We Built This City: Why a Strong Enterprise Architecture is Crucial in Fintech

Patricia A Watson, EVP and CIO, TSYS [NYSE: TSS]
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Imagine breaking ground on a building without a blueprint. Worse yet, imagine an entire city that emerged without an urban planner.

What would we find? Most likely, a scene of disarray and inefficiency – think mismatched buildings of different styles and sizes, none of which complements oneanother. Of course, all the supplies and building materials would be different, driving up costs dramatically. There would inevitably be redundancy, withmultiple features and frameworks repeated unnecessarily. Andall of the one-off buildings would be subject to an array ofdifferent security standards unique to them.

If you’re lacking an enterprise architecture strategy, chances are the technology in your company looks just as disconnectedas an urban plan gone awry.

In my 20+ years in the payments industry, I’ve observed it time and time again: companies that grew too big, too fast and failed to prioritize steady, structured expansion. Or more simply put, adopting a strategy of retrofitting existing systems to reinvent the wheel on a daily basis.

  Once you have your single data set you can begin to utilize that repository for greater efficiency and true data innovation. 

I get it – in today’s world of real time and instant gratification, it’s tempting to focus on rapid growth and speed to market. And sometimes, you do end up building a really great business – the only problem is that much of it operates independently of the other pieces. If you’re a paymentstartup, maybe a new deal was contingent on developing a capability or technology quickly. Or if you’re a legacy paymentscompany, you likely built your platforms decades ago and realized the need to adapt them to a changing landscape– without completely dismantling what you already have.

Regardless of how you got here, how can one go from here to achieve sustainable, organized growth?

The first step in adopting any successful enterprise architecture philosophy is making sure silos are dissolved so there is a single, unified copy of all the data through your organization. Of course, it’s crucial that extreme care is taken to ensure the accuracy and stability of this data, as the company organizes around one set of information. Different channels don’t need different data silos – they need a single source with high availability done right from the start.And it goes without saying, the customer should not be impacted.

Once you have your single data set you can begin to utilize that repository for greater efficiency and true data innovation. That includes not only the financial data of yesterday but the behavioral data of tomorrow. What time does the customer most often visit the supermarket? What kind of financing does she want? Is he comparing prices online? Having a solid enterprise architecture will help you answer these questions by taking all of the unstructured, formerly siloed data in your organization and turning it into something useful.

And let’s be clear: Enterprise architecture is a major undertaking, and the payback only comes once the new system has been put in place. Such an initiative can take months or even years into the future. So what are the benefits of taking this approach?

BETTER SECURITY: Some used to think scattering data in silos makes it harder to breach. But in the world of IT, it’s easier to secure one single building than 20 different buildings. Once you’ve achieved that level of resiliency, even sensitive information can be stored in the cloud to reduce data storage costs. A strong enterprise architecture carves a pathway for the future instead of leading to yet another dead end.

A BETTER CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: Just a few short decades ago many of us thought of ourselves as B2B companies, but these days, everyone is connected to consumers. One of our banking partners, for example, reaches into our systems 100 million times per day. Now we’ve gone from talking to a handful of banks to hundreds of millions of consumers on a daily basis. And we need to interact with them in real time – on the phone, chatting, emailing, texting and reaching them on social. A strong enterprise architecture philosophy ensures they’re getting the same answer every time, from the same set of information, with no disparity from channel to channel.

BETTER INSIGHT: Twenty years ago innovation in the payments space was introducing an interest-free balance transfer. Today, I think we can all agree that the future of commerce is no longer about the transaction. The biggest potential is in pooling data from these formerly disparate entities across your company and presenting them in a unified way. Observing buying behavior, making future predictions and setting prices based on these new insights are just a few examples of this. Connecting the data is where the real payoff and innovation happens.

Is this a big change? Of course. But change always wins. In the past, a single programmer could build one corner of the system independently. These days, failing to plan ahead and collaborate simply doesn’t cut it. The business world is littered with the remains of companies that failed to capitalize on an opportunity for better efficiencies, growth and innovation.

So next time you’re making your way through a well-lit, easy-to-navigate, feature-richneighborhood,take an extra moment to admire what a measured, focused plan can bring about. And don’t be surprised if your next thoughts are around the potential for your business.

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