customers may not be aware that their Sparkasse around the corner is not only competing with the scores of other bank formats, they are also bound by a multitude of regulations that do not hinder the competition. “And the consequence of that is the IP conversion by our 800 customers needs to be not 100, but 1,000 percent reliable,” said Rieger. “Sparkassen need to work, failure is not an option!” 
To guarantee this absolute reliability, SIZ Service GmbH and T-­Systems proceeded with military precision – a positive cross­sector example.

Permanent Information
Joachim Betz, Principal Transport Solution at T-Systems, in conversation with Peter Schütz, Head of Traveler Information at Deutsche Bahn AG.
Paves The Way For Go-Live

The first phase of this IP battle plan: planning. This includes a dedicated project team as well as a powerful steering committee in which all representatives relevant to the process are actually present. “Without the regular steering committee, we would be completely lost. They’re doing tremendous work,” praised Rieger. The second phase: analysis. “We’ve peered into every last corner of our customers to find out where telephony is being used and where it is important,” said Rieger. This also included a very granular examination of where in the network the switch to the new technology would cause what functions to no longer be available or to be substituted with digital functionality. The third phase: information. “We really got into it: organized regional information events, made newsletters. We approached the relevant parties early on and provided much detail,” said Dirk Zierhut, T-­Systems’ Account Manager for SIZ GmbH and SIZ Service GmbH. The fourth phase: preparing to go live. If you know a surveillance camera is going to be down on Day X of the conversion, you post an additional guard at that location.

Data Security As Brand Essence  

The fifth and last phase of the project is, of course, the most important: the conversion. SIZ Service GmbH’s approach is also setting benchmarks here, such as with security. This is because the attraction of All­IP is that it can bundle technologies. Where before, there was an ISDN connection with two voice channels, now there is All­IP, which can combine up to 1,000 and more channels in a single connection. However, this fundamentally significant advantage also conceals challenges: If this connection goes down, innumerable branches are suddenly unable to communicate. In addition, the Sparkassen are also subject to special regulations when it comes to handling customer information. Finally, of course, it cannot be possible for this massive bundling to give way to flaws through which cybercriminals can hack into core systems via IP. The consequence: SIZ Service GmbH and T­Systems are spending an entire year working out a sophisticated security concept. “The linchpin is that our security requirements always have to be met, even when an IP line runs outside. Data protection and data security are the essence of our brand – always,” said Rieger. This exemplary process will likely still take a good year and a half, with the occasional delay or technical challenge – hardly surprising, given the scope. With IP telephony, 
functions such as call forwarding in the event of a disruption need to be integrated specifically, as they do not come standard. Ultimately, however, by 2020, all 800 connected customers of SIZ Service GmbH will be able to benefit from the modern technology. “The mix of analog and digital, that’s the lifeblood of the Sparkasse,” summarized Rieger in regard to the expectations on All­IP. 
Notfallkoffer von T-Systems

An OTA connection  for emergencies
Twelve of T-­Systems' emergency cases are already in use nationwide within the Sparkassen organization.
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How Local Presence Helps Keep A Competitive Edge

Despite margin pressure, low interest periods, and online competition, the Sparkassen are looking to continue emphasizing their local presence with their customers. The nearest bank may always be just a click away, but the brand essence of the Sparkassen will experience a boost from All­IP. According to Rieger, “Customers these days use the web for initial information almost without exception. Only thereafter do they come into the local branch. This is where it is necessary to be able to connect to, say, a tax or real estate expert via video conference, if needed.” 
This makes the Sparkassen well­equipped for customer relations across all channels, since today’s banking takes place via an app, online chat, or video with a tablet and Internet connection while sitting on the couch. In addition, the Sparkassen will reduce their costs tremendously with All­IP, since the bundling makes telephony considerably cheaper compared to the earlier connections. New possibilities for real time interaction can be introduced and even massive volume is no problem thanks to All­IP’s extreme scaling capability.
The Sparkassen­Finanzgruppe is ready for the future – a future that can only work by combining an analog and a digital bank into one. Its very lifeblood, in fact.