Wednesday, May 26, 2010

You are nothing without a public API

I am going to build an API. Who wants to help me shape it? After all, every self-respecting web 2.0 service has an API. And my self-respecting web 2.0 service wants to be the best platform in the cloud for developers to build super-profitable applications.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept of an API on a web-based service (for those of you that are, bear with me) the API is like Lego for geeks - it gives smart developers with a wish to "get rich quick" the opportunity to build out their killer-app, using the building blocks of an application that already has done some of the grunt work for them. This isn't just a way for developers to leach off the hard work of others. Its really about a service being able to bring in smart, innovative individuals, at minimal cost, and in return for the talent and ideas they put into building applications around your service you take much of the mundane stuff out of the picture for them. Innovation can thrive and isn't stifled by maintaining servers, doing backups, or building login and security. And both developers and service providers make sure that there is a way they can make a good healthy profit if one or other sells the new application.

APIs are great if the service that you build on hits one of two criteria:

  1. It is so successful that you stand a chance of picking up some of the available market of 50 million people using it
  2. It is so useful and makes the development of your applications so much faster that your app can offer real business benefits
As I have been looking at SaaS/cloud-based business process management (BPM) and workflow tools, none seem to offer a truly open API, allowing developers to hack together whatever they need to around the central core to get to the application that they desire. Why is this?

BPM tools have come from the enterprise software school of thought. You install one in house, spend thousands of dollars on training, build an application for a department, then wait for IT and the business to find the budget to repeat. Software as a Service BPM / workflow offerings (Consected is one, although there are a handful of others) take the grunt work out of putting a new workflow system in place. We handle the servers, the backups, security, etc. We also have to make the configuration far easier than our enterprise software grand-parents, as we're not going to be able to attract people with a 10k price tag for training. This can make some of the flexibility at times a little limited...

So this is where the API comes into play. The underlying capabilities of a service such as Consected really help developers build applications faster. Sure, they're probably not building another FriendTweeter, or whatever, but if there is a real business problem out there that they see companies have, and some smart hackers have never really found the tool they want to build it on, this is a great option. SaaS BPM gives a developer this great stuff:
  • Workflow - real, structured workflow, tracking work as it flows through a series (possibly very long) of activities performed by people
  • Task tracking - allowing simple ad-hoc tasks to be created, delivered to users and tracked through time
  • Structure - an obvious way of structuring applications where work or activities performed by one or many people fit together really easily
  • Notification - configuration by users of how they want to be informed about work targeted at them
  • Search - ensuring that work you create can be found
  • Storage - of data, documents and related information
  • UI - yeah, you don't necessarily want to have to build all the stuff that's been done before, just build on it
  • Security - authentication, authorization, roles, audit, user and password management, etc
Consected has an API today. But I think that it could be better. The underlying service works great, and is fast to build applications on. But developers are what make services in the cloud successful. And how often as a developer do you get to shout out your ideas and have someone put them in place for you, so you can get on with building your killer app?

If you'd like to see how Consected can take the dull work out of your next killer app while giving you the chance to create the API and platform of your dreams to build on, take a look at the website (its a bit corporate, I know), contact me (phil.ayres at consected dot com,, etc), leave a comment on the blog, or even pick up the phone and give me a call.

We are open to ideas for us to have fun building applications, get noticed, and hopefully make a bit of money too!

A post from the Improving It blog

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I am a client, not a case folder

Over on Redux, Tom Shepherd talks about Case Management, and how the WfMC (Workflow Management Coalition for people outside the industry) is attempting to put some relevant thoughts around the non-workflow aspects of business processes. There have been many attempts at defining what Case Management is, and I don't care to write yet another one - I've blogged enough times before and frankly nobody cared then either!.

An important point for case management is the case folder. Okay, so this is the core differentiation of the product that Tom manages, and what allows it to call itself a case mysanagement product, rather than an imaging and workflow (document-centric BPM, in industry lingo) product. Its a great product - from a consulting side, I managed the implementation of an insurance underwriting and policy management solution based on it in under three months with just a few pains and late nights along the way. But aside from the product, is the case folder concept really anything special?

The problem for all product vendors is that they need a name for each feature of their product. Especially with business process management, the business problems that you can solve with a product are often so broad and unrelated that trying to give a piece of functionality a name that is meaningful to a business person just pigeon-holes it into one industry. That is the problem with the case folder - it is meaningless to a business person, but its virtually impossible to find a name that is more useful.

I've seen case folder concepts from multiple software vendors - hell, Consected has its own take on the concept (though it borrows none of the intellectual property from Tom's product, or the Tower/Vignette/OpenText product I worked with previously, before random corporate organizations with no better way of generating income start trying to make my life miserable). The approach I take though is this: to assume nothing about the case folder up front, beyond the fact that it is a way of representing business information or entities (a client, an insurance claim, a 'know your customer' (KYC) bank application review, an invoice, an employee, an account, a securities trade). A 'case folder' may or may not have structured database-style information. It may or may not have documents associated with it. It may or may not capture comments or discussions from users. It may or may not sit inside or contain workflows. It may or may not have checkbox tasks, deadlines or whatever. It may or may not be related to other business entities.

Most businesses don't get what a case folder is. Trying to beat them over the head to understand the term, just to make it easier for vendors to sell them software is not really the best approach (in my opinion). If we sell solutions, we conveniently forget the functionality and buzzwords of our software, and instead pick up the needs and buzzwords of the industry we are working with.

