Comerica has been rolling out software that lets the bank easily identify and respond to technical glitches while a customer is still using its mobile app.
In so doing, the $69.2 billion-asset Dallas bank is addressing a problem more banks are going to have to pay attention to as consumers increasingly bank from their mobile devices.
Customers have already shown little patience with mobile banking glitches. A glance at the Twitter stream of any large bank during a mobile banking outage will confirm that. The ability to fix problems quickly and communicate in real time with mobile banking customers suffering technical difficulties is increasingly important.
"If they could fix your problem, that's nirvana," said Mary Monahan, executive vice president and research director of mobile for Javelin Strategy & Research. "Usually when I have a problem, it's like, 'Come back later.' Or, 'Put a note on the app store.'"
Dealing with a mobile glitch, when the customer is remote, is especially challenging for banks; once they receive an error message, people worry their money is gone.
"This is a big issue that any retail, online based operation is going to have, not just the financial sector," said Tim Gramer, Comerica's vice president for application development services and application performance management. "When you're talking about a mobile transaction, you're talking about 60 to 70 years of tiers of technology being conglomerated into fulfilling this one data request. It becomes very challenging: What do I monitor, what can I monitor, and what's in my sphere of delivery? What do I need to focus on to do this transaction faster, more efficiently?"
The bank is getting an assist in discovering and resolving application problems from application performance management software by Dynatrace. The software lets the bank isolate individual users' sessions, "so that we can drill down into specific points of transactions to get to the root cause of a transaction that was slow," Gramer said.
One place the software has helped is a customer portal the bank built for its midsize business and family trust customers, to let them access banking products from any device. It's backed by about 40 applications, Gramer said. "This banking portal is a crucial piece of our infrastructure, and making sure it stays up is even more crucial."
Since the bank has applied the application management software to the portal, it has not had a full outage.
"There used to be full outages all the time because the support team would panic and reboot everything, just to make sure their downtime was minimized," Gramer said. "Now it's much more scientific. Now we can see specifically in the infrastructure what is starting to happen and deal with that one piece specifically, so we don't have to do an across-the-board restart on the application. That's been a huge benefit for our customers."
A recent problem that occurred when the bank rolled out mobile check deposit was resolved by the vendor. But in the future, the bank will be able to respond to glitches quickly using the APM software.
One thing Gramer's group is setting up in the software is the ability to track payments to see where payments are originating and terminating, all the way through to finalizing and completing the transaction, so bank employees can know exactly when and where any problems occurred.
"When you're dealing with a mobile situation, there are so many variables to cover and maintain and it's almost too difficult as a data provider to address a lot of that," Gramer said.
Comerica doesn't have staff watching app activity full time, ready to jump in when they spot an issue. But when a customer calls or texts about a problem, IT staff can get in the middle of the customer's session and fix it.
The bank has already begun tracking its higher-end customers to make sure that they're not having issues.
"The customer information control system has sub-millisecond response times all day, but if it hiccups on one of those transactions, it can back everything up," Gramer said. "APM has given us a magnifying glass that can go through and see how the transactions are going across and how the users are using our services."
The bank has been working on the APM project for three years and rolled the software out about six months ago. Initially, some application and network administrators were apprehensive, worrying about what the APM software would reveal about their work. Over time, employees warmed to the technology and now those same people are looking for data to help them with their operations. By end of this year, the Gramer's group hopes to be sharing its performance metrics with executive teams.
"One of the big happy side effects to this whole thing is there are no more war rooms," Gramer said. "We're able to isolate the issues and then make one phone call. We don't have to get a team of 37 people into a room and say, 'Ok guys, figure it out. Nobody leaves until it's fixed.' Those days are starting to become numbered."