Guest column: Tablets and banks

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Are investment banks trailing behind the tablet bandwagon?

Whether it be commuters reading the morning newspapers on their iPads or the latest devices being displayed at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, tablet computers are certainly hard to miss at the moment. While businesses are keen to keep up with these technological developments, as it stands many are still finding their feet.

When devising a mobile strategy in the enterprise environment there are a number of issues that must be addressed. The myriad device choices, operating systems and indeed delivery mechanisms can be confusing; however the basic tenets applied to traditional systems should not be lost in the rush towards a mobile enterprise extension. A clear foundation of device and data security is still required and to this extent the device itself becomes a smaller part of the challenge. If addressed in the correct manner, with mature policies and procedures, application of the correct device for the correct purpose can be achieved.

At present, there seems to be a fragmentation of deployment already within the business space, with the BES enabled PlayBook touted as the potential winner in the Management Information System (MIS) and internal Enterprise Application (App) market, and the iPad winning in the client facing world where the high quality slick user interface is a real winner – this is not to say the PlayBook is not slick, we just have not really seen it in the field yet outside of short demonstrations and emulators on the desktop. Having trialed the device, it feels solid, responsive and feature-rich but above all, ideal for business.

Taking a closer look at the investment banking sector, there is a clear curve of maturity in the tablet market. For instance, many banks have released client facing Apps for the iPad (research being the lead domain for this), servicing the demand from information hungry clients. Since the iPad is particularly strong in terms of supporting client interactions, relationship managers for both institutional and private clients are keen to get their hands on one. In addition, some banks have even broached Management Information Apps for the enterprise – leading the field here is our colleagues in the risk departments. But with very few having looked beyond these applications to date, the entire industry is at the bottom of the steep curve towards full tablet utilisation.

If you assume that client facing applications are a given as it is a new route to market which services the need for client interaction in a new and exciting manner; are the investment banks missing a trick here? Well, the clear answer is yes. What about the world beyond the front office? Here we have vast amounts of information management, interactive touch points between operational groups and information flows that need to be serviced on the move, between meetings, in meetings and collaboratively.

Turning back to our risk colleagues as an example, risk figures are supplied to one Risk Executive twice a day, from which point he can chase issues and manage challenges. His most pertinent challenge is getting the real time data when he needs it, when market conditions require him to have that 20-second response to questions on a market event. This can be accessed on the desktop, but when a diary is as full as the demands of today’s businesses you can be without this access for long periods of time. This leads to a high volume of email requests, responses and information overload, most of which is not required.

If clear and precise information were available on a tablet App however, alongside smart collaboration tools facilitating direct chat or even a video conference with the relevant team member, timely actions could be accelerated. This type of situation is replicated in many operations throughout banks so a clearly thought-out solution could, with the assistance of tablet computing, show real benefit. However, the gains can only be realised when viewed in a holistic manner linking the mobility factor into core operating technology strategies; and of course with one eye trained on security. That is where RIM’s PlayBook could come onto the scene. Due to be released in the second quarter of this year, it already has the security features required by the IT and data security departments within financial institutions. While the first version to be released is tethered to a BlackBerry for email, which many consider a drawback, its close tie-in with the Adobe AIR platform marks a significant advantage in terms of speed to market.

There is a real space for tablet computing in the investment banking world, but the decision that has to be taken, as with other enterprises, is which device and for which purpose. The embryonic view from most that I talk to in the City is that the iPad is here to stay in the client facing world, but the RIM PlayBook might just answer the enterprise questions that the Apple cannot; specifically security. While the iPad and PlayBook each has their drawbacks and plus points, generally speaking, financial institutions will need to address the remaining challenges associated with mobile tablet adoption, such as security, policy design and usability, through to the delivery of mobile applications which provide real business benefit.

Oliver Parker is Head of Mobile Solutions at Rule Financial

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