The iPhone and some new notions

As we spoke at BarCampBankDallas it became apparent that this new device will offer some solutions to problems we have had in the past. But maybe there is a bigger problem with us.

We have always been thinking of developing applications with the view that someone will be sitting at a laptop or desktop machine. That it is either stationary or mobile for use and that wifi or Ethernet connections may or may not be available. That is the physical environment of the user. But what happens with the iPhone?

Suddenly that environment is passé. Now the device has greater capacities and is in the pocket of the individual. Like a cell phone it will travel everywhere and will have that constant connection. It can be transmitting your geographic location and pushing you updates all the time.

We need to begin to think in more ‘real life’ situations. This may seem crazy but after being married for 36 years I like to know what my wife is doing and where she is. Before I head home from work I like to call her and tell her I am leaving. Sometimes I forget. In the near future this device will be able to tell her where I am. If I am stuck in traffic she should be able to see this. I don’t know how possible this was before but it will soon be a reality.

When thinking about financial services we can now view the possibility of geographic location of the person when they spend their money. If they use a debit card then the place of use can be paired up with the individual’s geographic location. Your alert mechanism for fraudulent use suddenly can take on some new dimensions.

And that seems to be the key, considering these new dimensions and being able to do development to deploy the application on the hardware. Software can become much more robust, much more specific and driven for much more usage. To put a function to use is going to be much easier. To use that function anywhere is going to make a major difference.

Sure there will be the glitzy ideas and software because this is so new and thought of as cool. But creating functional applications given the new parameters, that really could change the way some financial services and products are used and delivered. Fasten your seat belts.

BarCampBankDallas

Everyone is on there way home or soon to be headed in that direction. BarCampBankDallas is over and once again one sits back and slowly begins to digest what took place since Saturday morning.

The topic of the iPhone and what it can and will do for the financial service industry was discussed at length. The opportunities for development of products and services with this device surfaced again and again. In essence this device gives you some dimensions (where you are, where others are, push technology, enterprise development, etc.) that either were not available or unanswerable in the past. If Jobs is right in suggesting that the iPhone could reach 60% market share then this device could become as common as the iPod. When hardware and software arrive at this new technology plateau who knows where it will lead.

Regulators and regulation and what that means to this industry was considered in a number of sessions. No one likes this segment and though it is necessary sometimes it is very hard to see some reasonable means of dialogue with this group. It seems a continual challenge to find the resources in order to comply with these demands. Much of what we have and continue to do has not changed much but in the regulators eyes that does not matter.

There was an excellent mix of attendees with no single group becoming the main focus. I really appreciated the responses and input of so many people. Everyone there had a passion for the business and you could see that. The food was great and the venue was very different. There were a number of ‘creatures’ (stuffed animals) in the centre area that became part of few discussions. I had never seen a stuffed giraffe before.

People will ask me ‘Was it as good as Seattle or New England?” I have a hard time comparing each event because they are so different. They are all equal in some fashion but also different just based on the agenda and people. The first BarCampBank was exciting because it was new. Those that follow are exciting because you can understand what will be occurring. You not only measure what you learnt and discussed but also view the unmeasurable, the relationships that you have renewed and those new ones that you have made. To me that might be the most important aspect of BarCampBanking.

These relationships create that network of like minded individuals that for the most part are exploring technology, people and markets. They have the common desire to make something better, to change something. There is little if any of a defeatist attitude. You share stories, dreams and the realities of the business you live in. Larry Hooper was the only non-FI person there and it was great to hear his take on things. I think the story he shared is one reason why we continue to strive to do things better.

Did I come away with any great ideas? Certainly. The most important thing though was to hear that your ideas and your plans were being challenged and validated at the same time. You will only get that kind of response at a BarCampBank.

It was an enjoyable event. Good to see everyone again. Good the have some great food and experience that Texas hospitality.

Innovation is risky but healthy

Doug has presented an excellent post about CUs and innovation. But as I commented there is another side.

First I am not saying that all 3rd level CU organizations or 3rd party suppliers fit this pattern. There are a number of organizations and people within these organizations that get it. But in large part most fit the same pattern — keep it comfortable and maintain the status quo.

That pattern and the underlying mantra of most credit unions that their brand is sacrosanct creates the problem for innovation. Please don’t ask me for the answer on this one as I don’t have it. It is almost like the system governs the outcome and there is no reasonable explanation as to why it continues. Why can’t we work together to a greater degree? Because we have a brand to maintain and maybe some collaborative effort will diminish it. Our competitive edge will erode if it was know our CU competitors were involved. Or when we are at the table trying to collaborate we can’t agree because the brands get in the way. Maybe it would be just too difficult to have to re-build something by having to admit previous failures that were never fixed. Common sense doesn’t event get a chance to exist.

