By Stuart Drew, Executive Vice-President, Financial Services Europe, HCL Technologies
It's safe to say that organisations in today's financial sector market are more focused than ever on innovation and accelerating growth. For IT departments that have been typically focused on 'keeping the lights on', this is a considerable step change. The rise of services such as 24/7 banking, both online and on mobile devices, means that IT teams need to become leaner, more efficient and more closely aligned to the business. Any IT function that doesn't conform to this approach will be questioned. The traditional approach towards Application Support and Maintenance (ASM) is one such area of inefficiency.
This stems from a few issues; chief of which is that too often ASM teams address incidents using 'work around' solutions, meaning that the root causes of problems are not identified and each time the error occurs, the team has to start from scratch. It's easy to see how this becomes a problem; firstly, by not learning from previous incidents they're failing to identify trends in application performance that could indicate failure. Secondly, they are always on the back foot, reacting to incidents rather than focusing on initiatives that could transform the business.
Nowadays, around 34% of financial sector firms' IT budgets are being spent on ASM, a figure only set to rise as applications proliferate and become more central to their business. Indeed, 87% of financial services firms claim that the cost of maintaining and supporting applications is increasing year-on-year. In addition, users' expectations of application performance have heightened, leading to an increase in the number of support tickets from dissatisfied users. So what can IT departments do to reduce inefficiencies and extract maximum value from their ASM functions?
Business support, not application support
Traditional approaches to ASM have focused on the maintenance and support of applications in the strictest technological sense. But if applications are used to enable employees to work more efficiently and customers to access services more conveniently, there is an inextricable link between the performance of an application and the performance of the business. As such, ASM teams should be focused on service level agreements (SLAs) for business processes rather than the applications themselves.
In teams organised this way, a person is focused on a function rather than an application. If they find that an application isn't receiving as many incident reports, they can help support other applications as they have a more rounded skill base. Using this approach to ASM means that business processes always take priority. In addition, by setting up activity monitors against business processes, ASM teams can spot inefficiencies and make suggestions for improvement; transforming their role from a support team to a proactive business process focused consultancy.
Business Led KPIs
To help the ASM team ascertain which business processes are affected by the performance of a particular application, IT teams should look to map out which applications and hardware have a direct impact on a specific process. For example, the customer support team may be reliant on Microsoft Lync to talk to customers to resolve online banking queries, so the performance of that application and the servers it resides on are linked together with the KPI of the business unit.
Taking this approach means that if the KPI of the business unit is under threat, the IT team can easily understand why. By assigning each incident a rating depending on its effect on the business, the ASM team can assess its urgency and prioritise the need for support against other business needs. For example, it may seem urgent if the CEO's email goes down, but there's a larger business impact if customers can't access the funds in their bank accounts. Using this approach provides insight into the wider impact of IT within financial sector organisations and ensures their IT teams can support the evolving needs of the business in real-time.
As is the case with most parts of a business, automating certain facets can have a huge impact of business success for financial sector organisations. This holds true with ASM. When an incident occurs, support teams will all too often 'go back to the drawing board' to work out a resolution from scratch. Taking each incident on an individual basis can be very time-consuming and create a backlog of work; a catch 22 situation that is simply unacceptable when business operations are at stake. To reduce the time spent, there are a number of things that can be done. For example, IT teams can implement standard operating principles for certain events; these steps are then automatically provided to the team to follow.
In addition, IT teams can set up solution libraries, which encourage more self-service activity from an organisation's staff. If routine issues can be better documented and end-users can resolve issues for themselves, the pressure on the ASM team will be eased. It's not just in the actual support of applications where this is applicable. For example, when it comes to reporting, IT teams will usually manually compile them; often for many different departments asking for different metrics. Automating these regular processes can save the IT team valuable time, which can be better spent on business-critical tasks.
Financial services firms are becoming ever more reliant on the performance of their applications to remain competitive. But what's clear is that too much money and time is being spent on support costs that could be better spent on business innovation. With CIOs competing with other departments for the hearts and minds of the boardroom, they need to be able to demonstrate that they are not only driving costs out of their operations, but driving performance as a result. By adopting alternative approaches to ASM, the opportunity is there to reallocate resources in line with the changing remit of IT teams and explore the possibilities of financial services innovation through IT.