In the News | November 29, 2023

The Desktop Interoperability Maturity Model: A Framework to Support Successful Platform Modernization

Written by Reena Raichura

Unlocking Efficiency in the Financial Services Industry with Interoperability

Int-er-op-era-bility – hard to say and even harder to understand how to apply it for success. And while it has become something of a buzzword in the financial services industry, many firms are still struggling to comprehend its full potential from both a business and technology perspective. The irony is that we use interoperability every day on our cell phones without even realizing it!

What is desktop interoperability and why is it important?

Let me first describe the fragmented desktop problem. Users in different parts of financial services from trading to operations to wealth management to retail, use a number of different applications to do their jobs. Typically, these applications are a mixture of in-house and third-party and are built on different technologies. The one thing that these applications have in common is that none of them talk to each other on the desktop therefore, users end up swivel chairing, copy/pasting, and rekeying data between them. This is time-consuming, error-prone but above all highly inefficient in today’s fast-moving digital economy. In addition, many users rely on one or two ‘master’ applications that have tried to include every feature and function within their monolith application. The net result of this is that these master applications become bloated and end up not really doing anything very well. This hinders performance and productivity for end users who should be able to use and integrate the best tools for their jobs. Before interoperability solutions came to the market this was just not possible.

Interoperability changes all of that.

Users now have real options to pick ‘n’ mix best-of-breed applications and build their workflows and platforms of choice. Returning to my cell phone analogy, this should be just as simple as downloading a new app from the app store which then nestles in seamlessly not just with other apps on your phone but, crucially, with all the data you interact with to lead your life.

So, what actually is interoperability? In technical terms, interoperability is about allowing data to flow electronically and seamlessly from one application to others regardless of the underlying application technologies. However, it’s much broader than that. A good desktop interoperability platform dissolves the boundaries between applications to create a unified experience for end users. This then enables the creation of cross-application workflows and workspaces, app stores, centralized notifications, global searching and more.

Why is it important for platform modernization? “Don’t leave the users behind!” is what I often end up saying to clients and partners when they are thinking about streamlining workflows, building out best-of-breed platforms or participating in these. In the old days, the focus was very much on building platforms back-to-front where development teams worked in silos and technology was pushed onto end users. The net result was a fragmented data and workflow experience where ‘workarounds’ were the norm and applications were siloed. To remain competitive in the digital age where data is the lifeblood for traders, hedge fund managers, analysts and wealth managers, the user experience must be considered as the central challenge in any workflow automation or platform modernization program.

It became clear after discussions with clients and partners, that there were a number of questions we needed to answer to help firms fully recognize the power of interoperability: How could we help firms understand the importance of interop in their platform modernization efforts? How could we bring the importance of user experience to the forefront of their thinking? How could we help firms get started with their interop journey? How could we help firms understand where they were on their journey? How could we help firms progress faster, at a lower cost and with more certainty?

It was these questions that we sought to answer by developing a framework – The Desktop Interoperability Maturity Model, more simply known as The Maturity Model. The first one of its kind.

Introducing the Interoperability Maturity Model

The Maturity Model is focused on two distinct paths to desktop interoperability: Workflow Integration and User Interface (UI) Integration.

Workflow Integration is the ability for applications to synchronize data, share information, and build Straight-Through Workflows where information passes seamlessly between the applications required to complete a given task.

UI Integration is about how applications are built, launched, and managed through the creation of microapps, app stores, workspaces, and layouts.

Together they help guide the user through the masses of data available to them in order to get the best possible outcomes for themselves and their clients. This way data is unlocked from the applications they reside in and is free to flow and be manipulated however the user wishes. Further on, this means that guiding users with intelligent Next Best Actions (NBAs) becomes the norm.

These two paths are the typical entry points that we see firms taking based on their own vision and use cases. For example, we have firms that simply want to stitch together two or three critical applications such as their OMS with Bloomberg and automate the workflows between them and others who are looking to modernize their existing platforms or build entirely new ones from scratch. This applies to both financial organizations as well as software vendors.

Within the model, each path has then been divided into levels and as a firm progresses through them, the better the user experience becomes, and the deeper and more sophisticated the integration becomes with notifications, usage analytics, low/no code and AI all coming into play.

While the paths and levels in the model are described separately, depending on the problems and use cases that a firm is trying to solve, they may end up mixing and matching levels from both paths. The ultimate goal of desktop interoperability is a seamless and single-platform experience for end users where workflow integration and UI integration converge. However, it is important to state that maturity does not mean applying both disciplines to every set of users. Maturity refers to an approach that considers the user, their workflows, and the full set of applications they work with, and then decides what is appropriate.

The diagram below illustrates the model, the two paths to integration and the levels of progression:

Best Practices for Interoperability Success

In addition to the model itself, I have highlighted below some of the best practices for success whether you are looking to do simple workflow automation or you are embarking upon a larger platform modernization journey using interoperability:

    1. Shift your design thinking: Interop programs, big or small, require a momentous shift in design thinking. Traditional design thinking for the desktop has been centered around building applications in isolation. This has led to fragmented data and workflow experiences for end users that do not match the way they actually work. The reality is that users care about data and workflows to get their jobs done and work across many applications simultaneously. So, the focus should be on building workflows that stretch across applications. This means analyzing end-to-end business processes, workflows, and user journeys first before designing an underlying solution. User experience must be at the heart of the analysis and design process.
    2. Strong collaboration between business and technology is crucial to success: For years, the business has had to put up with technology that has been pushed on them and they have had to bend their business processes to fit with that technology. In the digital age, this no longer works. It’s important to get business buy-in early. Find those desk champions and let them advocate and evangelize for you. If you can continually deliver value to the business throughout your modernization program, then you will succeed.
    3. Create ecosystems from composable building blocks: Building a best-of-breed platform requires a buy, build and blend approach. For financial institutions, be open to collaboration with FinTech and BigTech vendors to accelerate your modernization program. For software vendors, understand where your applications fit into end-to-end user workflows, stick to your specialism and embrace openness, flexibility, and collaboration. Be interop-ready and become part of an ecosystem
    4. Implement strong governance: For those embarking on a platform modernization journey, strong governance is key from the start. This means putting structures and processes in place with defined roles and responsibilities and developing a robust methodology from analysis and design through to implementation.
    It is my hope that the Interoperability Maturity Model will serve as the go-to framework for financial services organizations to understand the importance of interoperability, the benefits it brings, get started on their interop journey and increase their chances of successful workflow automation and platform modernization. For in-depth details on the model, click below:

    The Desktop Interoperability Maturity Model

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Engineering the Future Webinar On-Demand
Engineering the Future Webinar On-Demand

In this webinar recording, technology leaders at TD Securities, AllianceBernstein and North Rock Capital Management cover topics such as interoperability and micro front ends.