More than anything else, Steve Jobs was passionate about design – design that leads to improved usability. His belief that both hardware and software should be functional without training sessions and manuals has changed the way many industries look at their software. But will these ideas make it into banking?
Banking software is complex. Not only must it handle scale, security, and compliance, but it also must provide error free processing of incredibly diverse product configurations. If that isn’t hard enough, we've seen the IT department tasked away from supporting products to manage the influx of new regulations and focus on system upkeep.
Five years ago, TowerGroup noted that 70% of IT staff was focused on maintaining legacy systems. Since then, legislation has added dozens of regulations like Red Flag, Stress Testing, Card Act, Durbin, and now there's talk of Stress 2. IDC Financial Insights noted that reliability of systems will be a key issue in 2012 as banks struggle to maintain staff with the right expertise to maintain aging systems.
Another 2012 prediction is a rapid increase in reliance on ASP and cloud services. Business units can no longer count on having sufficient IT resources to deliver the solutions they need. The only option is to contract with outside companies that can provide the entire solution. Sadly, some outsource providers only marginally understand the complexities or flexibility needed to perform in banking.
A couple weeks ago I heard a business manager, who uses a leading banking software provider, complaining that he needed "a legion of Java developers to make even a simple change." With cost savings efforts and overwhelmed IT teams, this scale of resources is no longer available. Contemporary software must allow business units to control more of their systems.
That brings us back to Steve Jobs. His biography became Amazon's bestseller of the year with only two months of sales. Even among those not loyal to Apple products the book is striking a chord, just as his product innovations have for years. I believe his real legacy is encouraging us to expect more from our software and more from our software vendors.
While discussing loan processing, a banker recently shared with me that his analysts open five screens on two different systems to clear a loan stipulation. What could require 30 seconds is a five minute project.
Because programmers think like programmers instead of users, they often struggle with creating usability for the rest of us. These inefficient interfaces cost bankers real money in lost productivity. With many product lines struggling to maintain profitability, we can scarcely afford to waste precious resources on unneeded clicks and keystrokes.
A senior software developer told me that a user interface should reflect the structure of the underlying database to help users understand the elegance within. When I tried to explain that underwriters don't really care about the elegance of his database but want to complete their job efficiently, he seemed confused and frustrated. This gap in expectation of user experience parallels the difference between the iPod and other MP3 players.
Success of banking software interfaces can be measured best by the efficiency and ease of use it provides to it users. An experienced underwriter should not need three days training on an underwriting system to understand how it works. It should be intuitive and easily adopted. Certainly, there will be a few usability tips, like swiping your fingers on an iPad. But, once the user understands the basics of the interface, they should be able to complete their work intuitively.
I believe that bankers will soon demand their vendors step up to provide more usable products. At recent conferences I've seen the use of iPads for taking notes skyrocket. Bankers today have an understanding of usability that never existed before. That will translate into bankers placing higher expectations on their software vendors in 2012.
If you've already asked yourself why your vendors don't provide a better interface or why you need a Java programmer to make a simple change, 2012 is the year to make your voice heard. Ask your vendors when they will adopt some basic usability standards for their products.
Eric Lindeen is the marketing director for Zoot Enterprises.