Online App Stores Thriving for Symitar, Fiserv Developers
Build a better mousetrap and they will download it. Monetize it, and the proposition becomes even more enticing.
That’s some of what’s behind the app stores now being offered to users of two of the more widely used core processing platforms in the credit union industry: the Fiserv DNA and Symitar Episys systems.
Fiserv and Jack Henry & Associates division Symitar are the 800-pound gorillas of the credit union core processing space, together claiming the vast majority of credit unions, especially larger institutions and those with an appetite for in-house technology work.
Symitar’s PowerOn marketplace was formally launched in 2012 after two decades of collaboration among clients and company, its leader says, while Fiserv acquired the three-year-old DNAappstore when it bought Open Solutions and its DNA system last year.
Since the core platform is at the heart of the credit union infrastructure, touching nearly everything the enterprise does, the offerings are quite broad, from inside baseball things such as an alternative to the dropdown menu in the PowerOn application developer program to member-facing tools such as signature pad modifications that enable the display of customized greetings. In between are search engine and transaction history enhancements, report generators, help desk tools and many more.
Each of the online marketplaces originated in much the same way and operates under the same principle: years of collaboration among core processor and client that then developed into an organized way to distribute a growing trove of hundreds of applications that extend the functionality of the core system.
The DNAappstore, which offers apps developed with the DNAcreator development kit, is used by banks and credit unions alike. The Symitar Episys platform is exclusively used at credit unions, but perhaps the biggest difference right now is that credit unions can sell their solutions on the DNAappstore if they choose, while all of Symitar’s offerings are free. Symitar President Ted Bilke said that will soon change.
“We have not commercialized this exchange among our customers in the 20 years we’ve been doing it, but we’re about to make that an option,” he said.
There are more than 1,300 registered users on its PowerOn marketplace, which now has 91 apps available along with the more than 900 it distributes standard with its Episys releases, Bilke said. More than 8,100 downloads have been recorded and three out of every four of the approximately 500 Episys users have downloaded at least one, Bilke said, perhaps guided in part by the 106 solution reviews that also are now posted.
Like the DNAappstore, the solutions can range in price from free to a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, according to the company, and in-house development isn’t cheap.
“We’re commercializing primarily because our customers have asked us to,” Bilke said. “They have some fairly comprehensive solutions that they have a fairly significant investment in, and they would like to see if they can cover some of their costs for that,” adding that the spirit of collaboration also drives the marketplace’s success
George Lunsford, vice president of information technology at the $180 million RiverLand Credit Union in New Orleans, is an example of that.
“I’ve been in credit unions for five years now and really enjoy that sense of collaboration in our industry and with the open source philosophy in the software we’re working with,” Lunsford said.
Along with a staff programmer, he has been using the PowerOn development tools for about four years, mostly for back-office functions such as eliminating repetitive tasks, but also for some more creative uses, Lunsford noted. Among them, as an extension that uses a red-yellow-green light system to flash to a teller or member service rep where a member falls on the built-in criteria say, for a skip-a-payment option.
“It takes a lot of research out of their hands,” Lunsford said of his front-office colleagues.
Much bigger shops also see the value of helping out their colleagues.
“My customers are our other department heads and if they ask me for something and I can go to the (DNAapp) store and deliver it to them tomorrow, well then, I’m the hero,” said Kevin Zimmer, chief information officer at the $1.1 billion Greylock Federal Credit Union in Pittsfield, Mass., who has 12 staffers, including three developers on this team.
“We’re all very impatient, you know, and when someone invents the next best mousetrap they want to get it out there quickly,” Zimmer explained. “The app store is the way to do it. You download it, give it a 60-day free trial and then decide if you want to buy it.”
Removing the risk by knowing that the application being attached to the critical core system has been vetted by its developers and then again by the company, adds to the attraction, said Zimmer, an industry veteran who came over to Fiserv with the Open Solutions acquisition.
“We certify it, make sure it performs as it should and that it’s documented properly before it’s available for everybody to take a look at,” said Santo Cannone, now chief product officer for the Open Solutions Division.
Cannone said there now are 196 apps available on the DNAappstore and that 1,600 downloads have been recorded since its online marketplace was rolled out in spring 2011.
“We have 110 individual certified developers working out there, and about 50% of the available apps have been created by us and 50% have come from the community,” Cannone said.
Those 110 people are at 40 institutions, most of them credit unions, including one – the $3.5 billion Redstone Federal Credit Union in Huntsville, Ala., – that saw enough potential to create a consultancy just to develop and sell the DNA core system extensions.
The opportunity for developing apps and the income it creates also can help attract talent, said Zimmer at Greylock, whose credit union’s current offerings on the DNAapp store include a loan change review report.
“We’re always trying to hire the best and smartest people we can, and this money can help go toward that and make us that much better,” Zimmer said. “We’re reinvesting that money into our own technology capabilities.”
Managing the process is easy, Zimmer added.
“The billing is automated, so we only have to support the product and continue the development. We do the same amount of work whether we have one customer or 200 really. Because of that multiplying effect, I really think this is going to grow significantly.”