January 06, 2009

Today, the bar is especially high for banks and financial companies to make their networks as secure and efficient as possible. The industry has always had an appetite for technology. While technology itself changes, what doesn’t change from year to year is the basic need to empower employees with the technology tools to serve clients rapidly. Considering the unprecedented challenges that hit the financial industry this year, it’s more important than ever for firms to set the right 2009 IT priorities that can positively impact business goals and results.

Financial services firms continue to offer more feature options and more sophisticated online transaction capabilities to differentiate themselves and enable their customers to access account information and transact business whenever and from wherever they choose. For example, to reinsert the personal service touch, new “click to talk” options allow customers to access live representatives from within a Web portal, putting additional demands on the networks that interconnect the facilities and multiple locations of financial firms.

Given the rapid adoption of these services, it’s no surprise that the Meta Group estimates that a network outage can cost a financial institution more than $1.5 million per hour in lost revenue. Ensuring network survivability and redundancy to fuel advanced services and keep the business operational will continue to be a strong focus in the coming year.

As the financial services industry continues to change—including consolidation among larger firms, the need to offer more sophisticated services at lower costs, and compliance with ever-increasing regulation—financial IT managers are focusing on several interrelated networking and IT trends. Among many IT priorities to consider, 2009 should bring a focus, at least in part, on four operational imperatives:

Supporting Online Financial Services: In an industry based on personal service, financial institutions will build more advanced customer relationship management capabilities into their online applications. The network “cloud” will be the grand buzzword for IT in 2009. IT leaders will industrialize the enterprise technology platform for their hosting, managed network and security, cloud computing and software as a service needs. In a challenging environment, cloud computing will grow as a key technology initiative that may bring the biggest change in 2009 IT strategy. Delivering Non-Stop Transaction Service: Financial firms and banks know that disruptions in network operations can cost millions of dollars and that delivering fast, anytime-transaction services depends on a robust, flexible network. Business continuity and disaster recovery solutions are constantly evolving and must be examined on a continual basis to make sure network survivability matches business needs.

Ensuring Regulatory Compliance: The industry is subject to stringent regulatory requirements governing securities transactions, record keeping, fair credit reporting, auditing, and business continuity planning, as well as those related to disclosure of personal information. Customer data cannot be compromised and regulations must be met, meaning network security is a top priority in banking, especially as sophisticated thieves increasingly target information that is “in transit” and not in storage.

Reducing Operating Expenses: With increasing pressure to improve productivity and profitability, IT managers know that they must achieve the first three imperatives while reducing costs and improving resource utilization. Utilizing existing network technology without a large retrofit of equipment is a key priority ongoing, but especially for 2009.

Today’s economic climate requires the banking and financial services industry to keep a strict eye on the bottom line while not compromising IT initiatives that can lead to productivity, increased security, better service and growth. We’ve heard from many financial industry customers that they understand the steep challenges this new year will bring. At the same time, they understand a disciplined approach to strategic IT initiatives and operational imperatives can generate new opportunities for their employees and their customers.