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June 25, 2014

Process Integration and Customer Service Synchronization in the Services Industry

Posted by Reghunathan Sukumara Pillai (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:35 AM

Most services organizations follow different processes spanning activities that run from end to end of the lifecycle of their business operations. Processes, such as those in customer services, are common across industries. 

Processes can be demarcated along internal and external lines; internal being those that streamline the operations in the front/back office and external being those enabling customer deliverables, service calls and support. Most times multiple software applications are utilized to meet the internal/external needs, ensuring smooth delivery and efficiency of operations, as well as extraction of information for MIS. The levels of integration between external and internal processes are built based on the software application's integration capabilities and services requirements.

In line with their businesses, different companies follow different processes and standards, which are best in class and industry tested. The efficiency of these processes can be measured by the turnaround time required to complete the process, smoothness of operations and level of customer satisfaction.

The processes begin with customers requesting a service - such as opening an account or applying for a credit card, telephone connection, insurance policy and so on. In most of the urban areas, it is the sales executive who provides the services at the customer's doorstep.  A few companies provide a reference number to customers upfront, which they can use for making further enquiries, but most do this through the back office, which generates the reference number after uploading the forms into software.  In most companies, once the applications are submitted to the front office and orally confirmed as being in order, the sales executive moves on in search of the next client. A manual process governs the collection of applications, submission to the front office, and capture and uploading of data into software. However it is quite likely that there is a delay in receiving the application and capturing the data into the software. 

The customer, not knowing whom to contact in the event of a delay, ends up calling the customer service desk or searching for details on the website. It may take multiple calls and email exchanges between the client and service provider before the customer application number, date of submission, name of the sales executive etc. are traced.  This is because customers are unaware of the location of the company's nearest service outlet where they could go to raise queries or resolve minor issues across the table. 

In parallel, customers have to deal with another application software asking for their feedback and yet another application trying to sell them different services .These are typically automated software, which email or text customers after a predefined interval once the customer reference number is generated. Before asking for feedback from the customer, the customer service executive must ensure that all the processes are up to date and then initiate a service call to address any pending activities or issues. Once all the initial processes are completed, the feedback can be taken from the customer.

Lack of integration of operations software and customer services software (typically CRM software) across contract lifecycle activities will result in service deficiency and customer dissatisfaction.

To conclude, automation of processes right from the start is essential for smooth customer service delivery. The application, along with other documents obtained from the customer, can be scanned and uploaded into the software to generate a unique number. This reference number can be provided to the client for use in future communication with the service provider. The unique reference number should provide a snapshot of all services availed by the customer including a history of interactions, queries, complaints, products utilized etc.

The sales/front office executive, who is the customer's first contact can guide the customer on

a) The steps in a process, and turnaround time for each 
b) Their options and alternatives in case of any exceptions 

The applications need to be integrated across the operations lifecycle and surveys/status updates measuring customer satisfaction done periodically. Based on the customer satisfaction index, measures to improve customer service need to be undertaken and cross sell services explored with a view to improving customer satisfaction. Disjointed software applications lead to data silos and the need for annoying back and forth communications. Instead, the customer facing executives must be empowered to quickly access a caller's details. The integration of process oriented systems in the back end with a customer oriented front end system managed by service-oriented customer facing executives can provide a differentiated customer experience. Process integration with customer service as the focus can create customer delight and thereby build long-term loyalty.

June 16, 2014

Banking Sans Banks

Posted by Kislay singh (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:52 AM

The emergence of any new phenomenon often spells the demise of the existing scenario. The internet revolution is credited with ending the reign of several products, services and businesses, such as snail mail and music CDs. Physical marketplaces are fast losing their importance in the era of e commerce. Gaming, libraries, ticket counters, bill payment counters, newspapers & publications, advertising boards etc. have all rapidly moved to the internet domain, leveraging its ability to connect them with a massive borderless audience easily, in next to no time and cost.

Banking too has not remained immune to the internet wave. The first wave saw the emergence of tools and practices that simplified or did away with tiresome branch banking processes and counters. The traditional banking concepts prevailed, but the approach was now far simpler. The next wave of the internet revolution, however, might very well change the very face of the banking landscape. Internet enabled innovations are today transforming the way the world will bank in future. One such innovation is internet finance of which crowd funding and peer to peer finance are two major concepts. 

