Legendary magician Harry Houdini used to perform spectacular escapes from handcuffs, straitjackets, ropes and chains, and often combinations of them. One of his most famous and difficult escapes was the 1904 London Daily Mirror Handcuff Challenge, where Houdini managed to escape from a pair of handcuffs that had taken a Birmingham blacksmith five years to perfect.

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Many bankers see the traditional application service provider (ASP) model for managing their core systems—renting the use of core banking software centrally hosted and managed by a single vendor—as a set of handcuffs they cannot pick. The ASP model proved useful in the early 2000s in helping banks lower costs. Yet over the years, the constant adding on of various components (think digital user interfaces or new payment types) atop 30-year-old technology has created an increasingly complex maze of systems that is now hard to maintain, difficult to integrate, designed for “vanilla” service, slow to change and costly to service. Add to that the frustration of vendor-controlled product releases that can take the future of banks’ IT innovation out of a CIO’s hands.

If banks are to have a chance of competing for customers’ attention and business against the likes of Amazon, Google, Alibaba, fintechs and others, they must devise a clever escape from the constraints of the ASP model. Digital rivals are built bottom up on IT systems that are open, scalable and flexible, enabling innovative services, high-speed responses and efficient operations. Banks need the same traits to be future ready—to connect with broader digital ecosystems and deliver hyper-relevant services (financial and non-financial, human- and automation-supported) through multiple and rich channels in real time. Those banks unable to rise to the occasion risk becoming digitally irrelevant and targets for acquisition.

Luckily, the typical ASP model is not escape-proof. While Houdini was an illusionist who used tricks to perform his death-defying feats, banks can take a few well-staged steps to truly free their core banking systems and become future ready.

It begins with designing the bank’s future-state IT architecture. For the future-ready bank, we envision the ASP model evolving to serve as the engine for Systems of Record, Messaging and Services activity. It will be open, modern, secure and agile enough to allow for seamless integration of applications, API management, Cloud hosting, and plug-and-play of best-of-breed technology. Rather than having the lion’s share of its IT served by a single ASP provider, the bank provider pool becomes more diverse, fluid and adaptable. Then, banks will need to rewire their IT delivery organisation to adopt a multi-speed approach, operating and simultaneously supporting multiple business objectives. They will also need to “hollow out the core” and diversify the providers of IT technology for greater flexibility and innovation. Houdini used keys and cutlery; banks can use processes and technology to free themselves from the handcuffs of the ASP model.

Read our recent report, Breaking Free of the ASP Model, for a closer look at how banks can break free of their ASP model—and how a few banks are already doing it.

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