Talking to Charaka Kithulegoda, the CIO of ING Direct Canada, you quickly get the impression that the 150 people he has on staff are usually sitting around with their neckties undone and with empty plastic cups of coffee like the physicists of the Manhattan Project. In making the landmark achievement that got him the IT Leader of the Year Award from Computer World Canada, Kithulegoda leveled the playing field so that his colleagues could throw out or shoot down any idea. They could advance any argument. “It’s amazing that we have such mutual respect and that hierarchies and titles go out the window, and we can have such passionate arguments.”
And those arguments apparently got very passionate and heated. “Luckily, there are no windows on this floor,” jokes Kithulegoda. As in, someone could either dive through the glass in frustration or perhaps being given the heave-ho. He admits that he himself was the chief pain in the neck behind their particular Manhattan Project, the Oppenheimer who was driving the team to accomplish what many months ago would have been considered impossible. “Delivering the bomb” in this instance meant a banking app that could work on almost every mobile phone platform.
“It’s not about the branch, it’s not about the Web, it’s about making banking simple,” says Kithulegoda. “It’s about being in the right context for our customers.” In an age where folks want a better rate of return and don’t want to age slowly in branch lineups, a mobile app arguably makes more sense than a network of brick and mortar outlets.
In the end, ING Direct got its bomb. It would offer its customers the first mobile banking application that could be used on not only the iPhone and iPad but also BlackBerry, PlayBook, Windows Phone 7 and Android tablets. Kithulegoda says up until a couple of months ago, the company stood alone, having the only app with this kind of reach, but as of a couple of months ago, “a bank in Spain” has also managed to do this.
To fit the square pegs of banking functions into the round holes of each platform would have proved complex and expensive. Instead, Kithulegoda and his team decided to take a hybrid approach, so that the app had broad-based compatibility. This initially prompted a few sneers from the tech purists. They could say with some justification that “This isn’t a real iPhone app.” As Kithulegoda points out, the well-known game, Angry Birds, is a flippant but quite relevant example of a “pure” iPhone app.
But for the financial demands of his company’s customers, the purity of the tech architecture was hardly what was on the to-do list.
“Our team is not afraid to step outside the lines and the colours if need be,” he says. The evolving industry is increasingly embracing the hybrid approach because the application is really about “how is this benefiting my life?”
He says some recent examples of hybrid mobile apps getting wider acceptance include the Wall Street Journal and Facebook mobile applications.