Whether it’s the gifted professional dancers in popular television shows or the movements of Olympic gymnasts, there is a lot to be said about being flexible. Lithe in body and spirit, open to new movements and gyrations, they can wow an audience even as they try seemingly impossible moves. Or so it looks. But, as is often the case, a lot of practice is involved with routines tested over and over again in the safety of harnesses and nets. Having just returned from watching rock climbers assail the cliffs surrounding the valley that makes up Zion National Park, there is also an element of risk that is ever-present and yet, like spiders clinging to a glass window, somehow these rock climbers demonstrated a level of flexibility that made it look effortless and easy and yet hard to look away.
When it comes to business today, agility, flexibility and strength are important factors that help enterprises maintain a competitive edge. As for financial institutions, their brand is often anchored on structures and entities that reinforce strength and are designed to overcome any thoughts their users may have about financial institutions’ ability to safely protect their investments. Take the image of the Prudential rock with the tag line, “The Prudential has the Strength of Gibraltar.” Even the stoic stag symbolizing Hartford Insurance screams protection with one poster for Hartford going so far as to say, “Mutual Funds that stand head, shoulders and antlers above the rest.” Perhaps it was just a case of life imitating art but that picture of the stag may have influenced Prudential to spend big to acquire the individual life insurance business of the Hartford Financial Services Group in 2012.
Traditional concepts of flexibility based on strength and powerful images in support of a brand are today under threat as new entrants into markets challenge even the most established of enterprises. Who could have foreseen the mighty Sears brand become almost worthless and who would have expected to witness major airlines and even telephone companies and banks disappear from the landscape – recall how film Director Stanley Kubrick, back in the late 1960s, elected to only reference two companies in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pan Am and AT&T, on the understanding that surely, at the turn of the century, these two enterprises would have a global presence. Alas! Pan Am made it only to 1991. And while AT&T survives, it is a radically different company than it was 50 years ago. Being flexible is not only good for the health of a company, but also it is the only real way companies can remain competitive. Being timely in your response to change allows you to differentiate your product from that of your competition. That in turn goes a long way to reinforcing your brand and putting even more distance between yourself and the competition.
Enterprise IT today is under as much pressure to remain competitive as the rest of enterprise. According to The American Enterprise Institute, in a 2014 article covering the release of the Fortune 500 list, “The constant turnover in the Fortune 500 is a positive sign of the dynamism and innovation that characterize a vibrant consumer-oriented market economy and that dynamic turnover is speeding up in today’s hyper-competitive global economy.” Steven Denning (a Forbes magazine consultant) pointed out a few years ago in Forbes that “fifty years ago, the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500 was around 75 years. Today, it’s less than 15 years and declining all the time.” In the three years that have passed since these observations were made, just within the technology sector, it seems as if companies and their brands flame out in a matter of months.
Staying relevant and providing value among financial institutions comes down to just how quickly they respond to new entrants and new products appearing in their markets. Automating every aspect of product and feature introductions is among the most important aspects of successfully responding to change, and when it comes to automation, there is no more crucial aspect to product and feature introductions than automating the testing. Early failures can kill initiatives faster than anything else – today’s consumers have expectations about user experience, services and responsiveness, and when a new product or feature fails to deliver, these consumers will move on to try something else and will likely enjoy better outcomes. And they do not hesitate to tweet and bleat and yelp about “epic fails.”
“Among the more compelling reasons why traditional financial institutions need to up their investment in testing solutions is that so much is changing around them,” observes Paragon CEO Jim Perry in recent emails. “They need to become more flexible in order to be able to take on whatever new threats or payment types or partnership opportunities happen next. You can’t do that working off Excel spreadsheets. A completely automated testing environment can help provide this flexibility and can help ensure the ongoing relevance of the organization.” Simply rerunning dated scripts, feeding the same old data back into test decks assembled decades ago or worse, pulling items from a spreadsheet will not cut it anymore – the environment into which we are introducing new products and features is too dynamic and too demanding to be effectively tested using the staid manual processes of former times.
“Deploying a robust automated testing environment – one that can be readily tailored to address new functionality and new services offerings – helps organizations mitigate project and business risks, while streamlining business operations. Banking has always been about managing risk, but typically within known parameters / coordinates,” Perry explains. “What is different today is that change is coming from different, non-traditional adversaries and not all payments solutions can readily adjust to meet new challenges. With automated testing processes in place, parameters can be easily adjusted or adapted to steer existing solutions in new and innovative directions without requiring complete rebuilding of the test platform.”
Perhaps consideration among some enterprises may be given to easing up on product differentiation and to refocusing on price. Many products have been promoted with the tag line “price competitive,” but all too often, this relegates what is being offered to be a commodity product operating with paper thin margins and exposed to any new entrant into the marketplace that enjoys even lower production costs. Ever wonder why card companies like Visa and MasterCard, not to forget Amazon and PayPal, spend so much money on brand advertising and reinforcing brand awareness or why even the most established financial institutions like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo continue to pour as much money as they do into marketing campaigns?
None of these companies can actually afford to compete on price alone. A solid, well-respected brand presence gives these organizations the strength and capital they need to remain competitive against new entrants into their market space, no matter what their background happens to be or the market segment they are looking to disrupt. “Automated testing of new products and features,” adds Perry, “helps financial institutions maintain brand relevancy by demonstrating the agility and effectiveness of their operations. Yes, we believe it improves their efficiency as it adds to their flexibility, fosters innovation and competitiveness, optimizes resource utilization, and ultimately leads to them being able to reduce their costs.”
Rock climbers are skilled at knowing the ropes, and champion gymnasts practice for hours with their nets and safety harnesses before they start jumping through hoops. But for enterprises everywhere, including financial institutions, retaining the flexibility required to repel invaders and intruders and disrupters of various types demands a level of responsiveness that can only be achieved through automation of the testing of each and every new product and feature. And Paragon brings to these markets the solution that can help organizations remain flexible and, in so doing, help them avoid what Mr. Denning from Forbes warned about – a short (and probably unhappy) life expectancy.