Mobile is the next big play for nearly every company that aims to keep up with the consumption appetites of its end users. One large, well-known U.S.-based bank has embarked on a risky, though inevitable, journey to mobilize its workforce and customers.
Given the nature of big banks, this one talked to us on the condition of anonymity, but the executive we spoke with is responsible for his company's mobile and tablet strategy. The bank has its own "bring your own smartphone program," having decided not to control them. Most of its challenges, of course, are compliance-related. There are strict regulations within areas like wealth management and investment management, where even instant messages must be discoverable. Just sending a message via Yahoo Mail runs afoul of SEC regs. Things get even more complicated on a global scale.
Today, the bank issues only BlackBerry phones, on which everything is tracked and limits are set on which applications users can install. For those with iPhones, the bank takes responsibility for a single application that provides secure e-mail and connectivity but leaves the rest of the device for the employee. In other words, it lets users sandbox the personal from the professional. The executive wouldn't tell me which technology is being used to do that, but he pointed to technologies from Little Red Wagon (Pine Cone), Sybase, and Good Technology.
The bank is piloting the iPad across user segments, testing Citrix clients for corporate access. He says the iPads won't replace laptops, but they'll replace three-ring binders for highly mobile content consumers.
Most of the applications being mobilized are conventional productivity apps, like expense, corporate travel sties, conference room booking, and internal communications tools. In some cases, the bank is putting mobile front ends on conventional applications. When i asked about creating applications in HTML5 instead of building native applications, the executive told me that "nothing replaces that native interface," especially when a customer is viewing data and interacting with a financial adviser.
When technology isn't saving money or making companies more agile, it's making them more productive and bringing them closer to customers. Maybe these companies aren't edgy or abnormal after all.
Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.
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