Portal and Rich Internet Application (RIA) Trends in Institutional Financial Services

Here is what is on my mind. Throughout my career I have worked with numerous institutional financial services firms. Over the past 6 months I’ve noticed some common themes and challenges in this space.

A lot of action is taking place across large buy- and sell-side firms as many are in the midst of re-platforming their core investment management, trading and risk management systems, both internal and client facing. In doing so the innovators are seeking to take advantage of the opportunities posed by collaborative technologies to enable more effective sales relationships (for client facing offerings) as well as more productive and efficient work and decision making (internal facing). As part of these large multi-year undertakings, there are some interesting sub-trends taking place, including:

The importance of and focus on customer and user experience and usability is at an all time high. Many large firms have been slowly evolving their portals and mission critical applications over time by integrating new capabilities but have not invested time in truly thinking about how the user experience needs to be addressed. We’ve seen an increasingly significant wave of firms over the past six months who believe this will be critical to helping them differentiate their offerings, and, even in light of market turmoil, have invested in initiatives to redesign the user experience for their client facing and revenue generating portals and applications. This also has resulted in the need to develop new capabilities to support, maintain and enhance the user experience over time. Portal and design competency centers are a new necessity for large organizations who are overhauling their portals and applications.

An increasing number of the larger firms are shifting from traditional thick client offerings to web-based transactional and trading capabilities to clients. This will be an interesting trend to watch at several levels (user experience, security, performance and compliance) as it is a major change from how these systems are currently designed and built today.

Increased adoption of RIA and UI technologies. While we see the portal software market condense into a select few preferred choices amongst the Fortune 500, there remains a very clear market fragmentation of RIA and UI technologies and toolkits that are being adopted, each with their own set of issues. Large firms are creating next-generation solutions that leverage portal or desktop container technologies together with RIA technologies to achieve a world-class user experience featuring rich functionality.

Convergence of transactional, reporting and analytical portals. Finally we are seeing all of these things come together in role-based, dashboard-like views to enable wide spectrums of users to work and collaborate more effectively.

Smart thinking beyond the user interface. While there is a significant surge in customer and enterprise new portal and portal redesign efforts underway amongst the larger firms, they are (quite smartly) thinking beyond just the web-based portal or desktop-based user interface. Taking the SOA model to the next step, they are componentizing the functionality and capabilities to be delivered in various user-specified configurations though portals, PDAs and other mobile devices–Integrated into industry consortium offerings and to be white labeled. This poses further pressure to think through the user experience carefully for the various channels.

The concept of integrating relationship management tools to support offline relationships may separate the leaders in this space. Most firms are actively analyzing these concepts, however many seem challenged in determining exactly how to operationalize and implement them effectively.

It will be interesting to see how the next 12-18 months play out for large financial services firms in terms of their external-facing portals and revenue-impacting applications. Some practices to keep in mind while setting sail on a new initiative include:

Think about scope and user roles broadly for creating a scalable portal framework.

-Spend time carefully developing critical use cases whose results can be benchmarked and measured for ROI and usability.

-Develop an expert cross-functional team with experience.

-Think up front about how the new offering will be supported and what internal assets may be needed (people, process, tools, standards, etc.), and ensure they are planned into the program up front and not as an afterthought.

Agree? Disagree? I welcome discussion and look forward to your insight.

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