Crowd funding, in the simplest terms, can be described as the raising of funds for an initiative or campaign from a 'crowd' (mostly the supporters of the idea) through the use of an internet platform to facilitate the process. The underlying initiative could be a non-profit, promotional or even commercial campaign, such as one that raises funds for a startup or new business idea. Of the different types of crowd funding, the one called 'reward based crowd funding' promises some rewards to the contributors at the end of the campaign. For example, in the absence of a single large investor, the proponents of a new business idea can seek to raise funds through crowd funding where the investment and risk would be divided among a number of small investors brought together on an internet platform. The investors might be promised equity stake in the startup business in return. Crowd funding can be looked at as a means of alternate finance, in principle quite similar to an IPO. 

P2P finance on the other hand aims at matching the needs of investors (to earn interest on their savings) with that of the borrowers (to obtain funds for their projects), just as any other banking institution does. However the need to have a bank as an intermediary is eliminated by the use of internet platforms that bring the investors and borrowers together, allowing them to transact directly. P2P finance operates on the basic concept of presenting fund requirements of individuals/ small businesses as investment opportunities to ordinary savers or small investors. Most P2P finance platforms provide modelling and marketing of each P2P loan as an aggregation of smaller standard loan units, which can then be floated in the online virtual banking space. It thus allows injection of funds towards a single loan by multiple investors up to their capacity and as per their risk appetite. As compared to traditional banking, this model of internet finance fetches higher returns for investors, while ensuring lower cost of funds to borrowers, thereby offering a better deal to both parties. This is achieved by freezing the interest rate in the zone of possible agreement - between the deposit and lending rates offered by banks. The investors are allowed to choose the projects or loans they wish to fund. The repayment can be injected back into the system as reinvestment.

Internet finance is not far from being considered mainstream. It is now threatening to overtake traditional banks. However the banking community and regulators are at a crossroads, where the rules of the game are yet to be standardized and measures devised to boost consumer confidence in the system, and ensure smooth operations, and minimum default and fraud. The world is set to witness a major transformation in the way it banks.

What goes into Winning Bids?

Posted by Reghunathan Sukumara Pillai (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:41 AM

The software companies invest time and effort in bid management process for submission of multiple bids as part of various pursuits. The bids which are submitted include solutions for products, services, application development and maintenance, infrastructure etc. The value of bids submitted is taken as an indication of potential/future business for the vendor. The field force of IT companies sources these opportunities through direct relationship with clients /consultants or engages with local partners in specific markets for procuring the RFP. The global analyst rating and credentials of IT vendor which are known to external world also ensure that some of the opportunities comes by default to the vendor.

The value of bids for these pursuits for services/solution range from less than USD 100000 to above 100 MUSD. The bids pursued may include a small solution/services to Bank/Financial Institution to providing a complex solution to airlines or telecom industry.

Based on the solution /geography requirements of clients across the globe, the Global Vendors position Bid Management teams in different Geographies with Market experts.  Some of the Global vendors are dominant in some Geographies compared to other players, due to vendor /product origination from the region,  successful implementations in the past, understanding market requirements better etc.

There are complex bid processes outlined by each of the IT vendors covering the end to end lifecycle activities of bids with definition of roles and responsibilities. Marketing team of the companies provides documents/collaterals on competitive information- strengths and weakness of each of the vendors which helps in proper positioning.

A few of the factors contributing to a winning bid could be

a) Cost factor
b) Solution design
c) Product and Solution fitment as per client requirements
d) Case studies/References
e) Branding of product/solution 
f) Relationship with the client /consultant 
g) Analyst ratings and acceptance by the client.
h) Relationship  with Senior Management 
i) Local presence/ proficiency in local language 
j) Region specific cultural and behavioral factors 
k) Technical excellence 
l) Domain expertise
m) Prior experience and project management skills
n) Overall proposal packaging with business value articulation 
o) Vendor commitment and passion for selling /demonstrating the solution
p) Orals and client presentation/demo
q) Strategic partnerships and alliances
r) Consultative approach articulating better solution offerings which is appealing to the client  
s) Ability to foresee the client vision for future growth and suggest better than suitable solutions client envisages
t) Presence of local support staff in the region 
u) Vendor and top management credentials/reputation in the market
v) Financials of the vendor and standing in the market

However it is difficult to conclude one single factor that can contribute to a winning bid except for the commercials. That also does not mean that only by providing commercials as per Bank budgets, the deal can be won ignoring solution design or one of the other factors mentioned above. Each of the above factor has a significant role to play for each bid and are closely linked. 

