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Are Banks Ready to Put Alerts in the Cloud?

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Banks are increasingly using mobile messaging to communicate with customers about products and across channels

That's drawing the attention of outsourcers who believe financial institutions will want a partner to manage the scale and infrastructure behind alerts and other real-time information.

A case in point is Infinite Convergence, which just launched its Enterprise Messaging Service (EMS), a cloud-based messaging service that can be used for marketing, account queries or employee alerts. Chicago-based Infinite Convergence was formed as a result of an alliance between Infinite Computer Solutions and Nokia Siemens Networks. It supports more than 130 million subscribers globally and offers a range of messaging solutions for Tier 1 and Tier 2 wireless operators. Using the cloud is an alternative to the current method used by most banks, which is to purchase a solution from a tech company and install it on site. Remote hosting is designed to make the system more flexible in cost and server resources.

"When we look at the growth of enterprise messaging, we felt there was a worry in the industry with regard to supplying enterprise messaging volume. With our experience with Tier 1 and Tier 2 wireless operators we felt we could manage messaging and delivery on large amounts of traffic," says Anurag Lal, CEO of Infinite Convergence. Infinite Convergence is targeting financial services, travel and healthcare; financial services use cases include alerts for real-time account activity, payment reminders, security alerts, marketing, and balance messages.

EMS offers outbound SMS; two-way SMS; a campaign management user interface that allows administrators to upload a list of mobile numbers to send broadcasts, marketing, quizzes and other content; opt-out/opt-in triggers; analytics that measure use and response to campaigns; and management tools such as access control. The product includes an application programming interface that enables the service to be integrated with existing business application and IT infrastructures. Lal did not release names of EMS users, but says the product is currently being piloted.

Analysts say the hosted model for enterprise messaging is relatively new, but there is an emerging market for companies that can simplify the delivery, volume and management of different operating systems, security and compliance involved in mobile messaging.

"Push messaging over mobile channels is looking likely to be an area of huge innovation and commercial opportunity and risk over the coming months and years. It's an opportunity if the correct commercial and technical models are adopted. It's a risk if there is huge investment in approaches which prove later not to gain material traction in the market," says Nicholas Brewer, a senior analyst for Aite Group. Brewer says this growing importance means that mobile communication capability is becoming a core activity for banks and other financial institutions, hence forming a strategic part of their long-term technology and operating plans.

Bernard Golden, CEO of Hyperstratus, a cloud computing consultant, says that under the Infinite Convergence model, technology that was previously installed on-premise at the data center is being made available as a cloud based service — or "Saas-ified" as Golden puts it. In this case, operational responsibility is shifted away from the bank.

"[The host] presumably has much greater expertise in operating the product than any end user would. Regarding this product, that would presumably include operational requirements regarding security and compliance," Golden says. "It allows the customer to focus on the important part of the application, which is its use and content. Regarding this product, this would be the content of the messages and the use of the application, such as what triggers messages to be sent, and any scheduling or campaigns associated with messages."

Brewer says mobile communications to customers and employees is affected by the trend toward "bring your own device" (BYOD). "This leads to concerns about security but also about device support, especially regarding mobile devices where there is still a fairly high rate of innovation and change. Banks are unlikely to see it as economically viable to support all mobile platforms, but yet they need to because the model only works if all appropriate customers and employees can be contacted…is it still economically viable to acquire and support the IT resources need for peak volume processing for yet another electronic channel?" Brewer says the issues of device support and the cost of processing infrastructure could both be solved by using a cloud-based service to manage the message production, storage and delivery.

"This leads to the main question: If mobile messaging is becoming core to banks, how likely are they to trust a highly strategic and sensitive piece of processing to a cloud-based service provider, even if this solves various technical support and cost issues? The main stumbling blocks for many banks are the security of access to their data and reliability of the service. 2013 seems set to be the year in which these questions start to be resolved in terms of what is both credible and acceptable to banks, with positive movement being expected as the year progresses," Brewer says.

Infinite Convergence says EMS complies with security standards such as ISO 27001 and PCI DSS. "We ensure the transportation layer for the message is secure," says Lal, adding the content is decrypted at the user's device level.

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