ING Direct

A 13-year relationship with IBM and its Websphere application integration server has been critical in helping ING Direct of Canada quickly build and operate a mobile banking application, a bank official said.

ING Direct launched a mobile banking application and a mobile banking Web site for Canadians nearly three months ago on BlackBerry and iPhone and on June 7 added the iPad, Charaka Kithulegoda, vice president of software development at ING Bank of Canada, told Computerworld. The application relies on Websphere application servers.

The banking application has been a resounding success, with nearly 50,000 unique visitors so far, he said. It was relatively simple to develop, since ING Bank of Canada, based in Toronto, had been using IBM services and Websphere a long time, Kithulegoda said.

“Our relationship with IBM goes back 13 years and with applications on the Websphere platform we have a partnership that helped us go from the mobile banking idea to implementation in only six weeks,” he said.

“If I was not already with IBM, I would certainly consider putting in Websphere to mobilize an application,” he added.

The mobile rollout is in its infancy, but Kithulegoda said he feels the application’s return on investment is already worth more than the costs involved.

Users can check account balances, review transactions transfer funds, locate ATMs, and buy and sell investment funds with the application. ING Direct has no physical bank locations, so the mobile application has been a way of personalizing the ING banking experience, Kithulegoda said. “It’s good for business,” he said.

Despite Kithulegoda’s praise for IBM and Websphere, the use of Websphere for application integration to mobile devices has been criticized by some analysts, including Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, as an expensive approach that can hold customers captive to IBM for the newest software features, while also requiring them to rely indefinitely on IBM services consultants for integration help.

Gold attended an analyst conference sponsored by IBM at the opening of the new IBM Mass Lab near Boston on Wednesday, and asked an IBM executive whether it would continue to require most of its enterprise customers to rely on IBM Websphere for mobile deployments.

Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM Software, answered Gold by saying that enterprise customers are free to build back-end application servers on their own, but said IBM will not open up Websphere intellectual property in its software to allow certain connections to some other software products, including from competitors such as Oracle , which makes the Weblogic application server.

“I’m not doing enablement for [Oracle’s] Weblogic,” he said. “Oracle can do that themselves. For session control [and other functions]… I’m not going to share that technology with anybody.”

Mills said IBM has done well with Websphere, having deployed 50,000 installations in businesses with 1,000 or more employees, with thousands more installations in companies with fewer than 1,000 workers.

But Gold said IBM could have a bigger presence in the mobile software world if it didn’t tie so many mobile functions to Websphere. He said IBM middleware is used by about 10% of the enterprise market, a number that could be higher for a company as large and influential as IBM.

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