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June - 2016 - issue > CXO INSIGHT
DEVELOPING RIGHT TECHNICAL CAPABILITY FOR DIFFERENTIATED CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Mohan Sankararaman
SVP, Deputy CIO-First Horizon National Corporation
Friday, June 24, 2016
"We knew if we achieved our goal, we could deliver solutions quickly, realize reuse of our assets, reduce expense, and decrease the delivery time"

Offering a different customer experience is becoming a challenge these days. Banks choose to buy and deploy off-the-shelf technical solutions to deliver banking products to customers—a model that is a common practice in small to mid-sized banks.
This strategy helps them optimize their technology spend and deliver new products quickly, but while this is a good financial strategy, it does not help the banks differentiate their products from their competition. In many cases the solution comes from the same known financial services vendors.
The result is that when deployed, these products look and behave the same way across banks. Now, the question is how to differentiate when using these procured products.
At First Tennessee we faced with this same challenge. We wanted to offer differentiated customer experiences with our products and at the same time to optimize our technology spend.
In other words, we want to spend less and be different.
In 2009, we started developing a roadmap to achieve this objective. We looked at all the options available and we quickly settled on a hybrid model. We understood that we had to develop our own unique solutions for our customer channels. These would be the solutions our customers touch and use on a daily basis and we would then deploy purchased solutions for our back-office needs.
This hybrid model strategies one that larger banks have been executing for years. But it brought a new challenge to the forefront called system integration. We needed to integrate disparate systems to offer a seamless experience for our customers.
I think every technologist would agree that system integration is not an easy problem to solve. The problem landscape ranges from different OS platforms to different run-time stacks to different API types to different programming languages to different skills. This is the most expensive phase of a project requiring countless hours to make two systems talk to each other.
At First Tennessee we embarked on a journey to develop our system integration capability. This will be the secret sauce to the recipe for our unique solutions and will allow us to build some and buy the others, but still offer a seamless experience to our customers. More importantly, it will optimize our expenditure.
We quickly set our hearts on acquiring and developing this capability internally. We wanted to be the best at system integration and determined that this was going to be our competitive advantage where we can offer new and better products quickly and economically. We knew if we achieved our goal, we could deliver solutions quickly, realize reuse of our assets, reduce expense, and decrease the delivery time.
The first step was assembling a centralized enterprise integration team, composed of people with prior experience in system integration. We also recruited fresh and experienced talent for this team and continued to train and retain the best employees.
Next, we enforced an enterprise architecture policy stating we will no longer implement point-to-point integration and all integration will be delivered through the new Integration team. While there was some resistance in the beginning, soon all the integration work started flowing through the centralized team. This centralization made several things possible.
First, it gave us the ability to build an integration layer for our system of record applications using web services. Next, it allowed us to reuse our assets aka we were able to reuse business logic. Finally it helped us put an end to solving the same problem over and over for each project.
The next milestone in our journey was to introduce an advanced canonical message model that we called our enterprise message model. We were able to develop one vocabulary across various systems.
For example, an account meant and behaved the same across all our systems. It became very easy for our internal teams, vendors and partners to understand our integration layer and connect with it. The steep learning curve for understanding the APIs was virtually eliminated.
Our next milestone was in building reusable business processes. Our middleware stack was becoming richer every day with new processes and this milestone soon helped us embark on our omni-channel strategy. Our channel applications were able to tap into the business processes offered by our middleware stack.
Our customers started enjoying a consistent experience interacting with us no matter which channel they used. Our next accomplishment was in service enabling all our system of record applications. We were able to rollout a new mobile banking solution within 90 days. While integration is a challenge for many banks, it is now a business as usual task for us.
We also ensured that we had the best available tools to make all this happen and our middleware stack has a collection of tools to make integration a breeze.
We are now working on rolling-out a new online banking platform for our retail customers. We have completed the integration work in less than six months and were able to reuse much of the work we had done for other channels like mobile.
At First Tennessee we take pride in saying integration is our advantage and we continue to build and buy solutions and integrate them without seams. The journey to build a competency in system integration is paying off. We are able to reduce the time to market, offer a different and unique experience to our customers and reduce our expenditure.
Our hybrid approach is helping us bring the best products to our customers.

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