How Tangerine used IBM’s tools to build its mobile banking app

For Charaka Kithulegoda, just having a business with a mobile strategy isn’t enough. He’s found in his role at Canadian bank Tangerine, an agile plan for mobile is everything.

As CIO of Tangerine Bank, the Canadian banking institution formerly known as ING Direct and now owned by Scotiabank, he makes a fair number of decisions about the technological direction Tangerine is taking. However, what makes his role a little different is Tangerine’s heavy focus on mobile banking. The small, branch-less bank carved out a name for itself among its customers as being one of the first banks to offer services like bill payments and cheque deposits through its mobile app.

To speed up its development process, Tangerine began working with IBM Corp. to build its latest iteration of its mobile banking app. Kithulegoda was on stage at IBM’s Impact conference last week in Las Vegas, Nev., to explain how Tangerine is using IBM’s technologies for a shorter development cycle – something that’s key for any mobile business seeking to serve its customers, he said.

“The way that the outside world is changing and the way that consumers are actually interacting and using technology, is changing almost on a daily basis. So you can’t just put an app or service out there and say we’re going to be good for six months,” said Kithulegoda in an interview with last week.

“And that is one of the biggest advantages of this project we have done, is increase our agility. We are able to have a cycle time of six weeks end-to-end, in making changes and getting our app out – which we think is way too long. Our goal is two weeks.”

In December 2013, IBM approached Tangerine to see if it wanted to adopt its MobileFirst portfolio, which was made generally available during the Impact conference last week. At the time, Tangerine had been using a proprietary framework to build out its app, but the bank’s mobile developers began using IBM Worklight and BlueMix for the development component and TeaLeaf on the analytics side.

Worklight provides a standard framework, and Tangerine integrated its own framework into it, while BlueMix allows developers to respond to any problems they find through the platform’s mobile quality assurance features. These features allowed Tangerine to quickly tackle projects, like integrating with Apple’s Passbook, and to put the development process “on steroids,” Kithulegoda said. He added doing configurations used to take days, and it now takes less than 30 minutes.

With TeaLeaf, Tangerine’s development team got access to a slew of analytics they had never been able to tap into before, he said. While the team has always been able to collect data, they can now get direct feedback from customers without putting in any extra code. Instead, TeaLeaf automatically does that in the background, allowing developers to be more proactive about what’s working and what isn’t.

For example, if something is wrong with the app, a customer can shake a mobile device to start providing feedback to Tangerine’s developers. They can also circle areas on the app, using a finger on the screen of the mobile device, to show what has stopped working or what hasn’t loaded. That’s a huge improvement over just reading one-line, nondescript complaints in the comment section of the App Store, Kithulegoda said.

“Now you’re giving the customer control of a bad situation, and you can ask, hey, can you walk me through exactly what you mean by, this button or this link doesn’t work? … We get the exact information and the richness of the data you get back is absolutely amazing,” he said, adding Tangerine’s developers can see metadata like the app’s memory utilization, what libraries are loaded, how they interact with each other, network data, and so on.

While Tangerine could have outsourced the work of its developers, Kithulegoda said he believes it’s important for the bank’s own mobile developers to be at the helm of its mobile projects. While Tangerine has partners like IBM, it’s important for its developers to keep up with the shifts in mobile.

“We’re on a journey to be a mobile-first bank. What that means is we’ve got to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to that technology and the experience,” he said, adding he feels it’s important to build a solid framework now, rather than pay for it later.

Tangerine’s next projects in the works are voice banking and biometrics, Kithulegoda said. The plan is to quickly deliver these services for customers who are accustomed to using mobile devices everywhere, he added.

“Next week is another new week, and who knows what’s going to come up? Our goal is to build a platform that will allow us to very quickly evolve and test these technologies and our ideas, and what our customers want.”

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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