February 14, 2014

Steven Silberstein, CTO, SunGard
Steven Silberstein, CTO, SunGard

In Spike Jonze's award-winning 2013 movie Her, Joaquin Phoenix's character falls in love with a new operating system that brings him out of a depression, elevating him to a state of bliss. While some may think it creepy or scary that a human being can actually develop romantic feelings for an operating system, it does make a strong point about the evolving role of technology in our lives and that it must ultimately win our hearts as well as our minds. Let's face it, had the voice of this OS not been Scarlett Johansson's but instead that of an unfriendly GPS, Joaquin may not have been so enamored. Think: "Recalculating."

Technology is so pervasive in our lives that we are conditioned to buy, sell, download, share and interact with the stroke of a few keys or the swipe of a finger. Everyone has high expectations for the technology we rely on, whether it is e-commerce sites, social networks or the smart devices we use daily. I venture to say that users do, in fact, build personal 'relationships' with their gadgets and apps. We demand functionality, size, utility, speed, reliability and convenience but we also demand intuitive and stunning design. The user experience is king.

What do these expectations mean for enterprises? Do the applications that we use at work offer something that we could fall in love with? Today we bring the rich expectations from our personal lives into the office, and the offices of financial services firms are no exception.

Having said this as a Wall Street veteran, I also know that there are good reasons why we cannot implement everything we use in our personal lives on trading desks, for example. Of course, the conundrum for most IT groups is how to harness new and emerging trends and technologies without exposing the enterprise to greater risks and costs. Accordingly, we have to work somewhere between heightened consumer expectations and enterprise IT reality.

I would like to share a few things that the financial technology industry is doing to harness consumer technology to enhance and create richer user experiences for financial services firms. These are things that I think financial services firms would appreciate, and maybe even love:

1. UX Matters: With artists and engineers working together as artisans and inventors, we are improving the aesthetics to core mission-critical technologies that service the financial services industry. In the past, you received the latest hardware and best software at work. That is no longer the case. Today we bring rich expectations from our personal lives into our offices. By investing in User Experience (UX) labs, financial technology firms can re-design existing products and create new, updated interfaces.

2. No Drama Allowed: We want our relationships with technology to be smooth and drama-free, just like our romantic relationships. Consumer applications are increasingly intuitive and require little to no instruction. If it is easier to use, it will be used. The creation of new visualizations and intuitive solutions can reduce the need for training, increase productivity and expose more functionality.

3. Get Smart: Let's face it, intelligence is attractive. Many firms are grappling with massive amounts of information and struggling to turn it into useful business intelligence. Applications for the financial services industry need to help users manage the information smartly and quickly. By integrating business intelligence functionalities into core transaction processing systems, financial technology firms can empower their customers' analysis and decision-making.

4. IT Dating Scene? For more agility and lower TCO, financial services firms may decide to tell their IT folks that they want to start seeing other people. Within most enterprises, it is just not feasible for a centralized IT function to be cost effective and move quickly enough to satisfy the needs of all its constituents, as these needs are often too disparate, specialized or dynamic. It is also not possible for IT to be the single source of technology innovation. Building on a global delivery model that embraces public and private cloud, technology firms can continue to provide financial services with versatile deployment options.

Beautifully designed, more intuitive and powerful applications that provide customers with smarter information faster: this is how we can build technology and applications that are easy to love, even without the help of Scarlett Johansson.