Each year, financial institutions invest hundreds of millions of dollars in online banking channels in an attempt to meet the increasing customer demand for convenient, reliable access to banking information and products. Failure to complete customer transactions results in wasted investment, and this becomes quickly evident as increasing customer demands dictate that the performance of their transactions are just as important as the functionality they provide.
As more online products and services are offered and an increasing number of users turn to the Internet for their day-to-day banking needs, additional investment is necessary to ensure that complex applications remain user-friendly.
Keeping the customer-facing applications simple with pre-populated forms, financial calculators and informational content actually means increasing complexity — and more potential points of failure — on the software and infrastructure back-end, something few people outside IT know.
Maintaining Reliability and Functionality
Performance is a classic example: Different customer-facing components of most online banking systems are quite often developed separately and later combined on-site to provide customers with new, innovative functionality such as optimizing credit scores and interest rates. This cross-system functionality can easily impair performance and, in the case of customer complaints, become seriously difficult to diagnose due to the cross-tier, cross-silo nature of the system’s back-end functionality.
As banks add more capabilities to their online banking systems, customers want the same ease and speed of response that they experienced before the enhancements. Customers don’t care whether they can get a pie chart showing the percentages of their financial assets if they can’t get a current balance because an application timed out.
To maintain reliability and functionality of service, a financial institution should build an infrastructure that provides a total online banking experience with exceptional quality of service. Proactively managing transactions has become an absolute requirement for any financial institution competing in today’s markets.
In response to this demand, an increasing number of banks and brokers are turning to business transaction management (BTM) technologies to provide transaction visibility. BTM detects and resolves technology issues rapidly and effectively — before customers are impacted. It also helps to assure that technology outages are always connected to business context.
Outlining the Benefits
The benefits of BTM solutions include:
- Providing a complete real-time record of all transaction activity.
Visibility requires transaction monitoring and tracking across multiple IT tiers. Banks must be able to see how a transaction moves from one system to another, particularly with systems that may have been recently linked; for example, the case of new online transfers to a 401(k) plan or enhanced online billing capabilities.
Banks must be able to establish specific business transaction profile metrics to pinpoint potential trouble spots and related business impact. BTM solutions are a way to detail what happens at the back end of the technology whenever a customer interacts with an application and to understand exactly how it affects that interaction.
As more customer transactions occur during a working day and over longer periods of time the BTM solution classifies and stores information about each transaction that occurred — including the time, location and user as well as a detailed map of servers and tier that served each transaction, the performance of each transaction and the resources that have been consumed in the processes.
- Automatically mapping each transaction to the underlying infrastructure.
All transactions must be accurately mapped at every level on every system throughout the organization. Unless a bank sees the entire transaction path, it doesn’t have the depth necessary to connect transactions down to the individual user level. A good BTM solution provides cross-tier visibility into transaction pathways — from initiation through implementation to execution. A good solution should also work regardless of particular technologies and ought to be extendable to proprietary environments easily.
BTM solutions provide real-time monitoring to alert banks to problems as they occur so they can be addressed quickly and efficiently, even as technologies are added and upgraded to provide customers with increased online capabilities. The solution must be able to operate across the combinations of legacy architectures, the most modern XML/Web services and everything in between.
- Pinpointing bottlenecks in real time with complete accuracy.
When the IT infrastructure becomes more complex, there are more potential points of failure, the cause of which becomes increasingly difficult to pinpoint. BTM solutions must not affect business-critical applications, but must help the bank quickly understand the effect architecture changes have on transaction quality and overall service to end users. Resource overhead for the solution must also be minimal assuring that the monitoring system does not become the choke point of system resources.
- Allowing support staff to handle most service issues before users are affected.BTM solutions track every individual business transaction. By doing so it allows you to define service level targets on business transaction execution rather than server availability, CPU (central processing unit) levels, or even synthetic monitors. Instead, by using BTM solutions, financial institutions gain real data into user behavior and transaction performance, equipping them with the means to identify any developing service issue before users feel anything.
To get the most out of a BTM solution, a bank should follow some simple but important best practices. In every IT environment, some systems are more critical than others. The first step in implementing BTM is prioritizing the systems so that the most critical ones are addressed first. For a bank, these are typically the systems responsible for the most revenue. However, the importance of revenue must be balanced with the importance of compliance and security.
Have someone take ownership of the functionality of the BTM solution. The application owner should ensure that the application performs as expected, meaning that the BTM solution must monitor and track transactions from a business perspective, across all tiers, many of which are typically siloed.
Once the BTM solution is up and running, provide the data from the application to anyone responsible for capacity management. This will help indicate capacity issues before they occur.
In summary, to obtain full value from online banking investments, financial institutions must be able to monitor business transaction quality in a simple way that doesn’t add to the complexity of the technology infrastructure. Business transaction management technology promises to be robust enough to track transactions from beginning to end, examining how they affect all applications and systems they touch, so that any problems are detected quickly — before they adversely affect high level of service and user experience.
Amir Alon is the chief technology officer of OpTier, a provider of software solutions that link business services to underlying IT infrastructure, assuring service delivery and optimizing IT resources.