The SWOT for Retail IT Reveals the Interconnections of Technology; If You Want to Know-And Serve-Your Customers Better, Think in Terms of "STP" from the Infrastructure to the Application Layer

Article excerpt

Why do a SWOT analysis on retail technology? The intention was to consider the full constellation of technology strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as well as "tech effects"--those intended and surprise consequences of IT.

From that we distilled the points that seemed, to knowledgeable observers, to be the most salient. All of this has relevance for creating effective customer sales and service process. The connections you'll see here might seem tangential, but to many of our sources they are quite real. In a distributed computer environment, "the hip bone's connected to the ear lobe."

That is, IP networks, open source platforms, high-capacity or clustered servers, easier-to-scale and manage databases, and other back-office systems, tools, and techniques are increasingly relevant to what the employee touches and what the customer sees within an application.

Said differently, if the back-office can be optimized via simplified code writing and deployment, and the business objectives easily weaved into operations (in the form of rules and other consistent workflows), then the bank can run better. Requirements such as customer onboarding, issuing retention tactics, messaging, or cross-selling can be standardized by a process and IT design that evokes semi-automated tasks as repeatable, perfectible, and consistent.

Take "on-boarding," biz speak for the process of introducing a new customer to your bank, including application processing and initial

sales outreach. Wouldn't it be terrific if all business units conducted sales and compliance functions with a uniformity, whenever possible, allowing for the appropriate custom workflows?

This simple but profound concept of better front-to-back or straight-through-processing linkages and uniformity (which should touch every channel, each line of business) has big-picture operations implications. Among them: the need for data quality; the need for channel integration, and the opportunity for better coordination among departments as they hand off work or, say, fine tune product features such as pricing and distribution.

And so, we gave free reign to the opinions of CIOs and those with similar responsibilities in their identification of the issues. Also on the hook were analysts, consultants, and professional thinkers.

Sure, the thought of yet another reengineering project might be painful. Yet this new wave of IT--including service oriented architecture (SOA)--will make your institution more agile and responsive, experts say.

So forget about yesterday's news citing problematic channel-specific or enterprise customer relationship management projects. Set aside, too, sweeping claims of customer-facing applications that don't quite capitalize on the relationship.

It's not that these issues have magically dried up as much as become yesterday's lessons at many banks, spurring new experiments in workflow and related technologies.

Strengths

What IT strengths can be attributed to retail banking sector? Today, most business bank executives function with interdisciplinary aims and with multiple departments in mind as they plan IT projects.

No single bank has this down to a perfect science. Yet deliberate progress is being made, as evidenced by new "org" charts, and enterprise managers, which have the job to "by God get things done," as Seinfeld's Kramer was once told by the Post Master General.

Whether the czar in question is there to address payments, customer service, or risk management, key objectives on his or her project list relate directly to giving customers meaningful value, efficiency, and safety. This is more than a theoretical connection, experts say. Business process can be better thought out when you keep customer-facing objectives in mind as you design all systems.

If done correctly, this awareness filters down to the most routine capabilities. …