Each and every bid has to be pursued with utmost care with proper documentation, solution design and commercials. Each bid is unique with different client /solution requirement and  objective and the winning strategy adopted in one of the bid may not be successful in the next bid. Different strategic approaches have to be adopted for multiple geographies. Best implementation/consulting/solution practices can be followed for achieving the desired results.  The Vendor should be able to prepare the best possible Bid to suit the Client considering client specifications and business objectives. The Vendor has to find effective ways for a collaborative engagement with the Client during the various processes of Bid management. This will ultimately lead to sustained client relationship and winning deals.

To conclude, multiple factors contribute to a winning bid and no factor can be neglected /ignored. The percentage of impact each of these factors play in a winning bid depends on the Geography/client/evaluation methods used etc. A determined presales and Sales staff with organization commitment with technical and functional expertise can only help in winning bids continuously. The ability of the Sales staff in managing good client relationship and building business connect with the client including the top management will help in a long way in winning bids.

How well is the IT industry aligning with the latest banking trends?

Posted by Reghunathan Sukumara Pillai (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:33 AM

When compared to the last decade, when the IT industry provided software solutions meeting comprehensive banking needs, the trend in the current decade may be seen as a reversal. The core banking solution (CBS) with a centralized platform, along with channels built around the solution, just about met banks' requirements in the last decade. Though there were functionality and technology gaps in the solution, most clients and banks accommodated them as something that would only come into the picture in the future and made do with work around approaches or manual processes. A few banks built the missing functionality through customization or procured a lighter peripheral or specialized solution from the market. However, a CBS with multiple modules and solutions with rich functionality helped banks to improve business in that era.

In the current decade, mobile and social media have paved the way for new technological advancements in this country. The youth or Gen Next are using mobile applications to connect to family and friends on a 24X7 basis irrespective of location. The smartphone, which was initially designed or used for voice services is being utilized for messaging/chatting/video/gaming /online shopping etc. Service providers have spread their mobile networks far and wide in the country. Multiple applications for online shopping, gaming, accessing social media, and so on can be downloaded or are inbuilt within smartphones and tablets, coercing the young to constantly use such gadgets. Accordingly, making bank accounts accessible on these devices is an imperative for the industry.

Internet-enabled mobile, tablets, smartphones and other gadgets provided quite a few options for customers to conduct banking transactions or business. Though the basic banking transactions remained the same, the customers were looking for convenient banking and on the go transactions. With social media influence on the younger generation being what it is, banks have to penetrate through this channel to acquire and serve customers. The advice and feedback provided through social networking websites like Facebook hold significant influence over Gen Next's decision to start a new relationship or strengthen existing ones. 

The generation which did banking transactions through the branch in the last decade moved to channels like ATM and internet, while the internet generation graduated to mobile and social. Gen Next now expects a banking solution to come with a multitude of downloadable or preloaded applications that can be used to transact through a handheld device. 

The pioneers of online shopping are penetrating the market and are a potential threat to conventional shops and shopping malls, which sell a variety of goods. Gen Next prefers online shopping which is convenient, and offers multiple options at lower cost. Each transaction involves a banking element in the form of credit or debit card usage. 

Though the IT industry saw this potential and worked on creating applications that could be accessed through social media and the internet, the marketing and deployment of such solutions and consequently their usage among banks, is only minimal. Either the developed applications are not user friendly or do not meet the comprehensive requirements.  Based on the feedback from Generation Next, more and more users are likely to go the mobile way, easily making it the most popular or usable channel in the banking industry of the future. Today's children are already tech savvy, being exposed to gadgets at a very early age, and are natural successors to Generation Next. 