So, I agree that information, processes and 'case folders' must work together sometimes, standalone sometime, and not exist at all many times. The name and the functionality of a particular vendor's manila folder approach to organizing information does not interest me or the business I'm working with. As a business user, what matters to me is the 'something' I'm working with. Businesses benefit from focusing on their customers, as much as software vendors do, and helping them do that by putting a 'client' not a 'case folder' in front of users is a huge benefit in a solution.

A post from the Improving It blog

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Monday, May 24, 2010

Despite Twitter, email is still where we communicate

I have a love-hate relationship with email. For tracking work and tasks to be performed, especially in common workflows, email sucks. For communicating with people, the 'offline' nature of email is perfect, since you can send a message and that message will sit and wait in the recipient's inbox until they get a chance to read it. At the other end of the spectrum, Twitter and Facebook feeds just can't claim that: the messages are so transient that they are more like watching TV or listening to the radio, so if you weren't staring at the screen when a post came through, it is likely you'll never know about it.

So my renewed love of email (over social networks, at least) was given a little spark by the news that Constant Contact (don't claim you have never received a newsletter or event invitation from a company using them, because I won't believe you!) acquired Nutshell mail. Why is this interesting to me, or you? Well, quite honestly Twitter and Facebook really start to stress me out when work/life balance skews itself in the 'work' direction. I want to follow what is going on in the network of my friends, associates and the companies I follow, but keeping my head in an application like TweetDeck is unreasonable and a terrible distraction. So the idea of getting a notification email summarizing everything that has happened in my social network world, that sits there until I'm ready to decompress a little and read it, seems like a great idea. Finally, there is a better chance that I will not miss the last minute wedding announcement from a certain friend the far side of the world (you know who you are...), and that I will not miss another VIP announcement related to a local event that my small business is sponsoring. This is what Nutshell mail can offer, a nice summary of what is going on in your online social world, in a consumable email, ready to read when you are ready to read it.

So I still think that email sucks for work that people do in offices that is routine and repeatable: HR recruitTell him its about self-promoing; employee onboarding; travel expense claims; account payable and invoice tracking; new customer account opening; and so on. If you do these types of work regularly, you don't want the tasks getting lost in your email inbox, the same way as you don't want to have to stare at your Twitter and Facebook feeds all day long to know what is happening that affects your business or makes your sales efforts generate more leads. Email is great for less distracting communication, since it isn't just the Twitter equivalent of a crowd of people standing in a room shouting and waving 'HEY, LOOK AT ME!'.

I'll be interested to see where Constant Contact takes Nutshell Mail. It seems like a great addition, as it puts important messages for you where they should be: in your inbox. This ties in really nicely with the process improvement work I do with companies, where we work to free up employee's email inboxes by taking the routine work out of them, leaving the inbox to do what it does best: hold messages you need to know about but can deal with later.

A post from the Improving It blog

Edit ... OK. So the scoop is I'm married to a senior-ish person at CTCT. I'm not being paid for this blog post (the obvious pay-back is no more than you'd expect - and a whole pile of chores to complete at the weekend). And if you have read my blog before you'll know that this post is as relevant to the constant information sharing (and subsequent self-promotion) that is a blog such as mine. There you go - official cya declaration done. Oh, and the second declaration is that as much as I enjoy the concept of Facebook and Twitter, they really do stress me out. But please do follow me anyway at

Cheers, Phil

Friday, May 21, 2010

Paper reports keep everybody else in business

I've been working with a financial services client on a bunch of projects, one of which is how to move from a world of daily reports to something (anything!) a little more efficient.
Today, and every day, the firm pays a large amount of money for the reports to be printed by a third-party print bureau and delivered by truck nightly to their offices, for a guy to then wander around and deliver them to individual desks. Some of them are shredded without even being delivered, and others are immediately scanned when they are received and emailed to branch offices. This is the real world of business, where the expenditure related to inefficient operations such as handling paper reports keeps everybody else in business. Your firm is keeping the economy moving - 'well done'!
Let's look at a potentially fictitious example at Financial services Firm A:
  • Generates on average 200 paper reports each night (including the weekly and monthly runs of some special reports).
  • 5000 pages are printed at the print bureau nightly
  • The print bureau charges the firm $10k to print and courier the reports to Firm A HQ
  • A full-time employee organizes the reports and delivers them to individual desks, shredding any reports that are unassigned
  • 200 pages are printed directly in Firm A HQ
  • 100 pages are scanned at firm HQ and emailed to different offices, taking an hour of one administrator's day
  • Individual employees work with the reports, ranging in activity from: picking it up and shredding it immediately, to examining it line by line and noting the review performed in pencil for later audit.
  • Many draws of filing cabinets are filled to capacity
  • A box of reports per night are made available for off-site storage, eventually

So, we are keeping money moving very effectively: paying organizations to print reports; paying for paper to print reports ourselves; paying people to courier and delver reports; paying people to scan and email reports; paying people to box and handle storage of reports; paying external organizations to archive boxes. The only valuable piece came from the handful of people that perform meaningful work and reviews based on the reports they receive.

But its OK. For now, until we fix the root cause of the problem, we can feel good that we kept the economy afloat. Fortunately, non-fictitious Financial Services Firm B (name changed to protect the innocent!) knows that it needs to change, and I'm having fun helping them to do that. No more private bailouts!

