By Stephen Pierzchala, Gomez Inc.
The Internet is dramatically changing the way banks interact with customers. Its explosive growth and development has resulted in a substantial percentage of customer interactions being moved out of the branch, off the phone, and onto the computer screen and mobile device, accessible by anyone at anytime. Online banking is not simply a customer convenience, but also a critical component of managing costs, since online transactions can be significantly more cost-effective than those that occur in a branch or over the phone (unless, of course, your Web site performs poorly and drives a flood of customer complaints to your call center).With customers moving to the Web en masse, banks are essentially exposing their operations to customers who now have the power to directly access their banking information. Opening these doors means that banks must ensure exceptional Web performance, especially since customers have increasingly high expectations for their online experiences and will be quick to compare their banks' performance to that of the Web's best-in-class like Yahoo! or Google. In fact, there is a proven link between Web performance and business success - for example, Microsoft recently reported that a two-second slowdown on its Bing site can impact revenues by 4.3 percent per user.
When a bank gives customers access to their banking data anytime from anywhere, the reality is that people will actually do it! At home, at work, on vacation, and while on the move, customers expect speedy and convenient Web site access and financial transactions wherever they are.
From a Web performance perspective, this means banks need to consider that the traditional "Fortress Mainframe" approach has to be abandoned for one based on the simple premise that the customer's experience with the bank begins at home, in the office, or on the mobile phone, not in the bank's datacenter.
Until Internet banking arrived on the scene, banks could manage systems and connectivity in a very structured way. Green screens were in the branches, and they connected back to the central data center over controlled links. Even though banks were networked, poor performance of systems and connectivity could be filtered by a counter rep, manager or operator on the phone.
Fast forward to today and that controlled network, the "Fortress Mainframe," has been breached and the Internet is streaming data out across networks, desktop PCs and mobile devices that banks don't control. But banks shouldn't throw up their hands in defeat and declare there is nothing they can do to manage their performance all the way across this Web application delivery chain. While it is true that no one can possibly manage all the performance-impacting variables that make up the Internet, successful Web sites and online businesses do everything they can to manage for the Internet and its many challenges.
This means that a banking Web site has to be planned, designed, built and deployed so that performance is a key foundation element from the start. In effect, this means that banks with an online presence must consider the Internet as a part of the datacenter-and they are responsible for delivering exceptional Web performance in spite of all the possible Web "noise" that can affect the customer experience. Accepting that the Internet is a part of the datacenter should help focus efforts on Web performance.
Another part of managing for the Internet is the ability to measure what is happening on the Internet from the customer perspective. This means measuring not just from the datacenter, but from the "outside-in," across the Web application delivery chain and from the Last Mile where customers really are-using different carriers, ISPs, devices and browsers to access the Web. What's more, as the mobile Web becomes an everyday reality for customers, banks need to equally plan, design, build and deliver quality Web performance for their mobile-optimized sites and applications.
There is no doubt that the Internet has brought about a revolution in the way banks interact with their customers. Now it's time for a revolution in the way banks perceive the Internet. Trying to react to issues and manage the entire Internet is clearly a futile effort. Understanding how Web sites and applications work from a true end-user perspective, and then identifying, isolating and fixing performance issues that may exist both within and beyond the firewall, before they impact customers, is the only true way for banks to proactively improve Web performance. This is managing for the Internet and it is vital in order for online operations to strengthen banks' customer relationships and brand while reducing costs.
Stephen Pierzchala is a senior consultant with Gomez Inc. He has expertise in helping businesses improve the Web experience for customers through ongoing measurement, monitoring and load testing.