Building societies should tackle legacy systems with automation

Automation can help kick-start digital transformation for building societies looking to modernise.
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Of the handful of interesting observations included in the recent Whitecap Consulting report, the most familiar was about legacy systems. It’s a rare day when I don’t read about how legacy systems remain chief stumbling blocks for willing and unwilling FIs alike. As stumbling blocks go in the minds of many, they resemble the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

If you spin this analogy on its head, you can see how icebergs could in fact be dyed-in-the-wool financial institutions, unable to do anything other than watch nimble tech startups shimmy past like speedboats. While the Olympic-class ocean liner took just five years to go from concept to collision, the mighty iceberg was thousands of years in the making. Over time, banking has come to resemble the stumbling block itself – the iceberg – with layers of complexity thickening its broad edges. If a bank or building society wants to navigate the waters of digital transformation, it must become the boat.

Let automation take over

Modernising means different things to different people. I find that it’s quite often a shallow concept given equally shallow consideration. Companies tend to modernise marketing practices, office spaces, dress codes, company values and water coolers. Truly successful companies modernise systems and processes, with some of the more thoughtful applying various levels of automation to ease the journey from old to new.

I’ve written quite a lot about robotic process automation (RPA) this past year, which was also mentioned in the report. I agree that it’s one of the best things you can implement as a vital part of any digital transformation. Of course, you have to know what data you hold and what processes are involved (and how they work) before you can unleash smart RPA across your operations. But if you work with the right technology partner, there’s no reason why an old-fashioned building society can’t become more agile and more focused on customer experience. It’s a solid foundation stone on which to continue building and modernising.

Taking RPA to the next level is in applying intelligent automation, where member data (for instance) is processed not merely by replacing tasks with automation, but by enabling machine learning to “learn” and “understand” the data and output it in a way that makes more sense. It also improves business efficiency by freeing your workforce to focus their talents on more enjoyable aspects of working life. They may even have more time to think, which leads to ideas.

Updating old technology

So, while legacy systems remain the bugbear of many a project manager trying to figure out how to kick-start digital transformation, they’re not the icebergs you think they are. And even if they are, the tip of the iceberg is a good starting point that leads inevitably to what lies beneath.

Perhaps project abandonment occurs because many building societies attempt to tackle the iceberg from the bottom, when it makes more sense to start with what’s achievable. A more agile approach to modernisation is to iterate and adopt a fail fast culture within your organisation.

RPA and machine learning are the tools that may help you chip away at stumbling blocks, whatever shape or form they take. As the Whitecap Consulting report said: “Where an existing legacy system has no easy way of exposing APIs, smart use of RPA coupled with a middleware API can enable building societies to mirror the benefits of APIs.”

Updating old technology with new is a challenge. The winning benefits include increasing building society member engagement and experience, providing next-generation features such as biometric authentication and live chat, and helping vulnerable members self-serve. The benefits for your business is making more sense of the data you have to be a more efficient building society.

Competition for customers is fierce, so deciding whether you’re the boat or the iceberg is the best decision you can make today.

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