The Banking Industry Needs Groupware Application Packages

Article excerpt

LOTUS NOTES IS ONE OF the most successful -- and interesting -- software products of the last few years. Since its introduction in 1990, sales of Lotus Notes have increased tenfold.

Notes' generic software category is "groupware," software that allows members of a group to communicate and share information. Groupware functionality does not have to be stand-alone, like Notes. It can be embedded in other software, as well.

Although some very large professional organizations, such as Price Waterhouse and Andersen Consulting, have made major investments in Notes, only a handful of large banks have currently made commitments to Notes. Nevertheless, Lotus predicts that about one million licenses will be in place by the end of 1994.

By its nature, Notes works best for organizations with many employees and a geographically dispersed base. Chase Manhattan Corp. is one of these leaders and it is instructive to observe what they have done.

Chase has made it a priority to adopt Notes in those departments where it would do the most good. The corporate finance department was the first to use Notes. Then, usage was expanded to Infoserv, Chase's corporate services area. Today, interest in Notes is spreading beyond these key wholesale businesses into many other areas of the bank, including retail. Chase has about 7,500 users currently.

Lotus Notes is a "development environment," meaning it is software that allows you to create different applications, but by itself it does nothing. Rather, it needs applications running on top of it. Of course, these applications are much easier to build than traditional mainframe applications. For example, Chase, after only two or three years, has about 150 to 200 applications in operation and has several hundred more in the process of development. In years to come, it is entirely conceivable that Chase (and other banks) will each run thousands of groupware applications.

The issue is: what kind of applications are needed in banking and, most important, where will they come from?

Lotus Notes applications can be divided into three broad categories:

* Internal usage by systems personnel, including developing and testing of new applications.

* Broadcast information to employees, such as general information, internal newsletters, human resources notices, library, research, news, etc.

* Line of business/functional area.

The first two categories are essential but don't directly affect the delivery of a banking service or product.

It is this third category that most affects the business of banking.

Within this category, the most prevalent type of application is for client management purposes, generally for a specific business unit. Other common applications include credit and project-based discussion data bases.

To make Notes work, Chase has adopted a series of policies including:

* Chase builds all of its Lotus Notes applications itself.

* Notes programming is done by systems people, not users. All of Chase's Notes applications have a similar look and feel, are professionally written, and are adequately documented.

* All future "soft information" that is automated on a client-server platform is to utilize the Lotus Notes environment.

These policies have already worked for Chase. It is probable that the other money-centers with major Notes commitments, such as J.P. Morgan, Bankers Trust New York Corp., and Citicorp, will have similar policies. These banks have the capability to implement policies like these, and, most importantly, have the internal skills and resources to build the applications.

Yet, most of the industry, including regionals and community banks, does not have the required resources. Very few banks have the technology skills, management commitment to building technological infrastructure, and business justification of a Chase. …