A post from the Improving It blog
Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

At $24k a year for server hosting, the cloud can't fail

The tech industry's current love affair is with cloud computing - that hard to describe set of technology and infrastructure that is the obsession of companies large and small. Much like the industry's previous 'squeeze', SOA, the joy of the cloud is that you can make almost any technology fit under the name. Put plainly though, I see the cloud as a flexible set of server and storage resources that can host applications, somewhere out there, though you don't have to know where. With this comes the ability to reduce costs of running enterprise and SaaS applications.

There are many discussions about whether the IT teams of real companies will allow the cloud to become the platform for running their enterprise applications. There are risks that seem to come from the cloud that are fairly easy to identify:

  • This is a new style of technology, so you have to trust your vendor
  • Security of data is harder to understand than with dedicated servers
  • Reliability and high levels of service shouldn't be an issue, but you have to wonder if capacity is 'elastic' and can expand, what chance is there that it can suddenly shrink without warning too
  • Server resources are completely outside the control of IT, so you can't even call up and say, "my Window's server is going slow again. Could you reboot it?"

I look at it this way. If a dedicated server hosting company (in a location that Rackspace does not serve locally) wants to charge me $24,000 a year to install and babysit a single, basic server, it doesn't take long for my company to work out how to deal with the risks I stated (both technically and emotionally), and come out better off.

Put easily, the cloud is the perfect example of 'economies of scale'. But is there any reason that a hosting company has to view hosting, sourcing hardware and and managing a running data center as a single server proposition? Rackspace and others (despite their push to the cloud) are successful because they can view dedicated server hosting with the same mindset they use for their cloud offerings: the server is already here in the server room, installed and ready to go, alongside the other hundreds of boxes we have already running. They just don't plumb it in to the rest of the cloud infrastructure. Hosting a dedicated server cost effectively is not the complex, hard to get your head around elasticity of the cloud, but it is a mindset that doesn't treat every server as completely different from the last one either.

Dear Rackspace - please open a data center in Canada. My sides are still hurting from laughing at the $24k a year quote I received from one of your across the border competitors yesterday!

A post from the Improving It blog

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Give me more rewards - I'll feel better about myself

I hadn't realized how close marketing and games had come. A little piece of the computer gaming industry and marketing influenced one another (or maybe aligned, just because the target is human beings with cash). That little piece or gaming and marketing is around 'rewards'. People love to be rewarded for their actions, making them feel better about what they do, as well as keeping them coming back for more. Since the first days of computer games, players have received points for every fried alien they sent to its maker, with bonus attainments for reaching the end of a level (reinforced with the chance for a feel good breather and reduction in adrenaline). Marketing and rewards programs (frequent flier miles, free S'bucks coffees, grocery store rewards points) all carry the same concept: get points for buying (frying the aliens) and get a bonus or a flight for buying stuff you don't really need over a long period of time (reaching the end of a bonus level).

So now it is obvious to me, especially after watching a lively presentation from a games expert and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Jesse Schell: the DICE 2010 "Design Outside the Box" presentation is fun to watch, even if you take some of what is said with a pinch of salt. Schell is quite a character in the gaming and 'imagination' industry, and watching him speak, you realize if you didn't know already that there is a huge amount of psychology behind computer games that lead to their success or their failure. Schell mentions some of the surprises as well, that many of us would never have seen coming, like the Facebook games (Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc) or even the Wii. This psychology is the same in clever marketing, not the 'leverage, symbiotic, synergistic' marketing language bingo we see from tech CMOs, but marketing and advertising to regular human-beings at the level of 'buy another S'bucks coffee 'cos it will give you a buzz and its more impressive to your peer group than going again to Dunkin Donuts.

I have no real background in the gaming space, although I was hooked on software shoot-em-ups when I was a kid. The presentation at Finovate this week by Bobber Interactive (excuse the terrible writing in the linked blog post - if you understand the challenges of trying to write stream of consciousness about a seven minute demo, when the demo is the thirtieth you've seen that day, you'll forgive me), took game theory and applied it to a full on game environment for teenagers starting out in personal finance. I recognize that I know little about what motivates teenagers. One area I've come to recognize is the need for constant reinforcement required by a teen for how great they are, and as much as I don't see the need for being told what an amazing achievement doing something I should have done anyway is, I can see the potential for marketing to it.

So thanks to the Bobber guys (CEO Eric Eastman and ..., crap, no rewards for losing the COO's business card!) for introducing me to this concept of game theory in marketing, and good luck with Bobber!

A post from the Improving It blog

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Finovate, 24 hours on

Anyone that took a look at my blog yesterday must have wondered what the hell was going on. A mad, semi-literate ranter appeared to have taken over. So I apologize now to anybody that started reading my posts out of context. I was at Finovate, the mad financial innovation conference where the audience is bombarded with presenters, much like speed-dating on stage. With every company having just 7 minutes to run a live demo, the value of a crisp, clear, jargon free message was essential. As you can see from my posts, some of the companies understood the value of talking to the audience in terms that made sense, and others let their Chief Marketing Officer on stage with a game of marketing buzzword bingo. From many of my posts, you can see that I barely managed stream-of-consciousness writing in the 7 minutes per demo, so a clear demo helped me formulate my thinking and a clear post is a good indication of a clear presentation (although sometimes the confusion from the previous demo leaked over into the next one).

The consensus from the crowd at the end, a little more relaxed with a beer or cocktail in hand, was that big well-established companies struggle with the innovate products and in the free for all innovative setting such as Finovate, purely because they have set themselves too many rules and feel too constrained. More bullish startups think they can change the world, and will hammer on a problem (such as regulatory approval) until it just goes away.