To conclude, banking applications developed for mobile should have essential features enabling transactions, while being highly navigable and user friendly. An application store or digital factory comprising multiple applications, which can be offered to different customer segments, should be available. These applications should have a common User Interface over the mobile /mobile banking platform and potentially be linked to multiple back end systems for transaction processing. This should be available 24X7 with no restrictions on transactions or timings. This will enable the next generation to experiment, transact and provide valuable feedback on the service offering through social media. There is a huge potential for IT vendors to develop solutions, which will change the course of banking in the near future. To this effect, the IT industry should align with the latest banking trends and needs to create a comprehensive solution and bridge existing gaps. A solution offering with rich functionality built on the latest architecture can make a market impact while enabling banks to connect to an exclusive clientele that is going to play a key part in setting new banking trends. 

Workforce Automation with Mobile Devices

Posted by Balwant C Surti (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:18 AM

Automation is the key to effective selling, and sales force automation is prevalent in the retail industry. Workforce automation is an extension of sales force automation, where every employee works more efficiently using mobile devices such as tablets.

Automation previously involved using machines, equipments, tools, standardized processes and computers. The need for mobility in the workplace in turn created the need for portable devices. The recent crop of Smartphones and tablets are poised as the ideal "one device that fits all needs" for today's knowledge workers who primarily need computing at the workplace.

In the banking context, this covers a wide spectrum of the workforce, but for the purpose of this article we will restrict the definition to the customer-facing employee, i.e., those in "sales and service" and "operations". Typically, these employees:

1. Answer customer queries.
2. Service requests.
3. Handle customer complaints.
4. Work towards customer acquisition (checking, savings, time deposits, loans etc.).
5. Facilitate transactions.
6. Advise customers.
7. Help with payment services.
8. Monitor status of such work.

Almost all of these involve interaction with customers, other employees and at times, third parties, either in person or over an interactive real-time channel.

Devices such as tablets and the larger Smartphones (phablets) are better substitutes for a computer when on the move, as compared to laptops or notebook computers. Given their long battery life and easy portability and usage, they are ideal for automating the work of bank employees. Many of them can remain always connected to the internet and the bank's backend systems. This affords great flexibility to employees within the workplace, as they can interact with others in any comfortable setting and still have access to their systems.

Tablets and mobile phones today not only have the capability to accept text inputs but can also scan documents, capture photos, read barcodes, attach to devices such as 'Square' that can convert them into Point of Sale devices (POS) to scan cards, and support most printers. The various input and output devices and the add-on dongles such as 'Square' can convert a tablet or a mobile phone into a powerful Mobile Teller Workstation without the need for special peripheral devices like scanners. Back and front video cameras can record in real time, acting as surveillance cameras (albeit limited in scope) even in remote locations. Some of the latest models even support biometrics such as heartbeat monitoring and fingerprint scanning - all in a battery-run, handheld device that can support a full day's work! The promise these devices hold for the mobile workforce is indeed phenomenal, if used appropriately.

However, a dampener to this ideal scenario is that there are few, if any, apps for tablets today that enable employees to work with ease.

ICICI Bank's latest ad campaign on TV nicely captures the essence of how effortless banking can get with the use of portable devices. The ad shows the bank's representative helping the customer (played by thespian Amitabh Bachchan) open an account amidst festivities, fun and frolic. The much publicized "tab banking" enables all KYC documents to be scanned and facilitates account opening in a couple of minutes and as many swipes on the tablet! While other banks undoubtedly have similar systems in place, ICICI Bank has left no stone unturned in publicizing it in all forms of popular media.

Most Indian banks have been quick to tap this potential and are going all out to popularize "tab banking" among employees so as to ensure its optimal use, regardless of whether or not the employee is present at the office.