When you have a culture of innovation in your credit union it is risky. There are daily challenges as to why you continue to do things as before. In having this view you constantly challenge not only your CU but everyone else. There is acceptance in that you do have a proper product or service in place but that it could always you a bit of tweaking when you have the time and resources to do it. There is always this impatience and not being completely satsified. There is always the frustration of trying to arrive at the right solutions for your members. There is the fear of failure. There is the consequence of having spent so much time on something to see it not working as you thought. But all of this leads to the healthy.

You don’t do anything for the recognition but you do it to serve the members better and to make the staff’s daily routine easier and less mundane. You do it from an open source attitude. If another CU can use what you have and make it better isn’t that something better for all of us? You learn from the mistakes because you are willing to take the risk to make mistakes. You always move forward from a position of the positive. The health of your CU is certainly measured by it’s financial performance. There are also some subjective measures such as what have you produced for the members that they can use and value? Cloning a free checking or youth account doesn’t count. Challenging the status quo both inside and outside the CU is the starting point. Asking a simple 3 letter question is maybe the best way to start. “Why?”

Apple WDC and our choices

The first day is over and the news is out. New iPhone, .Mac changing to .Me and Snow Leopard Server. Again Apple pushes product and updates its technology to higher levels but this time there is something different.

Apple seems to be directing its eyes to the business sector. Sure the iPhone was launched at consumers but the tools and processes shown are a fair indication that Apple is looking at expanding into the non-consumer area. With what was stated today why wouldn’t any business who has some development budget and has been working on the Mac platform not get excited? There are some great possibilities of using these tools to create some unique and interesting products and arrive at answering some old questions.

The key understanding is that the iPhone is a computer in your pocket. So what would you think 5 or 10 years ago about having that much IT power sitting in your glove compartment? With the wireless availability becoming common place there is now an immediate means to communicate and transmit data. Viewing this from a historic timeline we used to wait until the punch cards were run for the printed work, then it became the waiting for the system to come up before we could use the terminal, our desktop computers were the biggest step in having data and applications available on a desk, then the laptops arrived and we could carry them anywhere and now that same power sits in your pocket and is usable anytime.

Any information or data that you can push or pull can be viewed and worked on. Any place. What will that mean to businesses and to us an individuals remains to be seen. One of the programs mentioned today will give you the geographic location, via GPS, of anyone with an iPhone. You will get a choice if you want that information about you available but if you do then you might not have to answer the cell phone from your spouse asking you were you are. A small point but it is significant. You no longer have to tell people where you are, they will have the means to know where you are.

The questions will be asked will it save time, the precious and finite commodity we all treasure. Maybe, maybe not. But it will change the way we view events, processes and what we have been used to in so many unseen ways. Again technology has an offering that we can either use or it can ‘use’ us. We can either be bombarded by vast amounts of useless information or we can filter and broaden our knowledge with needful and proper information. It all ends in one simple but powerful characteristic, individually we choose for ourselves with our own free will what we will do with this technology.

The joys of technology

At work we have been using a program (Mac) called SnapMail for a number of years. It worked very well as the program allowed us to send messages, files and notify people immediately about anything. You could be typing an email and up comes a small screen telling you your wife is on the line or the Revenue Canada agent has been waiting to see you for 30 minutes. But in the last little while it hasn’t been working very well. It doesn’t seem to work with Leopard and Intel machines on Tiger have problems. We needed something different.

We seem to have gravitated to Skype. It really is a pretty good program to communicate with in a small office setting. In fact it has a lot of potential because it incorporates just about every method to communicate with someone — text, video, or phone.

Now what if we can have the same conversation with our members? There will be some who use Skype and probably would prefer it. The possibilities of better and different dialogues are pretty far reaching. It would definitely be a new conversation method. And what about Board members who need to know and discuss information on a periodic basis? This could be a very genuine means to hear and be heard within various groups of a credit union.

WDC – San Francisco. Two staff members head out Sunday for the Apple WDC next week. The agenda is full of opportunities to learn about the inner workings of the iPhone which we have come to see as a means to have some real effect on retail banking. When you realize that this piece of hardware (or something similar) will give the member a truly portable banking facility it is something we need to learn and prepare for. The possibilities to retrieve relevant financial information at any time, anywhere, begins to expand the definition of mobile banking. And Rogers will soon be selling iPhones here in Canada. There should also be more information about the Mac OS server product which is turning out to be a very stable and robust system. Most of what we have built that surrounds the core banking system is Mac based so San Francisco is going to be more than just “wearing flowers in your hair”.