So we can expect XBox playing teenagers to be investing in mutual funds and planning their retirements using some previously unheard of service before the big banks have even worked out how to engage their customers on Twitter.

For those of you that read my blog regularly, its back to regular service from here on in. Thanks for bearing with me!

A post from the Improving It blog

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finovate: Jemstep

The last demo of the day here at Finovate. Ready for a beer. And unfortunately technology is failing us. I hope the clock isn't ticking down.

Help investors make better investment decisions. If you had 10k to put in mutual fund, how would you find the best fund for you? Will your broker find you the best objective information. Or will the web provide you something personalized?

The demo - James is going to invest for the first time. He does some simple setup of his objectives, Clean and easy looking. And he can look at a recommendation he received from his uncle.

The funds James sees in results are tailored to him. Its not just a standard list. There is the usual info presented prettily plus a Jemscore. This score takes into account not just fund performance, but his own personal circumstances and preferences. The background behind the score is given to him, showing why other funds are a better fit for him.

Behind the scenes there is powerful ranking engine which uses personalization at all stages. As the consumer gets more sophisticated in his investment capabilities, he can control more aspects of the profile and therefore how the ranking engine personalizes his recommendations.

This bringing personalization helping you to assess the funds now and in the future they'll offer stocks and exchange traded funds

A clear, clean, nice demo. Good work!

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Backbase

How to engage your online banking customers. Enterprise portal application, not personal finance management, not a packaged online banking app. They are trying to get banks to spend money on a better customer experience through the current portal they have in place.

The value is improving customer experience through their toolkit of stuff. The backbase next generation portal apparently wont displace the online portal a bank has in place already. It will supplement them. And it uses pretty AJAX and nice pretty web styling to make things smooth and float around when you click or drag them. Perfect for the finger tap world of the iPad. Oooh another iPad app.

The demo appears to be making my bank online site into my iGoogle home page, adding content that is interesting to me (e.g. financial news). I think banks might be forgetting that I don't want them to be my home page, just to securely process my transactiosn.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: blippy

I can share the purchases I make to blippy, For example from Zappos. I can publish automatically, or select what I do and don't share. I can share the cost if I like. Or not. According to the presenter finovate stands for f^&%&^% innovate. A quote there, I'm sure.

Blippy is aiming to help people build apps with an API. Imagine an app that tells you all the recipes you can make based on items in your fridge. Imagine a customer loyalty app that scans you stream and says you have bought 9 coffees at Sbucks, they could offer you a free cup when you come back. I think there may be some value, though showing off the Adidas shoes I bought last week seems to be only for the most vain.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Ideon

Where do people with cash put their money nowadays? There's little upside to a bank savings account and too much risk in the stock market

The product allows customers to build a savings product. In three easy steps, you build it, review then open it.

First you select what you want to save and when do you need the cash. Now you customize. When do I need the cash? (e.g. this is a bunch of cash for a college fund that needs to start paying out in 12 months time). If the interest rate does not fit (like its 1%), you can gamble that puny amonnt against the possibility that she might be able to get a 'bonus' rate if one come up in the future. Gamble, without risking your cash.

Now you can see how this will work for you against the historical performance of the stock market and other saving vendors.

The Choice Savings product contains a range of features to provide these end to end customized products through a bank

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Smart Credit

Jean Chatzky back with another dot com. Smart Credit is taking new look at the credit rating issue for consumers.

The smart credit report turns the credit report horizontal, making it easier to read(?). Basically you can drill down through your credit report to the credit card companies. You can communicate with the creditors directly through the website, without knowing your account numbers. I lost my card, I have a question, etc

The Jean Chatzky Scorebuilder application. Nothing like a brand built around a person. But anyway. The site cleans up the credit report and highlights what is helping and hurting their scores through simple actions. The site guides you to reach a credit score goal.

The consumer is guided with simple actions, prepopulated language for getting problems fixed that can be sent straight to the creditor. This streamlines the evaluation for the creditor while helping the consumer making it easier.

This can be white labelled for FIs as well, helping banks encourage customers to improve their score so you can take more business

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: liqpay

Liquid payments through mobile phones. The person's phone number is their unique ID. This is an eastern European (Ukraine?) offering that has added 700,000 customers in the last month alone.

Send cash to a mobile phone. The sender and receiver get a simple SMS. You now credit your current Visa card with the information you have been sent, so it should be really easy to get cash to people.

And amazingly, you'll never get a pocket full of coins again. In the Ukraine, merchants can give you your change from large denominations in liqpay coin management payments. An interesting way of avoiding lost coins and the costs of handling them.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: goalmine

Open a mutual fund with $25. And make the funds accessible by selling a mutual fund gift card in the store.

The website is designed to look unlike any bank website, making it appealing.

Personalize your goal - Hanna's college fund

What is your goal amount? If they don't know how much, they'll help you.

How much do I need to put away?

The aim is to make investing accessible by avoiding technical investment jargon. The customer is buying the actual underlying product, not just making recommendations.

Now you have an account, you can make easy contributions, through the gift card, from your bank account or whatever. And the funds are liquid. You can get at them daily.

Whatabout fund raising? You can put a simple web page online to make the investment social. It encourages friends and family to contribute on Hanna's birthday. With a cute picture of Hanna at age 1.

This is an interesting product to encourage people to invest more.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: FTRANS

How do we get more cash back onto bank balance books? Outsource accounts receivable, having cash get back into the bank account faster, enabling banks to get at the funds faster. This is a service offered when your small business has debt with a bank. This simplifies the AR process for businesses and gets some control back for the bank.

