Thursday, January 26, 2006

Online Customer Experience

A new report on the Online Customer Experience by the consulting firm Keane (via Lorraine Cosgrove at CIO Magazine) confirms what I've been saying for a while - that most of the financial sector is not yet ready to embrace the more radical opportunities represented by SOA (what I've been calling SOA 2.0).

[This comment is currently based on the press release. I'm looking forward to reading the full report.]

In the Keane survey, companies in the financial sector were invited to classify themselves as Innovators or Contenders. It turns out (surprise, surprise) that those who believe themselves to be Innovators are spending more on SOA technology, while those who see themselves as Contenders are devoting their IT budgets to bigger and faster databases and suchlike.

But what exactly are the self-styled Innovators spending their SOA dollars on, and are they using SOA to produce genuine innovation in the customer experience? The Keane report mentions technological innovations such as Macromedia Flash and Flex, but I wonder whether these technologies are being used to deliver qualititatively different services to customers, rather than mere gloss?

According to Keane, nearly 50% of all respondents cited existing legacy technology platforms as the number one obstacle to improving the online customer experience. I am inclined to a more cynical view, which is that most of these organizations are still highly resistant to any radical thinking, and are still trying to use the new technologies to push the old business models. Don't blame the legacy systems if most of the obstacles are in the legacy organization.

To my mind, the challenge for the financial sector is to provide a flexible platform of heterogeneous context-aware financial services, from which the customer (or customer service adviser) can compose (orchestrate) a personal financial solution, subject to user-defined policies, to fit a particular customer context. [See my discussion on User-Defined Policy on the Asymmetric Design blog.]

Keane has produced a Service Maturity Model (yes, another one), and sees the Portal as the highest level of service maturity. So does this kind of flexible platform count as a portal? Perhaps it does, but it's a good step beyond the aspirations of most of the portal projects I'm seeing at the moment - whether in the financial sector or elsewhere.

If any of Keane's Innovators are working on this kind of thing, I'd be delighted to hear about it. (But if you're not, perhaps you would like me to come and have a quiet chat with your management team?)

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