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Self-service, new business creation/renovation and business partnerships


For several years high priorities for financial services businesses have been reducing time to market, lowering the cost/income ratio, retaining quality customers and staff and growing market share in the face of growing competition from outside the UK and new entrants to the financial services market.

Three things have happened that now allows these to be addressed in new or more aggressive ways. Firstly the opening up of the telephony market and the imminent dramatic increase in the bandwidth available for business and personal usage. This will make the phone, the TV and the PC significantly more usable and cost effective for a wide range of services.

Secondly, virtual business is coming of age. Ways of working (supported by technology) and the associated business models that allow real global partnerships or fast start-up of businesses with scale, are now established.

Thirdly the components and architectural patterns to build new financial services businesses now largely exist. Early pioneers in the e-world gold rush had to craft most things by hand but now we have moved from the pick and shovel to the equivalent of having mechanical diggers and geological mapping support. Speed with sustainability is now possible.

So given this underlying shift in service accessibility, maturing of business partnering and technology to support rapid business creation, where do we see these being deployed to address the high priority focus areas for financial services companies?

Self Service
Convenience is largely about time; about being able to do things when we want to, rather than when others want us to. This however has to be coupled with the support to enable us to execute the tasks successfully. And there-in lies that challenge for organisations wanting to give their customers and employees a more widely available and wide ranging service whilst decreasing the overall cost of the service.

To date, self service has largely been targeted at the B2C market place with services ranging from bank account servicing to self selection and management of mutual funds or shares , to collection of insurance quotes and policy purchase. Several players in this space have fallen foul of their customers by concentrating on the buying experience with less attention being paid to the support experience. Self service in isolation often leads to dissatisfied customers; self service with personalised, individual, educational support creates a fulfilling end to end experience and if done properly, educates the customer to continue in self service mode in the future. It's evident that self-service is not enough, a strategy for support which avoids it being used more than once, but yet is highly personalised and informed at the point of contact is a real differentiator.

How does this apply if we look at the more recent uptake of self-service in the area of workforce optimisation, which is also known as HR self service or e-HR? The most quoted example in this area is that of CISCO who made a conscious decision in the 1990's to use technology to automate and put on line most of the processes associated with its employees. These included employee administration, employee compensation review, benefits enrollment and distance learning. The bottom line effect of these and other initiatives is quoted as tens of millions of pounds a year. CISCO is clear that this is just a part of the benefit, the others being informed and efficient employees, and a true learning organisation. Overall, these internal processes deliver benefits that free people and money to concentrate on end customers and market responsiveness, whilst improving the service to employees.

Business Renovation or Creation
The debate rages on. Is it the Clicks and Mortar or the Remote Business model that will be the one to succeed in the e-world? Either have the potential to be successful, provided the underlying proposition and service is sustainable. For a brand new company, a business model without multiple physical outlets has attractions. For those companies with geographically spread outlets, then it can make sense to maximise the value from these. For one major UK Bank, significantly more than half of their new internet sign-ups are existing customers introduced via the branch network.

But the key words for any financial services organisation, new or established, are sustainability and flexibility, and fundamental to this is the 'platform' on which any service is built. Platform here does not mean a particular model of computer or a specific security product, but having an architecture that allows some fundamental concepts to be fulfilled. For a business to succeed in a multi-channel environment, it must have:

n Single view of customer

n Individual customer profitability and pricing

n Information capture for proactive, person alised marketing

n Client driven decisions on style and contacts

n Pervasive automation/self service

n Quality personalised, educational support

All this must be in a technical environment that will scale up (or down) and is secure. Add to this the processes that ensure relentless releases of new versions of software or content which can be confidently added (or reversed) without client disruption, and you have the fundamentals of a sound multi-channel business.

In summary, the business must be set up to truly have the customer at the centre of the systems and company culture. With this established, a business with a good proposition is likely to succeed. Some clicks and mortar companies have spent much time, effort and money on moving to this type of infrastructure; some new e-businesses have lumbered themselves with old-fashioned infrastructure. The winners will be the ones that create an environment, in the widest sense of the word, with the customer at the very heart of it. It is this, rather than the click and mortar v. remote business argument that will sway the end customer to use a particular service.

New Business Partners
The relationship between businesses and their technology partners has come a long way since the late seventies. At this time businesses started to move from paying for computer time to paying for people to provide services. Initially it was for programming services, then the running of computers and application software, followed by the support of applications and latterly in the 1990's the outsourcing of business processes. Today joint businesses are starting to be formed between leaders in financial services and their IT partners that will change the face of the industry over the next few years.

The reasons for new style partnering are quite well documented such as the ability to use a brand name to take a 'white label service' much more quickly, cost effectively and safely to market than via internal service creation from scratch. Having the capacity to undertake regular acquisitions and integrate smoothly into the business when the IT aspects are handled by a partner; whilst being able to radically reshape supply chains by business and technology partnering. Finding the right partner is predominantly about finding the organisation with the right mentality, capacity and cultural style.

If your business has an ambitious plan involving radical change and you see your self as an organisation that will be leading the way within financial services then look for an organisation which can align its business goals with yours. Your prospective partner should speak a language of product innovation, operational excellence, customer intimacy, time to market and cost management. They should be able to demonstrate how they have applied business process and information technology to help the firms they partner with to improve business performance, reinvent their businesses, even redefine their industry, thus creating new services, products and markets that revolutionise the market place and set the standards for others to follow. This a million miles away from buying a product or service on a one off basis. This is about long term relationships rewarded my mutual business success.

The early dialogue between prospective partners is critical. Both parties must avoid talking about partnership and then behaving as a hands-off buyer or supplier. Both parties must 'walk the talk'. Inappropriate behaviour destroys trust and is one of biggest single reasons why one partner withdraws at an early stage from what could have been a mutually beneficial relationship. Often this happens because a business sponsor tries to drop out of the dialogue too soon and a traditional purchasing/contracts manager becomes involved as a lead figure. The detailed contractual dialogues come later only once the way of working and nature of the risk reward has been shaped and the partnership empathy established at the business level.

When partnerships of this ilk work it is exciting for everyone involved. The emphasis is on the output and what is achieved, there is constant positive pressure to perform better which creates a more dynamic environment for innovation and best use is made of the resources, capabilities and investment commitments, making a more exciting and uplifting place to work. To ensure the partnership is a success and that your partners help you to change your business or industry, treat them openly and as equals and expect them to behave the same to you.

We have looked briefly at three themes of life in business generally and financial services specifically. In truth the three themes above are all different perspectives on the same set of challenges; to use technology and partners to make customers more loyal and profitable, employees happier and more stable, lower the cost base and create more nimble organisations. If this is not the focus of your attention today; then it should be.

CSC works with organisations, providing end -to-end services to deliver results in self-service, business renovation and creation, and business partnering. Having guided clients through every major wave of change in information technology for more than 40 years, CSC today is well positioned to develop and apply IT strategies and technologies, particularly in the e-business area.

Carole Gillespie
Director Financial Services
Computer Sciences Corporation.




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