Want to Achieve True Digital Transformation? Stop Writing Traditional Desktop Applications

The user experience on the desktop is recognized as the ‘last mile’ in a company’s digital transformation journey – for good reason. Business programs typically exist as siloed applications installed on the local hard drive, and the easiest way to share data among them is to ‘copy and paste,’ making the user the integration layer. But Desktop Interop technology is powering a new, seamlessly integrated user experience, reports TABB Group head of fintech research Monica Summerville.

Mobile and tablet applications are easy, fun and, well, mobile; but the truth is, most of us still need to work on a desktop computer or laptop. And not just any computer – we typically need the specific computer as “built” by our company’s IT team. But why is that? After all, we can use any device with a browser and Internet connection to access our retail banking, email and even MS Office applications.

The reasons that once existed for being chained to a pre-configured machine have been largely addressed with a new technology approach called “Desktop Interop” (short for interoperability), which focuses on data sharing among desktop applications and has become one of the fastest growing integration trends – unsurprising, perhaps, as the user experience (UX) on the desktop is recognized as the “last mile” in a company’s digital transformation journey. This comes at the same time that adoption of cloud within capital markets is accelerating.

[Related: “Adoption of Cloud By Capital Markets Firms to Accelerate”]

The momentum in this space is building as leading financial firms use the technology to create a better UX and support experience. For example, at TABB Group’s FinTech Festival last year, Freddy Tenaglia, Head of Global Wealth Management Investment Technology at J.P. Morgan, described how the firm created a new workspace UX combining hundreds of legacy and modern web applications. According to Tenaglia, the solution was live with 13,000 users and time to market for new functionality was reduced by more than 50%. For financial firms serious about digital transformation, the time to know about Interop is now.

How have we come here? Business programs generally exist as an application that is installed on your local computer and which runs within an operating system designed for a personal computer or laptop. These are “launched” by you or at start-up by the PC and run separately from other applications on the desktop. The easiest way to share data among the applications is to “copy and paste” from one to the other, making “you” the integration layer; otherwise, you often need coding skills or the help of developers and integration specialists to get apps “talking to each other.” In the very near future, however, people will laugh at this thought in the same way we laugh when we see a corded telephone.

Of course, complex businesses like capital markets have their own custom-built or highly customized third-party applications that integrate a myriad of functions, so that data can be easily and quickly shared among them (e.g., price display/calculation, news, charting, order management, client management, etc.). This creates a more efficient workflow than if each function were compartmentalized in a separate applications (i.e., relieving the end user of needing to cut and paste or re-type data all day long). However, these all-in-one applications are rarely comprehensive enough, so inevitably additional stand-alone applications are added to the desktop, requiring data to be passed back and forth. Typically, this is achieved either with integration on the “back-end” or manual intervention (often copy and paste again!) on the front end. Again, cue laughter from the not-too-distant future.

The reality is that the capital markets and asset management desktop can be very crowded, with literally hundreds of applications competing for user attention and desktop real estate.

End users agree that this is less than ideal. TABB research recently highlighted the poor state of workflow integration (see: “Portfolio Management Platforms: Wishing Won’t Make Them Integrated). In our recent survey of portfolio managers, the majority reported a lack of integration between their portfolio management and execution systems (see Exhibit 1, below).

Exhibit 1: The current state of integration between portfolio management platform and execution systems

Source: TABB Group

However, a number of banks, brokers and asset managers have realized there is a better way through Desktop Interop. This involves using the same open standards-based technology that underpins many websites, specifically HTML5. But let’s focus on the business outcome as opposed to the technology.

HTML5 allows a so-called “browser-based” application to appear and function as a normal, fully featured “desktop” application, but one which offers a number of incredibly useful features. For example, it allows you to work securely and with the same desktop experience across different computers – whether that is because you are hot-desking, in a disaster recovery site, or simply working remotely. It means having to enter a client name or ticker into only one application and having all the other ones pull up or display related information instantly. It provides tools to standardize the desktop so that it can be supported from anywhere, but remain configurable enough so that end users can still customize their environment if necessary. From a support point of view, it also means making a single change to one server and having all users – potentially thousands – see it immediately as opposed to having to update each desktop application individually.

This is not a niche area, as evidenced by the number of firms offering third-party solutions for Desktop Interop, often leveraging Electron, an open source framework. Leading firms in the space include (in alphabetical order) ChartIQ, Glue42 and OpenFin. The open-standards body FINOS also has a program, called FDC3, with a mission to “enable true plug-and-play interoperability and discovery on the financial desktop without prior bi-lateral agreements.” Finally, there is an ecosystem developing with companies such as Adaptable Tools providing products that are compatible across the leading financial web companies – for example, Adaptable Tool’s award-winning Adaptable Blotter DataGrid add-on.

Excitement around the technology is so great that some in the industry predict the end of the traditional client-server desktop application. Using this technology approach, it seems a handful of firms have become early winners in the race to finish the last mile of their digital transformation journey, and many others are getting there. Any spectators are well-advised to join the race.

To learn more about the potential of Desktop Interop technology, join TABB Group for a complimentary webinar, “The Last Mile of the Digital Transformation Journey,” on Wed., March 20, 2019. Find out more and register here.

TabbFORUM is an open community that provides a platform for capital markets professionals to share their ideas and thought leadership with their peers. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s). They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TABB Group, its analysts, TabbFORUM and its editors, or their employees, affiliates and partners.

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