In my blog "Tablets for the Workforce," I have highlighted the features of the tablet that make it an efficacious device. While security has been of concern, vendors like Samsung have come up with software/hardware solutions like Knox to allay apprehension. Vendors like Newgen have gained a head start on solutions, with others fast catching up. This is a wide open market, and nobody has made significant impact as yet.
Mobile banking vendors have been so anxious to cater to bank customers that they have almost missed out on the next big opportunity - apps for their employees. With minor tweaks, existing customer apps can easily double as apps for the workforce. Also, there is no dearth of tablet-compatible sales force automation software for the retail industry. These can be modified to suit banking needs. BI and Reporting vendors have Tablet and Mobile Phone clients already available for Visual Reporting and Analysis. Most browser-enabled banking software can also be fine-tuned for use on tablets and other mobile device browsers to empower banks' mobile workforce with the full system at their fingertips.

Tablets and mobiles specifically designed for use by bank employees are likely to be more sophisticated and have better capabilities than the average device. Today's tech-savvy users are smart enough to find and install relevant apps based on their needs and preferences and switch business to another vendor if their needs are better met elsewhere. Clearly, tablet and mobile banking is here to stay. Vendors are only too cognizant of the clamor for banking workforce automation apps and it's only a matter of time before they step up to meet the demand in this segment of workforce automation.

Heartbleed : What banks ought to learn

Posted by Shekhar Kapoor (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:02 AM

Around the second week of April, most of the security websites were inundated with news related to an interesting term called "Heartbleed ". I was intrigued by the term and went on to research further, thinking it might be just another bug in a colony of cyber threats. To my amazement, I found that Heartbleed was one of the biggest vulnerabilities ever, affecting over two thirds of servers worldwide and impacting billions of people across the globe.

I witnessed uproar across multiple forums, all concerned about how this vulnerability could be used to steal confidential data by rendering existing encryption mechanisms useless. Networking specialist firms such as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks were forced to review their firewalls, routers, and switches to check if they were affected. Similar concerns were expressed in the banking industry by the American Bankers Association which accepted that the vulnerability was a serious threat, but added that most banks were not impacted.

So what exactly was this Heartbleed vulnerability? In simple terms it was a software bug which enabled a third party with malicious intent to steal private keys and secondary keys (like username and password) from the memory of compromised systems by exploiting a specific version of Open SSL. Open SSL is Open Source software which is used to encrypt data transmission between a server and a client using a public and private key combination. This asymmetric pair of keys prevents deciphering of content by  hackers. However, if the private keys are compromised, an attacker can virtually disable this protective cover by breaking the encryption mechanism.

This bug derives its uniqueness from its long and unknown history, as well as its ability to offer a "decipher" facility to an attacker instead of the more common "eavesdropping" capability. The vulnerability is unfortunately not limited to online banking, and also impacts mobile banking. Millions of people who are using  the popular Android version Jelly Bean 4.1.1 on their mobile devices are affected.

I was curious to find out how banks had reacted to this risk. While some of them were proactive in their efforts to reassure the customers regarding the safety of their data, others just reiterated that they were "not impacted by the bug". Globally, the response from financial institutions was far from proactive. A large Australian bank found itself in a "socio-security gaffe" when a representative blogged about the bank being "patched against the bug", invoking customer outrage demanding to know whether the bank had been vulnerable before the patch was applied. In another case, the CEO of a bank in the Philippines was found to be unaware of the threat in the annual stockholder meeting, which left stockholders baffled.

Reactions such as the above highlight the need to strengthen the rapid response and reaction teams of banks in order to effectively and aggressively tackle vulnerabilities of this scale. In my view, it may be a good idea to proactively inform customers, reassuring them of the safety and security of their data through either a banner message on the website or an SMS/push notification alert. Some banks used social media to reach out to customers which in my view is a fantastic way to relay urgent communication. However this strategy was unfortunately deployed by only a handful of banks. Only one out of four large banks in Australia was proactive in issuing an advisory. Another bank in Australia issued an advisory only when a customer posted a related query on its blog requesting details about the incident and its potential effects. These incidents are in fact opportunities to gain customer trust which financial institutions can't afford to miss.

A different perspective was shared by one of the leading security firms, which raised concerns about the lack of adequate support staff for Open SSL as one of the reasons for the origination of such bugs. It emphasized that there might be several other vulnerabilities which are still unknown and could be potentially harmful when exploited. Drawing co-relation, some financial institutions might rekindle the Open Source vs licensed software debate citing security as one of the major concerns. That being said, regulators are taking concrete steps to ensure customer safety. Recently, the FFIEC in the US requested banks to patch their systems and services, applications, and appliances to ensure they are protected against the Heartbleed vulnerability. However, banks do need to take steps to mitigate the fallout of any future incidents.

