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Building Collaborative Software

Strategically Speaking
Oct 15, 2014

Eric Wilson Headshot 50x50 Author: Eric Wilson,

All the recent attention and emphasis on data has reinforced the saying, “Knowledge is power.” Thanks to major breakthroughs in advanced data tools and cloud computing, many organizations are compiling, storing and interpreting huge amounts of information. That’s a trend that is certain to keep going. 

Now that data foundations are starting to form, financial institutions have a golden opportunity to find innovative uses for all this information.  But to leverage data effectively, they will need systems ready to collaborate in ways that will let them capitalize on it. 

“It is not the quantity of data that is revolutionary. The big data revolution is that now we can do something with the data.”

No matter how much information our systems collect, data only becomes valuable if we can turn it into action. However, defining who the “we” in that sentence is raising some interesting questions. It also sheds some light on where the next big opportunities for innovation are.   

Automated tools use sophisticated algorithms to identify important data trends or anomalies, but they often leave it to people—an FI’s customers or staff—to interpret the results and apply their insights in the form of manual action. Asking humans to evaluate and be the “doers” every time there are actionable opportunities may be short sighted. 

If banks and credit unions really want to take advantage of the data revolution, they must look for tools that collaborate with data sources, other systems and end users so that systems can turn insights directly into action. Computers love doing repeatable, routine processes.  People don’t.  And people will gladly allow (and pay for) systems that automatically do things to make their lives simpler and easier.   

In short, financial institutions need to begin looking for collaborative systems.

Next generation products should collaborate with data sources

Innovative solutions like Hadoop that work directly with unstructured data, or the new SQL version that provides in-memory performance improvements to increase the speed at which data can be retrieved are opening up a door for people and systems to leverage data in unimaginable ways. 

And then there’s cloud computing.  A major strength of bringing data to the cloud is that it can be easily shared across platforms.  Most products and systems have their own set of databases.  Putting that data in the cloud allows for information to be mutually accessible at an enterprise or product suite level. 

Many organizations are implementing business intelligence programs that are beginning to realize data’s huge potential. With accessible data, good business intelligence, and the ability to retrieve information quickly, systems (as well as people) will be well positioned to effectively collaborate with a wider variety of information.     

Next generation products should collaborate with other systems

In some scenarios, it’s natural for people to be the entity that interprets the results of data analysis and takes action in response to it. If, for instance, the goal of data analysis is to help a shopper decide which item to pull off the shelf and put in their shopping cart, it makes perfect sense for a person to interpret the data and grab the merchandise.

In other scenarios, however, it may be more logical for systems to collaborate with one another in order to act on their own.  If a data analysis engine determines that the risk factors for a particular client became substantially higher, wouldn’t it be simpler if the analysis engine simply triggered appropriate actions to occur and worked collaboratively with the other systems involved to make the changes automatically? 

Three important words financial institutions should become more familiar with is Service Oriented Architecture.

If we want products to collaborate to accomplish tasks (an area from which the next wave of innovation will come), systems will need to become services (i.e. collaboration gateways) to make requests to each other and inform them of completed functions.  Ask software architects, and they will tell you how powerful this can be. Banks and credit unions could benefit by moving toward service based infrastructure so their systems are capable of collaborating with each other.

Next generation products should collaborate with users

People want to be equipped with information, but they also want information to be presented in ways that are useful and intuitive.  Systems should be supported by user interfaces that present information effectively and assist the users with taking action at the right time, in the most optimal way. 

Here are some attributes modern users expect:

Accessibility - Users demand products they can access from their device (whatever that may be) in ways that are usable in the context of that device’s capabilities.  HTML5 and native application technology have provided the tools for this expectation to become a reality. 

A desire to stay informed – Good data is a start.  Interpreting that data and providing systematic alerts, notifications, and recommendations for action are becoming essential parts of an engaging experience users will want to return to. 

Usability - Users crave applications with a rich, clean interface to get information and take action.  It sounds like common sense--and it is--but users will adopt only the products that meet their needs, so systems must continuously strive to modernize how they interact with those who use them.  

Systems that have these traits are much more likely to foster strong user involvement and participation.

It’s all about collaboration! 

For the most part, today’s systems are silos with their own databases that interact very little with the outside world. In the next few years, that model will give way to one where individual software products more fully leverage the world’s ubiquitous connectivity to work together with external data sources and systems.

Creating a collaborative world between systems will provide unique opportunities to move beyond computing and begin literally doing more.  And we, the people, will be the prime beneficiaries of this collaboration.


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