Its an interesting idea for banks wanting to reduce the risk on many loans they have with small businesses and maybe it will convince banks to start lending to small businesses again.

More than just AR, there are a lot of risk related dashboards for the bank to help them analyze the risk on the many loans they have.

Interesting idea that would take a little more thinking to get my head around it

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Point of Wealth Systems

POWR - clear vision - enable financial security for millions of working americans.

A reverse ATM, converting cash into electronic funds. 50B USD paid out in bar / restaurant services in cash compensation. But cash held by individuals has grown 13% according to FDIC. POW is aiming to roll out 25 thousand reverse ATMs over the next few years.

What happens to the 137m USD earned by bar and restaurant industry workers daily? The target is the unbanked or the services industry workers without the benefits from their employers.

This is like an ATM with touch screen. They can put cash in the machine and contribute to a retirement fund (IRA) opened at the machine, add credit to a cell phone, top up a prepaid Visa card, etc. You can even buy stuff on line and have it shipped - paid in cash. The partners who place the machines pickup the cash nightly, and an account is credited over night.

So this is really looking at getting the cash out of peoples pockets into fair cost accounts and services. This is an opportuntity for small FIs to get into this broad market of people rapidly.

Simple and easy.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Expensify

Handle expense reports with some humor and a new iPad app. There is an integration with QuickBooks.

The strength has moved from allowing people to submit expenses electronically, to the manager to be able to track expenses that have been submitted and get analytics around them.

They import data from the credit card information. You start to get access to the merchant data. Which hotel chain is getting our money? Now we can negotiate with vendors, not just telling our employees to stop going to the W. Now let's compare Bob against the other employees.

Finally, we onto corporate fraud. Let's slip in cash expenses that are made up. Maybe Cathy takes taxis as well as renting cars. You can start to look around your data a lot more easily than you could previously.

Save money, cut fraud and do everything great! Expensify can help the employee, the manager, the accountant. Simple, real time solutions that just work. Love it.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Controlabill

20 billion USD a year consumers pay in late payment fees. This Aussie product is looking at how to help a bank's customers manage your payment authorities to service providers such as phone providers.

This company looks at managing the Authorities, to set and forget your payment authorities. For example, I want to change the account numbers behind a phone bill, gas bill, electricity bill.

They cache electronic authorities and send it to the billers and its acted on overnight. From a bank's perspective you don't have to manage the relationships with billers. This makes the direct debit style payment model I am familiar with in the UK more of a possibility in the US.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Cross Commerce Media

Massive innovation in how to create a new revenue stream with something you already do.

Apparently a bunch of people want to receive their bank statements on paper in the mail (really?!). So why don't you start advertise to people through the bank statement? Take the transactional mail (the statement), and put personalized messages into the envelope. It tracks the follow through from this back to the online website to track the digital engagement.

How do they do this? Still not sure. They might get there before the 7 minute cut off. Maybe not. So I'll assume that there is some substance behind the hot air. I don't care about your Board. I might be interested in the point you are trying to make, if you'd just make it.

Mud Puppy is the beta service for creative authoring around your transactional mail cross-selling. This might be original. I don't know if we really care. Its like trying to put an advert on a check /cheque. The thing is going away. Do I really want to keep on flogging that dead horse?

I suppose as we must keep paper statements for a while, adding a little marketing value to them might be interesting.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Continuity Control

A compliance platform for small banks and credit unions.

A bank can go to the 'app store' to get a view of partners that really know compliance and offer apps that can be easily acquired. You buy your app 'template' from the store and start using it.

You get instant access to your list of simple instructions, checklists, and so on. All with similar usage. These tools simplify the compliance process, make it repeatable and give you oversight. They go for 'trust but verify'. The simplicity of it helps tracking, in a simple checklist, using the best practices of proven partners.

The small FIs now can benefit from templates. And as things change over time, so do their apps. Do you want to build and app and help out the industry (and make some money)? Be part of building a de facto standard for compliance.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: YAP

4 billion mobile phones and 1 billion with access to a bank account in the world. How can you send gifts and money abroad? A universal global gift card is the answer, sent from your mobile, to your brother or cousin in Mexico.

On an iPhone I enter who the gift card is going to, who it is from. What amount. And a short message. Enter your credit card details (again, why do I not have an account for this?). Now anybody can do this. The recipient does not need a bank account.

To claim your card on iphone its there. If not, go to a website, agree by an SMS that you are going to redeem the give card, and you have the gift card.

What happens, you get a virtual mastercard. Can be used anywhere where the card doesn't have to be present so you don't need a bank account or a reliable mail system.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Kabbage

The most important innovation in financial services... See if you qualify for a loan to grow your online business.

The big problem for online businesses is getting cash to grow your business. As an eBay seller, you can go to Kabbage. They'll pull a bunch of information about you as a seller to perform a first filter (what are your transaction rates, etc). Next step, they do things like check identity, and treat the seller as more than a credit store.

eBay sellers that get approved can get money quickly credited (within 5 minutes) into your PayPal account.

There is a fairly quick form to fill in as part of the application - nothing special here. But once the decisioning platform kicks in, you get the approval for a loan of up to a certain amount. You can choose how much of that you actually want to use.

Immediately the Paypal account is credited. A small business loan in 5 minutes and they demod it live. Quite cool.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Mint

What are your financial goals? Mint can help you figure it out and how to get there. The aim is to put an emotional aspect back into personal financial management. Perhaps this is like Zendough with different graphics. This is not so pretty, but has the Mint karma which might help.

