Don’t be left with a bag of mismatched parts: Platforms vs. point solutions in virtual banking
Like many other families around the world, at one point in my son’s development, our house was inundated with Lego pieces. Bricks, plates, mini-figures and random assemblies of Lego construction could be found everywhere, and it seemed that most of the nearly 560 billion pieces produced since the building toy had launched could be found in our house. The reason is simple: Lego is the premier platform for imaginative building and play.
The engineering of the bricks themselves is amazing, from manufacturing tolerances to the design of the pieces and the incredible flexibility of the components. Stable, colorful and nearly indestructible, Lego pieces purchased this week interoperate seamlessly with sets and items from 30 years ago. If only technology management were as simple as playing with Lego bricks. The reality in the case of most credit unions is that the technology investments currently in place are brittle, fragmented and costly. That this creates obstacles to agility in the credit union is challenging enough; that it creates a low-quality customer experience is unforgivable.
As technology products emerge and mature, they typically move from a point solution to a platform-driven solution. Cellular phones, enterprise software and modern automotive design have all moved from singular product designs with many custom parts to assemblies of off-the-shelf components and technologies. Application development platforms like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal replaced application servers, which had in turn, replaced web servers and custom-built HTML content. This progression brings greater extensibility, stability and capacity for innovation than prior generations.
Virtual banking solutions today can approach the same maturity level as general web development, but only when the various applications credit union members interact with are built to a common technology platform. Browser, phone, tablet, IVR and SMS experiences all share many common workflows, which can be abstracted from the applications. More importantly, they all leverage a common set of data, transactions and integration points from downstream legacy technology. A strong platform can resolve the tension between a modern, responsive set of member experiences in mobile and online channels, and the broad set of integration challenges with core, imaging, payment network and ancillary systems.
A strong platform will integrate to each back-end system directly and natively, then provide those services to the member-facing applications in an easily consumable way. A scalable platform will allow for many points of integration, each with their own distinct messaging and process models. A flexible platform can allow for tailoring the member experience in every channel to match their expectations and deliver a set of experiences that is coherent and consistent. A set of point solutions, even with tremendous expenditure of cost and effort, cannot hope to match the depth of flexibility and ease of management of a single-platform solution that drives all of the key virtual banking channels.
The outcomes for a member when various applications are disparate are easy to see: differences in the function of key features like funds transfer or bill payment, discrepancies in the display of pending transactions or the state of balances, and a lack of visual and functional clarity across the channel applications. Moreover, a common platform provides the rich set of data to help understand member behavior and needs. The fragmented view created by disconnected solutions neglects this unified view of the member, impacting the overall experience.
Thinking back to my own experiences with Lego as a child and then later as a father, I am always amazed at the brilliant design of this humble building toy. Even a set of basic bricks can take on a dizzying array of shapes, only to be broken down and reassembled anew. The rate of change in today’s market for financial services demands a similar platform-driven approach to applications, services and experiences. To serve members best, a unified set of components beats a bag of mismatched parts any day.