Financial services company Metavante reports saving at least 500 hours worth of staff time every month - the equivalent of about three full-time positions - since it started using AT&T's Electronic Bonding automated trouble-ticketing system.Financial services company\u00a0Metavante\u00a0reports saving at least 500 hours worth of staff time every month - the equivalent of about three full-time positions - since it started using AT&T's Electronic Bonding automated trouble-ticketing system.AT&T has been developing this system as part of its\u00a0Business Direct automated customer service initiative\u00a0for 15 months and officially unveiled the effort at\u00a0SuperComm 2003\u00a0last week in Atlanta. Chairman and CEO David Dorman says AT&T is investing $500 million this year to streamline service ordering, provisioning, trouble-ticketing and billing.AT&T has built what it calls the Business-to-Business Interface, which is essentially an XML-based gateway that links customer systems to the carrier's network operations center (NOC). This interface is the crux of AT&T's E-Bonding service. Through this gateway customers can take advantage of automated trouble-ticketing, initiate tests to fix problem circuits, and order more bandwidth or new circuits.Metavante, which offers a real-time financial service to 5,100 large banks and financial companies, operates a frame relay network with about 5,000 nodes. The company is an E-Bonding early adopter that AT&T has worked with for the past year.Before Metavante started using E-Bonding, issuing trouble tickets - including diagnosing the problem and restoring a circuit - took 30 to 90 minutes on average, says Brian Hurdis, CIO at the Milwaukee company. "Now it takes a couple of minutes," he says. In an average month Metavante places 1,000 trouble tickets.Metavante now spends just more than 30 hours per month dealing with trouble tickets, compared with 500 to 1,400 hours per month before it linked to AT&T's Business-to-Business Interface."Our goal is to use Web technology to fundamentally provide [users] with an improved customer experience," says Bob Sloan, vice president of e-sales and services at AT&T.While AT&T is not the only carrier to offer a customer-service Web portal, it is believed to be the only one providing direct connectivity between its NOC and customer databases, says Lisa Pierce, an analyst at Giga Information Group."Automation is really important, not just with trouble ticketing, but with billing and provisioning," Pierce says. Automation lets users and carriers reduce the amount of time they spend on administrative duties, which in turn reduces costs.But taking full advantage of the service requires a lot more than simply signing up for AT&T's E-Bonding.Metavante created an extensive internal database and network management system. The database includes detailed customer information associated with each of its frame relay circuits. "The database is the mother of all databases. From customer contact information to circuit details, it's all there," Hurdis says. The company put a lot of time into developing its database, which has resulted in the need for little human intervention when dealing with trouble tickets, he says. Another key piece of the system is software that Metavante developed called VendorLink that links up the user\u2019s network with AT&T\u2019s NOC.The user connects to AT&T's gateway via a dedicated Internet connection. Data is encrypted across this link using Secure Sockets Layer tunneling between the two sites.When\u00a0Metavante\u2019s network management system detects a problem on a circuit, VendorLink contacts the user\u2019s database, where it gathers information on the circuit, including its ID number and pertinent contact information. AT&T\u2019s system then automatically can test and initiate repairs for these circuits. Previously all of these steps were handled manually through phone calls, e-mails and faxes.Metavante also has improved customer service."Now if customers call us to say there is a problem with their circuit we give them the trouble-ticket information instead of saying, 'I'm sorry we have to issue a ticket.' Our customer response has been very positive,"Hurdis says.Although Metavante invested time and money to develop its internal database, the financial services company does not pay any additional service fees to AT&T to use E-Bonding. "It benefits us as well as AT&T. We've reduced the manpower needed to support [trouble ticketing] and so has AT&T," Hurdis says.While Metavante is directly linked to AT&T's gateway, customers that do not have the in-house expertise to build and support their own database can still use the service. These users can create a Microsoft Excel document that includes all of their circuit and customer information, which is stored at AT&T's NOC.AT&T's gateway is connected to the internal server that stores the Excel files. When the network detects circuit trouble, AT&T's gateway accesses that customer's Excel file and automatically issues a trouble ticket. These users then are notified via e-mail that a trouble ticket has been issued.Metavante is using E-Bonding only to automate trouble ticketing, but the system also supports order provisioning. This lets users more easily place orders for additional bandwidth on existing circuits or order new connections. Metavante expects it will use this part of the service in the near future.AT&T's Sloan says users can expect to spend less time placing orders and to see increased accuracy. AT&T says it has seen a 25% reduction in "supplemental orders" with customers that use E-Bonding for order provisioning. Supplemental orders are placed when something is wrong with the original order, which typically is caused by human error.