The message: Mint knows about you and can guide you towards your goals (the dream house). With a few more emotional hooks (the photo of the dream house) to keep you engaged. Mint has built in many calculators to help guide you.

Want to take a trip? They've integrated with travel websites to pull the best prices to help drive a total cost of your trip you are trying to save for. Add a photo, and it helps to keep you motivated.

Now I can dedicate amount from the accounts that Mint knows about, helping to manage the money I have before I have it.

With meaningful educational information - what are all those realtor terms? - to help you know what is really going on.

Easy messages. Simple presentation. Got it.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Safety Pay

Safety Pay helps banks leverage revenue stream without competing with them. Banking on Online Banking is the tagline. SafetyPay believe that online banking is the future. For most of us, online banking is already here, so I'm trying to understand what is new.

Ah, maybe I'm getting it now. This is international payments: paypal for cross border transactions in different currencies. This makes it a little more interesting. The demo shows far more than the marketing language coming from the CMO. This is really a pitch to banks to offer them this new payment opportunity. Too much marketing speak getting in the way of me understanding what she means. Why did she talk about synergistic, online community gibberish, when she could tell us what the product actually does. Interesting product and demo, too much marketing around it.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Bobber

How do we engage and excite teens around money management.

"View this through the lens of a teenager". Or we can teach our kids how to be responsible with their money at some stage in their lives.

OK, so a command center and a games engine. Its like playing with Dad's money, but its your own. This game engine give a teen challenges around their money lives. Great for parents that don't really want to participate in their kid's development and would rather sit them in front of a screen and hope that the Sesame Street of 2010 do it for them.

This isn't a ding on the site, which is pretty clever, slick and game like. Though I do wonder at what age that kids will believe this is 'for kids', when they are instead starting to feel like they are young adults.

The points you win on Bobber's game engine is actually converted into discounts on Best Buy and so on. The company also matches charitable donations through the site. Fun and engaging straight after lunch! Scary too

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit


Segmint - how to get actionable data for a personalized online experience for your customers. Anonymously process data and transactions from virtually every type of payment stream - credit cards, ACH, bill pay etc. They tag the data anonymously so they can see different lifestyle actions of their customers with key lifestyle indicators (KLIs).

With the information a bank can start to segment customers from the many streams of information that were previously inaccessible.

Now banks can look at the account balances and payments customers make online. The bank can really start targeting their banner ads on the website. It can be as subtle as showing images of tools or wedding rings as backgrounds to the banner ads.

The aim is to get personalized digital relationships with minimal hassle.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Silvertail

Fraud teams in banks are hindered through the use of third-party partners used for bill paying.

Silvertail monitors all of the traffic on the website. It sees when keylogging viruses pick up info you enter on your PC to access your online account then immediately log in remotely to access your account.

Because you use partners to process bill pay, there is a disconnect between what you track on your website and what goes to your partners. Silvertail take all activity through your bank's site, so you can track everything, before forwarding it to the partner. There is no change to the user experience, but now you can track everything because all traffic goes through your site.

Now the bank can add filters that redirect certain requests and certain bill payers, to redirect them to a customer support page. As soon as you start spotting issues, you can start preventing further issues of the same type, even on partner websites you depend on.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: UBank

UBank from National Australia Bank

An online account opening solution. Put the application online and then perform an online validation. You enter your details online, add the details from your passport and medical cards. The background checks are performed. Then we are done.

During the application, the customer gets a text message as a temporary password for their new account. This is a secondary authentication approach that can reduce issues you get sending this to email accounts.

UBank is big in social media in Australia. They have integrated into Facebook and iGoogle. You get your banking details directly in your home page. You can only add the gadget to your home page if you are logged into the UBank website already.

Not sure what they were selling...

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: Billeo

Continued innovation in the bill pay space.

I need to pay the bill immediately. But if you pay at the back, it takes 2-5 days to pay. Most people go to the vendor's website and so the banks lose out on the transactions.

With Pay Direct, I get the ability to choose to pay direct from within my banks online site, but pushes you over to the vendor's site with a branded bank banner. Your bank has gone along with you. The Pay Direct assistant fills in the fields for you and eventually saves the confirmation pages for you automatically. Your receipt is there in your bank online activity immediately. I can save other receipts as well from direct card payments on other sites.

I win, as I get more card points. The banks get the benefit of the transaction fees. You get better reviews online of your receipts in one place.

Interesting concept.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: TSys

TSys: not really sure what this is beyond linking accounts and credit cards. There is a story about adding banking accounts and credit cards to your profile. I think there is something about being able to set up automatic payments from different accounts. I can pay different categories (such as groceries) direct from my checking account, larger purchases from a credit card and anything under 20 bucks from another card. My flights went from my savings account.

And I earned points on everything.

This is a level of control over payments is way beyond what I need, but maybe others will find this TSYS Hybrid functionality useful.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: TransUnion

Credit monitoring. How to not stress out your customers. Zendough

Really low risk to see how your credit score helps you grow a bigger bonsai tree (really). This is truly zen calm for credit. So people are going to use this because you feel like you are in spa, rather than a weight watcher's meeting.

Identity theft. White glove service to walk you through restoring your identity and credit.

You want stack of zen stones, bonsai tree and other pretty visualizations of your financial health, zendough can help. I guess you need something for every personality type.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: RiskKey


According to the presenter and the audience interaction.

