I may no longer be in Las Vegas, where I was the last time I posted to this blog, but I plan to head back there soon for HP Discover, the annual get-together for all folks interested in hearing the latest from HP executives. Mobility, modernization, cloud computing, etc., have all found their way onto the agenda of the event, whose tagline simply reads “Making technology work for you.” You have to wonder, would we buy technology that was known not to work for us from a vendor unprepared to support it?
A few weeks back I opened a blog post reflecting on just how much I dislike going to see my doctor for an annual physical. After all, I know best how I am feeling at any point in time. Reading the HP tagline, I thought again about going to a doctor who worked on the same premise — "Making medicine work for you." Would I ever consider prescription pharmaceuticals that I knew just didn’t work and would I continue to see a doctor who advocated that I should just practice yoga and give up on the treatments already prescribed? Given the shape I am in these days I can’t really see this as likely.
However, talking with clients I have who provide solutions to the systems, networking, and applications monitoring and management marketplaces, it would seem that companies can find themselves in similar predicaments. It’s not unheard of for a customer to say to a vendor in so many words, “Ship this product and then hold my hand for a few years, and, oh yes, of course, can you explain to me what this all means and why I should be looking at it?”
For many years I have been associated with vendors who provide monitoring tools. And I am a little cynical that many CIOs who make decisions about equipping their IT staff — even their line-of-business managers — with analytics tools to allow them to compete more effectively are supporting their buying decision solely on the basis that it looked good at an industry analyst event where their colleagues were all suitably impressed. For these CIOs, the buying decison was more about the fear of missing out on something than it was about fully comprehending the value proposition.
Step away from the middleware space dominated by tools, utilities and even major software products that support database management and online transaction processing systems, and peel away the veneers surrounding more popular applications and solutions. You will find companies that, having worked with a vendor — a well-known major vendor, even — despair when faced with changes that run counter to the direction in which they believe those vendors should be headed. After many years of enjoying a close business relationship, these companies are often at an immediate loss as to where to turn. And this can even happen to the biggest banks running the largest ATM networks ].
Imagine the plight of a major tier-one bank in the U.S. with a network of 15,000 ATMs (and thousands of POS devices) which had happily run a payments platform based on the HP NonStop server for nearly two decades, only to be told that despite the bank's continued enthusiasm for the HP NonStop server, the applications vendor was going to change direction and dump HP NonStop in favor of IBM and its mainframe.
As a longtime customer of ACI Worldwide that had depended upon BASE24 to support its ATM (and POS) network, this bank would either have to go through a massive upgrade to a software solution that may or may not be supported, or change servers entirely.
Should the bank elect to replace its NonStop servers with an IBM mainframe, "it would totally change the culture of its IT department,” said OmniPayments CEO, Yash Kapadia, describing the concerns faced by one bank in this situation.
Change the culture? More like rip out the brain or perhaps, more realistically, swap out the central nervous system, given the bank's lack of enthusiasm for changing the brain.
This same bank had turned to OmniPayments several years earlier to offload some BASE24 processing. “BASE24 did not have the capabilities the bank needed to manage its ATM network. ATMs represent the public face of the bank and, for competitive reasons, it needed to provide a superior experience to its customers through its ATMs,” Yash said.
But ripping out something as comprehensive as BASE24 and letting OmniATM replace it had to be akin to replacing an organism’s central nervous system while it was still alive. Ouch! “All the options had their degrees of pain,” Yash said. “However the bank already had a successful and satisfying relationship going back many years with OmniPayments and its OmniATM product.”
So, indeed, rip out BASE24 was what the bank did, ACI being unrepentant about its decision and giving the bank few options — none of which looked very appealing. The bank's network of ATMs had to continue to support customers over the long term, so the inner workings of the payment platform would have to be changed to something completely different.
And together, the bank and OmniPayments, pulled off the change — there’s no longer a single line of code remaining from BASE24. "[We] tbrought OmniPayments online and working with the first interchange network, STAR, in just three months,” Yash said. “[W]ithin a year, the complete OminPayments system was online and communicating with ten interchange networks including Visa, MasterCard, PULSE, STAR, and others. As expected, the risk of migrating to OmniPayments was miniscule as compared to upgrading to ACI’s new and very different product, BASE24-eps.” The bank “easily" made ACI’s sunset deadline, Yash said, and terminated license payments to ACI on the first day of 2012!
“Making technology work for you!” Yes, you would wonder about any company that bought technology that wouldn’t work, and where there was no commitment to support a solution — just as you would wonder about anyone who would continue visiting a doctor not prepared to heal them.
And yet, when a vendor does change course — sometimes by a turn of 180 degrees — even one that has been as successful as ACI has been through the years, there will always be a choice.
Looking further afield — for as far out as I can see — there will be networks of ATMs; there will be processors, owners, issuers, switches and many other players engaged all along the way. And no one will enjoy a monopoly.
That a bank was able to find a partner as committed as they were to working a solution and with the ability and nerve to rip out the very structure holding up the bank's ATM network, I find remarkable; the fact that there weren’t outages or horror stories in the local newspapers, I find perhaps even more remarkable. If you do happen to make it to HP Discover, look out for Yash. You will find him only too happy to tell you more about how this all came about.