User Experience, Security Take Top Billing at Financial Services Developer Conference
Now in its fifth year, the Microsoft Financial Services Developer Conference is a leading event for developers and architects in the financial-services industry. The gathering offers developers insight into Microsoft’s latest and upcoming technologies for banking, insurance and capital markets industries. On the eve of this year’s conference, PressPass spoke with Asli Bilgin, .NET developer evangelist, and Joe Cleaver, platform strategy advisor, about this year’s conference themes of user experience and security.
PressPass: This is the fifth annual such conference. Why has the market supported a conference dedicated solely to developers in financial services over the years?
Joe Cleaver: Financial services is a unique industry with so many dynamic issues. For this reason alone, I think it requires its own developer conference with its own set of sessions and discussions. We’ve seen the conference change along with the industry – from Y2K to Windows Vista, from Sarbanes-Oxley to Basel III, from the emergence of the Web to the popularity of service-oriented architectures. And with a record-number of attendees, more than 700, registered for this year’s event, we expect a whole new host of issues to emerge and be debated. The conference serves as a great opportunity to bring together developers, partners, Microsoft product teams, and Microsoft’s key architects and developers to share how they are using the Microsoft platform to do innovative things.
PressPass: What was the reasoning behind the themes of user experience and security?
Asli Bilgin: The themes emerged from discussions with our financial-services customers around the key issues they are facing today. Customers are quickly discovering that functional isn’t enough anymore. Software systems are a virtual representation of your organization, and many times it’s the way you greet your customers for the first time. User experience isn’t simply about credibility; it also demonstrates how well you operate. If it takes too many clicks for a user to get their bank balance, that’s inefficient and impacts the bottom line. This inefficiency occurs in the various customer channels at financial institutions – whether at call centers, ATMs, branches, brokers or on the Web. This inefficiency ultimately means lost revenue for those companies. At the conference, we’re going to showcase how new technologies based on Microsoft .NET 3.0, such as Windows Presentation Foundation, Windows Communication Foundation, as well as ASP.NET AJAX and others, can be used to quickly create rich user experiences for customers – via better collaboration between customer channels or through improving individual channels like the Web. As for security considerations, I can’t even really think of it as a separate theme because it’s so engrained in every single aspect of writing software. From the design to deployment, you have to address security. This year’s conference is filled with dedicated security sessions covering topics such as threat modeling, writing secure code and more.
PressPass: In recent months, Microsoft launched the 2007 Office system, Windows Vista and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. How has that impacted the developer community in financial services?
Cleaver: I believe it’s created a new, more powerful platform that will allow financial-services firms to innovate as never before. Just take some of the new features in Microsoft Excel, a core application on Wall Street. The 2007 version includes support for 64,000 columns and 1 million rows, and offers compliance-friendly electronic document management features and the ability to centralize control on a server (via Excel Services). I also view Office as a development platform unto itself. Why build another user interface when you can leverage what’s already on the desktop? And then there are all the benefits of Windows Vista, from enhanced user controls to built-in BitLocker security to improved desktop search. Couple all of these innovations with our launches last year around BizTalk Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio, and it’s clear that Microsoft continues to invest heavily in providing the most powerful platform in the business – a platform with enterprise-class performance and reliability, superior value, leadership in Web services, a deep embrace of 64-bit computing and true integration between the front, back and middle offices. All of this is going to have a huge impact on the financial services developer community.
PressPass: Can you give us examples of the kinds of things that developers will be able to do with the .NET framework in financial services?
Bilgin: Certainly. In the financial services industry, thousands of applications have been developed and deployed by our customers and our partners. This year’s conference is stocked with real-world examples of customers leveraging the best of the .NET platform. Examples include:
• Citigroup will discuss its Apply & Buy Framework that delivers five-nines reliability in a mission-critical, high-volume application that exposes software as services and works as a proxy for Citigroup partners and clients. SQL Server and .NET provide the backbone for this system.
• Allstate will review the challenges and lessons learned in being an early adopter in creating and building its quick quotes for auto insurance web application based on ASP.NET AJAX.
• Wachovia will discuss the people, process and technology of its OneSource Smart Client Framework, including the team structure, deployment/development environment and more.
• Bank of New York will discuss building real-time, rich and secure web applications using ASP.NET AJAX.
Additional customer examples can be found at: http://www.microsoft.com/resources/casestudies.
PressPass: What are some of the more exciting technologies on the horizon for financial-services developers?
Cleaver: This is a very exciting time for financial services developers. At Microsoft, we envision several key new technology trends, including high-performance computing coming into the mainstream, the emergence of unified communication and collaboration solutions, server virtualization gaining in popularity, Web service-based value-chain applications and more. At this year’s conference, we’re able to show practical scenarios in many of these emerging categories, including unique technologies such as Windows CardSpace, Windows Presentation Foundation and more.
PressPass: Is the Microsoft developer community in financial services increasing in size?
Bilgin: Definitely. The fact that the conference has sold out again, and boasts a record more than 700-plus attendees, tells us that customers and developers continue to be excited about Microsoft’s vision for the future of financial services. And each year, the international flavor of the conference grows, making this truly a global event. In fact, this year we have more than 80 customers from outside the United States.
PressPass: Beyond large horizontal platforms, what is Microsoft doing to serve the needs of the financial services industry in a vertical way?
Cleaver: I’d argue that our products aren’t really horizontal, particularly when you consider the financial-services industry has driven many of the feature sets around Microsoft Excel and other core Microsoft products. But, in any case, the Microsoft Financial Services Group is very focused on priority solutions around several key vertical areas. These include advisor platforms, channel renewal, payments, insurance value chain, and enterprise risk management and compliance. These areas include a drilldown to more than 45 solution areas where we have worked with our partners to align their offerings into true vertical products to help customers. In addition, we have helped develop the connective glue, if you will, to help customers build these solutions in-house through the Insurance Value Chain and the recent launch of the Banking Integration Factory, for example.
PressPass: There used to be a lot of talk about .NET versus J2EE in financial services. Is that still the case?
Bilgin: I don’t see it as a “versus” situation. Most financial firms have mixed environments, and so the discussion is now more about how to use .NET and J2EE in different ways to solve problems. The primary message is that .NET works with what you have. The same could be said for our other products, including the 2007 Office system and Windows Vista, which were built to integrate via XML and other industry standards. Most organizations today use both platforms, depending on needs, and we expect this trend to continue.
PressPass: What are some of the highlights of this year’s conference?
Bilgin: Every year we get a little bit better. And at this year’s event, I think the highlights will be the customer sessions, the discussion around “disruptive” technologies like new media interfaces and virtualization, the demos of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), and high-performance computing.
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