RiskKey - how to simplify compliance. Templates for different compliance projects, such as a risk assessment project for Bank Secrecy Act. Pick up templates from the available templates and kick off a project. How do I setup a project and track its progress?

How do i do a risk assessment? Drag the risk sliders. Easy - done!

The auditors get access and can add notes. The items they pick up are highlighted to managers to ensure stuff is not missed when the examiners come in.

NEW - enterprise dashboard for compliance and how do I match up against my different categories of risk. How does my risk index (RDex) match across the categories that I had planned/ Now compare yourself against the rest of the industry.

1 Easy

2 Removing confusion

3 Make compliance 'not suck'

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: the debt diet

JeanChatzky blog working with DebtGoal

Helping consumers to work through weening themselves off credit and constant debt.

Video coaching - 'you can do this!'. Helping people find the motivation to do it. Helping them find out ways of paying down their debt.

Jean gets people emotionally ready to fix themselves. DebtGoal is the leader in the DIY debt reduction space. Weight Watchers for debt.

What do you do when you have 30 credit cards with different credit cards? How do you manage the best place to put your debt when you have so many APRs and minimum payments?

Consumers make a commitment of a payment plan, then they beat themselves up routinely for spending on those cards.

Keeping people engaged through a constant tracking, they have to actually enter data. OK, so not automated, but maybe its like reinforcing to yourself that by charging stuff to your card, you have to admit it by typing it into the site. Best for the most motivated.

Now there is an extra piece-- how to negotiate down your rates.

Blogging live from Finovate. Follow the tweets

Let us help you improve your business today. Visit

Finovate: pageOnce

The largest personal finance. in the US. 2million members.

Another mobile iPhone presentation. page once is the best service for managing your money on your iPhone. Uses the iPhone Simulator to show how he can manage his cash, his credit card statements, and brokerage account. ALl bank and credit cards and investments across all major FIs.

New service today: all bills can be seen online as well. Pay your cable bill from your brokerage account? The flexibility sounds great, but the tax implications kinda scare me when you start liquidating stock without really thinking.

They notify you of bills, in one place. The stuff that BoA still can't do well, so why can these guys do it? I bet there are limitations.

NEW! Money saving engine, offering valuable promotions. Quick pitch. Advertizing to 2 mill customers.

Blogging live from Finovate

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: cortera

2 trillion dollars - the credit held by businesses rather than banks. How do we manage the risk associated with the credit that businesses hold that is hidden from us.

Cortera looks at the data component and the social interactions that make up credit risk.

Credit is tough and risky. Net 60 days payment terms are a risk for your business. With cortera, i don't go to Dunn and Bradstreet. I go to Cortera and pay 3 bucks and get some data about their credit worthiness. Then I go in and see how people are discussing the social side: the discussions about what's happening in the business, are they paying on time, is there a new management team. I can ask my circle: what's happening in this business and can I trust them before I extend them credit?

The challenge will be the trust aspect of the people in your 'circle'. This is definitely a challenge.

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: eBill

Small business bill payment electronically. 250M in payments processed last year.

Control bill payments through email. Vendors send bills to you directly = no paper

Everything is synched with quickbooks, so you don't have to reenter a bunch of data.

I get to track my payments, see cleared checks/cheques and overall save time and effort around bill approvals and payment. You can apply credits from your vendors. Reviews and approvals work nice and cleanly. Of course, throw in the iPhone/iPad words because I have to always do this stuff when I'm on the road.

LinkedIn approach to inviting vendors to join you for payment. The vendors maintain their bank info in the system, less hassle for you.No merchant fees for them.

Invoices impiorted from quickbooks allow you to send quick reminders with a single click.

Payments coming to you go straight into your bank account. Integrating accounting system. Efficiency for small business

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: erollover

erollover: take control of your retirement. The focus on customer acquisition than customer education has killed the value to many people.

These guys deliver unbias content to retirement planning.

4 Themes

  1. Manage your resources - free and unbiased tools across your funds
  2. Education - more rich content than you can find anywhere. Content partnerships (eg bankrate) and other sources provide this
  3. Sharing - more than blogging. How do you become trusted in the finserv space? Build a social media community. Honest reviews, a la Yelp for finserv
  4. Missed the last one. Sorry....
Looks interesting enough

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: oFlows

oFlows takes the paper out of the account opening tool for any FI.

A nice demo, showing how they can remove many of the dull parts of account opening: putting a form online that actually does something useful, checks credit and identity, gather account information for funding, and offers most powerfully a clever engine for cross selling. There are electronic communication consents. And there are electronic signatures on your app forms.

Finally your client can upload his identification documents. I like the idea. I worry about some of the AML issues.

There is a nice background view of the client - a client centric approach to account opening! I love you guys! Cross sell capabilities. Remove paper from the process. Evertything goes into your systems of record.

Save money on the front end, backend and avoid customers dropping out. Very nice message. Clear, targeted presentation to the banks.

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: Visa

Highly scripted presentation from Visa. RightClick as webapp and plugin. You get the ability to prepare an online wishlist for the stuff you want to buy from across the web. You can then quickly and securely populate and pay for these items.

Rightclick grabs info from merchants' sites. But really, do we need so many different terms Visa? Rightclick, Wishspace, Clusters? We are going to have to learn your lingo to use your product. Brand the product, sure, but then speak common English for the rest of what you do.

So I'm in my Wishspace, I've bookmarked a camera I want to buy, then I click it and jump back to the store. Delicious, have you thought about bookmarking products. Wow, innovative!! (sarcasm alert).

