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September 3, 2014

Q+A – how can banks benefit from software automation?

Organisations don’t need to reinvent the wheel, Automic CEO tells CBR.

By Vinod

As software costs rise and businesses look to spend less on backend infrastructure and more on technology that helps them maximize the potential of the digital environment, software automation has become an important tool for many CIOs. One of the major players in the sector is Automic, whose customers include the likes of GE, Nike and eBay, and recently moved into the world’s top 25 companies in terms of revenue.

CBR sat down with Richard Muirhead, CEO of Automic, to find out more about how businesses can profit from automation technology and how he sees the financial markets in particular benefitting from such services.

What are some of the main advantages of an institution using Automic’s services? What can banks do to ensure their services run smoothly?

In a mobile-first, socially enabled first world, customers have become highly demanding and empowered. To attract and retain new customers, organisations are increasingly being asked to build systems that adapt and evolve to customer demands. However, for large enterprises, building the systems to support this level of innovation can be singularly expensive, drive complexity into already-complex systems, and increase the risk of something going wrong.

By applying automation technology intelligently, enterprises are able to address these challenges more effectively. Automation enables businesses to ‘stitch together’ business critical processes to work in tandem, while reducing manual hand-offs.

In the case of banks, they need to be responsive to customer needs in a technology driven world, all while keeping pace with innovation driven by mobile payments providers and challenger banks. The recent spate of glitches at the major banks – from NatWest through to RBS and Knight Capital – have demonstrated the risk of allowing technical debt to accumulate.

CIOs can no longer be sure that the underlying infrastructure they have is fit for purpose and able to accommodate the additional complexity that mobile payments solutions will inevitably layer on. CIOs cannot simply sit and wait for a key service to go down. Bank leaders who rushed to implement third party solutions with the best of intentions now need to reclaim control over their IT stack.

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What are the advantages of having "on time" market data available to your institution?

In any industry, having "on time" or "real-time" market data along with insight which is communicated to the right people in a timely manner allows quicker and more effective decision making across the enterprise. This will likely lead to a more dynamic business and have a positive impact on the bottom line.

In the case of banks, identifying opportunities for profit and service innovation in this new banking landscape – whether from virtual cards, mobile wallets, in-app payments – requires dedicated resource, and on time data is also important to adapt to customer needs more quickly.

Organisations don’t need to reinvent the wheel – often it is just a case of building automated workflows which are triggered based on the occurrence of any event, such as self-service request, file arrival, console or database event, or system workload breaching a threshold. Businesses must then ensure that they respond to changing circumstances, distributing loads efficiently across the enterprise, and ensuring that performance goals are met.

Automation’s ability to handle tasks further up the stack – making data driven decisions to enable real-time decision making – means that it is increasingly playing a role in transforming business processes.

Have you any particular examples of when your technology really helped a business expand?

Next-generation automation is at the heart of initiatives such as Industry 4.0, a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government, which promotes the computerization of traditional industries such as manufacturing. Led by the likes of Bosch, they are linking every part of the supply chain with wireless automation. The sheer pace of technology-enabled change means that it is increasingly essential for businesses to explore new models of service delivery and re-imagine the role that technology can play in meeting customer demand.

In terms of our experience at Automic, we work with a wide variety of global organisations across industry sectors. In the case of Nordea, the largest financial services group in Northern Europe, through working with Automic, it now has full transparency when it comes to the fulfilment of service requests – with users able to track the status and progress of their requests though the CAOS Portal. In addition, dashboards provide metrics showing the value of CAOS to the business.

In addition, Singapore Power initially acquired the Automic solution to address challenges around its SAP landscape and since implementing Automic, it has extended the usage to other non-SAP systems providing a single pane of glass across SAP and other systems. This expansion has been achieved with no need to add extra head count to manage the increased workload. Singapore Power has also automated the routing and distribution of the reports and completely eliminated this manual effort, giving back an hour of operations time for monitoring.

How do you think the UK compares to the rest of the world in embracing and adopting new technologies – can we do a better job?
We work with a wide range of global organisations, including in the UK and generally the UK is pretty forward thinking when it comes to adopting new technologies. However, on the whole we can always do more, and although automation has been in play for decades – helping large, heterogeneous organisations to handle job-scheduling processes – it is now starting to become a critical business enabler.

Enterprises that are able to make better use of the technology will be able to focus on value, fast deployment, and meeting standards to remain compliant – a problem that automation helps to solve. Even as businesses run more safely and efficiently today, dedicating resources to building the business is critical to driving down costs and remaining in control.

How do you see the worldwide financial market evolving in the next few years? Are you seeing any emerging trends?

There is currently perfect storm brewing in the financial sector of rising customer expectation and increased attention from regulators. This is driving complexity into the system and IT departments are struggling to keep up. Faced with rising competition and the unrelenting need to evolve their user experience to match changing customer expectations, banks now need to innovate faster than ever before.

Customer purchasing behaviour is also influencing the development of mobile payment solutions – with both merchants and payments companies increasingly seeking to develop their understanding of consumption patterns through analytics.

Any innovation – whether through internal channels, acquisition or partnership – is also fraught with risk. Bet on the wrong technology and a bank can be lumbered with technical debt with no discernible benefit. Regulators too, are in increasingly bullish mood, with the recent record fine at BNP Paribas highlighting regulators confidence in pursuing eye watering fines and appetite for making an example of corporate executives.

To effectively innovate, banks must first avoid becoming the next Knight Capital. Yet every bank today has many thousands of points of potential failure built into its system – a Knight Capital waiting to happen. Many businesses are now turning to automation to out-pace the competition and ensure that legacy IT infrastructure is not a drag on innovation, and automation is a key enabler for banks seeking to keep pace with mobile payments innovation and challenger banks. Time will tell which banks are up to the challenge of taming their IT infrastructure and taking control and which will be left behind as others grasp the initiative.

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