A recent analyst report projects that spending on risk information technology in financial services will account for an average of 17.1% of overall IT spending in 2015 and grow to 18.2% of total spending by 2018. A layered security model which enforces multiple and diverse security techniques across all risk touch points can be conceived as a part of this increased investment. This model must be supported by agile processes which provide measurable controls, regular audits and frequent upgrades of the concerned systems, services, applications and devices. Banks can also create an emergency response team which can minimize latency in the deployment of corrective action and communication to internal and external stakeholders.

I believe social media will play an important role in emergency communication. However, the response to incidents should not only include details of the incident and status quo, but also focus upon how customers can protect themselves further through regular use of best practices like frequent password change and Android version upgrade. Sharing best practices in this manner would minimize the potential loss through active collaboration between banks and customers. I am sure we have many things to learn from this incident, but how much of that will be put into practice remains to be seen.
 

June 5, 2014

Systems' Integration or Organizations' Integration?

Posted by Sunil Mishra (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:04 AM

It might be interesting to view Systems Integration work through the lens of organizational behavior. A typical vendor-client relationship between two firms is pretty unambiguous, easy to operationalize. A client organization engages a vendor for either upstream or downstream work; the vendor does it in its own setup and delivers to the client organization. The client organization evaluates the performance of the vendor, at times providing an incentive, and this easily fits into the overall supply chain with few adjustments on either side (vendor or client). Neither party is threatened in this setup.

A Systems Integrator's (SI) entry fundamentally changes this equation because the SI delivers the service in the client ecosystem by being very much part of it. The SI's work involves interacting intensively with multiple entities within the client organization. This brings up the internal dynamics and power play of the different sub-groups within the client organization. The SI itself becomes an important entity, which needs social and cultural integration as well - it can't be clubbed under stakeholder management. If the SI work is large, it needs adjustment on the client side too by way of organizational adaptations.

SI AS A THREAT TO THE CLIENT

A large client is never a homogenous group within. It consists of multiple sub-companies and entities divided by work, functions, geographies, offices etc. Though all these entities are aligned in the overall mission, sometimes they also compete with each other. A large SI's entry into the client system changes the equilibrium as it shows up with substantial overlap. An SI's mandated work can overlap with that of some entities within the client organization. It becomes a threat to some. This poses the first challenge in the SI's integration with the client organization. 

BEST PRACTICES VS CLIENT PRACTICES

SIs are the specialists in execution; the ones with the industry standards and time tested processes and methodologies. The client organizations (large ones) also have their own processes, which have some maturity and have been proven in their context. This is the first conflict in defining and institutionalizing the processes. The SI, as a specialist organization, can do the work at lower cost and higher quality but needs to tweak it for the client's acceptance.

WHO IS THE BOSS

For the program objectives to be met successfully, the SI needs to manage and assert itself within the client organization. The SI is responsible for managing and driving the client organization that in turn evaluates its performance and remunerates it. It is a cyclical process, which is inherently ridden with conflict. In a complex matrix setup it can take a lot of time to divide the right level of authority and responsibility between the SI and the client.

GOVERNANCE IS THE KEY

I think a large SI program should be looked at through the prism of M&A, cultural integration included. As in any M&A, the key success factor is to set up the right operating model with a clear definition (and more importantly acceptance) of the roles and responsibilities in the team. In large programs the team gets mixed up, at times part of the client team executes the program and sometimes parts of the program team perform the client functions. The model should clearly segregate the "delivery entities" and "client entities" when it comes to activities and deliverables. The primary function of the delivery entity is to create the output, which the client entity accepts and signs-off as in a traditional supplier-customer relationship. Program success depends on "one-team" effort, irrespective of organizational boundaries.   
AUTHOR PROFILE

Sunil has over 15 years of experience in consulting, system integration and product development roles with Infosys, Accenture, McKinsey, Oracle and Tata Steel. He can be contacted at sunil_mishra06@infosys.com