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Where's the Productivity in Bank IT?

One thing I liked about Alan Greenspan as Fed Chairman was his commentaries about tech productivity. "Productivity" is not a popular word in the typical banker's lexicon. And yet, Alan always touched on the matter if you listened carefully. Listening carefully to Alan wasn't easy. Even Andrea Mitchell doesn't get it when she asks him simple things like what he wants for breakfast (I saw that on 60 Minutes). Alan is like a mosaic. If you get too close, you can't see the big picture. Far away, it

One thing I liked about Alan Greenspan as Fed Chairman was his commentaries about tech productivity. "Productivity" is not a popular word in the typical banker's lexicon. And yet, Alan always touched on the matter if you listened carefully. Listening carefully to Alan wasn't easy. Even Andrea Mitchell doesn't get it when she asks him simple things like what he wants for breakfast (I saw that on 60 Minutes). Alan is like a mosaic. If you get too close, you can't see the big picture. Far away, it becomes clearer.I got a far-away look at bank IT recently as I was working on my 2009 bank tech research report. There are 45 solutions/products in the report that any banker can buy from a number of very reliable vendors. I said any banker because every solution is scalable, from a de novo (an endangered species these days) to which one of the Big Three is over $2.1 trillion in assets today. So all 16,374 financial institutions (data provided by my buddy at Highline Data who supplies fresh metrics like Whole Foods supplies fresh greens) are potential buyers. As far as the 45 solutions go, I'll stick my neck out and say a 46th doesn't even exist. For at least the past eight years, every entrepreneur with a garage has been searching for the 46th solution so he could build it and sell it to a fiserv (note the new-found modesty of lower case), FidVante (in the making), Jack Henry & Associates or Oracle for $100 million, give or take a few million.

But in the 45-piece technology pie, there isn't one solution offered on productivity. I guess a few days after this blog is posted, 55 bank tech solutions providers in my report will post a comment saying they have it but it is branded under a different name(s). Some might even make the claim that everything they offer enhances productivity. That's a pretty honest claim if presented with a good explanation. Would you rather be fine sorting by hand? Or looking up a balance on a ledger card? Or looking up a paid check on a microfiche reader? Or invoking a query at the bank CEO's workstation asking, "When am I gonna get the ax?" Oops, that may be the 46th-a solution that can predict future events.

And herewith you see one of the biggest problems we have in the universe of technology, not just banking. There are great tech products for sale in the marketplace, but achieving the ultimate benefit of productivity requires an expert who can go from raw materials to goal-oriented achievements. It's like buying the finest ingredients for a masterpiece dinner, without the perfect chef to prepare the servings. I solved that problem at my house. I'll serve up the finest grilled bone-in rib eye you ever put in your mouth if that's all you want. If you want sides with that, BYO.

Technology products are at their best right now, but achieving productivity and success with those products is a people thing. Maybe that's why vendors don't have a 46th product labeled as such in my report. They might tell a banker to sign a professional services contract and they'll deliver tons of productivity. In my opinion, that's not a bad thing. The best tech solutions require the best people to get the most out of technology. That's what productivity is all about.

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