Platform approach helps Misys capture African innovation

In 2006, after a failed management buy-out and a string of profit warnings, UK banking software vendor Misys appointed IBM veteran and former Siebel chief Mike Lawrie as its CEO. Soon after, Lawrie laid out a five-year turnaround plan that has so far has seen the company sell off its healthcare software division and renew its focus on the financial services sector.

One component of Lawrie’s turnaround plan was to renovate the company’s software estate. That bore fruit in 2009 with the launch of BankFusion, a service-oriented development platform for banking applications.

The latest versions of Misys’s own products have been built using BankFusion, but the company also touts it as a development platform for third-party software vendors, and as an integration platform that can be used to modernise legacy applications from other suppliers.

According to Erin Smith, Misys’s recently appointed general manager for Africa, the BankFusion platform is helping the company to capitalise on the continent’s fast-growing and uniquely innovative banking market.

“Technology adoption is huge in Africa right now,” says Smith, who joined Misys from BT on the condition that she could work in the continent. “There’s real innovation around mobile payments – the vision that we’ve all had of using our mobile phones as our wallets is a reality in Africa. And bank branches are going away, because there are systems that allow local shopkeepers to provide banking services.”

Traditional banking systems can’t keep pace with this change, she says. “With a standard core banking application, if you wanted to set up a link to a local shop like that, you would have go through the requirements phase, then
an integration process, then you’d have to test it, and you’d have to change 15 legacy platforms.”

“African banks can see the evolution that is going on in front of them,” Smith says, “and they know that they cannot get new services to market that fast.”

Her claim is that BankFusion accelerates the speed with which customers can bring new services to market. It does this by making the core processes that underpin banking operations openly accessible through application programming interfaces (APIs). “If you want to launch a new product, the environment we’ve created in BankFusion allows you just to set the interest rate and the schedule of repayments – you don’t have to go into the code, and you don’t have to go into a cycle of testing,” she says.

Smith’s hope is that BankFusion will not only help African banks themselves be more flexible, but will also allow local independent software developers to build extensions and customisations to the BankFusion platform that they can sell on, and there are some examples of this happening already.

“This means the banks don’t have to rely on us back in London,” she says. “Local developers can build stuff for them, and that can actually help the community by creating jobs in the area.”

Smith says that Misys has had some success in convincing the African banks of this vision. “Our biggest pipeline for the BankFusion Universal Banking application is in Africa,” she says, “and we’ve signed some major contracts [there] recently.”

The African market represents a small but growing slice of Misys’s annual revenues. Last year, it decided to pursue the market more intently, splitting the African division off from its Middle East unit. “We’re very purposeful in Africa,” says Smith.

It is easy to see why – in the six months ending December 2010, Misys’s overall revenues were perfectly flat at £161 million, and core banking sales actually fell by 3%. The company’s turnaround is still a work in progress, it seems, and Africa is a growth opportunity it can ill afford to miss.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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