And then it can populate payment info back on the real merchant's site. And I can pay with Mastercard.

I don't get the value to me, or how it encourages vendors to work with them on it.

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: WorkLight

The challenges of mobiles: the lockin of having to develop apps for every mobile is complex. How do you keep costs under control with the Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry etc.

These guys can help you develop a secure app once and distribute it across many types of devices. Not really sure how that is going to get past the Apple new licensing terms for iPhone and iPad which limits development tools that don't run Objective C.

Unfortunately you don't have the nice Apple look to iPhone apps, despite what the presenter is claiming.

Blackberry is not there yet.

I like being able to break the boundaries of different devices, though I'm not sure if they can do it.

Here we are going, with another downloadable mobile banking app for your PC. We need these (I talked about this lots) though I'm not sure yet if we are really ready for consumers to be downloading without thinking. At least Apple controls their environment so heavily.

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: Wikinvest

Now you can agregate the data from all your brokers (E*Trade, Ameritrade, etc)

If you were caught out by the craziness on the markets last week, at least you could have tracked better how all of your investments were plummeting.

You import your data into their service and benchmark your financial adviser. How much are you paying your brokerage in fees. I assume that they are building the benchmarks themselves based on all their users.

The aim is to give you a view across your whole portfolio.

Hurricane: a new thing coming up soon. For the highly active trader, live data, earnings reports etc all come in as soon as they are published. Within seconds you get the important news before the financial reports have even looked at it.

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: Fiserv

Fiserve is looking at how to make consumer online banking and personal financial management more mobile friendly. Not really sure how they are different from my Bank of America online site yet, although I'm sure there is plenty of traction from having a cool Apple iPad app.

We have a sprinkling of person to person payments through zashpay, some ebills and a look at financial goals and budgets.

The message: a downloading an application is becoming common sense. The iPad and iPhone has helped open up the market to downloadable apps again. People want the unique experience that comes from that. But really, do we want to encourage people to start downloading random apps onto their PCs?

Slick demo/ Not sure who the audience was.

A post from the Improving It blog

Finovate: MoneyAisle

Staring at the home page of the website. It looks pretty enough. Though where is the demo? The challenges for customers and FIs have been talked through. The clever stuff is something about reverse auctions when customers are getting credit.

The simplicity of the form belies the complexity of the engine under the covers. Its going to be hard to convince customers that they are not just getting a bunch of adverts. Really they claim that the credit unions and banks are actively bidding for your business behind the scenes

Acquisition costs for banks is low: they only pay when they win the business

The consumer gets a better deal. I wonder if it works? Maybe the next time I go and buy a car I'll try it!

A post from the Improving It blog

I'm here at Finovate Spring 2010. All my company allegiances are dropped for the day (trust me, I'm good at suddenly becoming independent, as my clients routinely demand it of me). I'm here to watch some companies demo their finest products to a hopefully receptive audience. I'm on the side of the presenter, as I know how hard (and incredibly stressful) it can be to pull off a great demo. It demands a show with a well rehearsed script, a great story, and a well behaved cast. Unfortunately, software demos can be like working with children and animals - ready to act up at the worst moment. So, good luck presenters, good luck companies, and if I sound a little bit down on your demo, its only because I'm jetlagged, coming out of my own big presentation before jumping on a plane out to San Fran. So please impress me and your audience, and everybody will be happy.

Phil Ayres - Blogging live from FinovateSpring 2010

Follow my tweets at:

A post from the Improving It blog

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Show me the best you've got

I appear to be in training for a marathon blogging session at Finovate next Tuesday in San Francisco. My training is unusual in its form: avoid doing anything related to the event for at least two weeks before the big day. Why? Because to blog for eight hours straight is going to deserve focus and a clean plate. It was time to do some real work for a while so I'm not distracted at the event by all the other stuff I feel I should be doing.

Despite the numerous calls and pitches from the PR firms I have chosen to ignore, I'm planning to use Finovate for what it claims it does best: I am going to see fast-paced demonstrations delivered by the best and brightest financial services focused technology companies, and on the basis of the demo alone assess what's going to be the next big thing in the finserv technology space. Or to use Finovate's own words:

With Finovate's signature mix of short, fast-paced onstage demos (no slides allowed) from handpicked companies and intimate networking time with their executives, this conference packs a ton of unique value into a single day.

How can a short demo, with no Powerpoint be the best way to understand a new, innovative product? In short, it is not. And at the same time, it proves how easy it will be for prospective customers to understand the value and the message related to new technology products.

Technologist talk in their local industry babble. Customer's speak their own in-house babble. Somewhere in the middle the only understandable discussion comes from the way a set of English words haven't been abused for their own limited purposes. If a company at Finovate can show their product in a way that makes sense to me, while I'm only half paying attention and blogging, the demo is actually interesting to watch, the product sounds valuable and the presenter even makes me laugh, then that is a signal of potential success. Those companies and PR firms should give me a call again after the event so I can write a little more about what they do.

To everybody that I currently know nothing about, Tuesday is your chance to shine. Do well, and there is a good chance that you will sell well to customers in every subsequent sales demo you do. Bore the 'whatever' out of me and you should be probably going to the accountancy conference up the street where your brand of fast-paced, low-risk 'value' will be more appreciated.

To everybody presenting: good luck! I look forward to blogging about your demos live from the event, and writing more about the best of you soon after.

A post from the Improving It blog