Walking the halls of the Bank Administration Institute Image Technology Conference in October 1996, I was surprised at how many major imaging vendors didn't attend. IBM, Unisys, Wang and KeyFile were there, but FileNet, PC DOCS, Cornerstone and Kofax were no-shows. What's more, most displays covered check and remittance processing, subjects new to me, and, I suspect, to many imaging VARs.
I looked for connections between bank imaging and other markets. "There is no connection," I was told repeatedly. The conventional wisdom soon became clear. A few large vendors who sold direct "owned" bank imaging, while smaller players were being clobbered into submission.
"But what about resellers with good success selling imaging to other markets," I said. "Can't they leverage that experience to bridge over into bank imaging?" Again, I was told to forget it. This market is relationship-driven. If you aren't already in the club, it is almost impossible to break in," one observer told me. "The language and culture of selling banking solutions is completely different than for selling traditional document solutions."
But I dug deeper and, sure enough, a few cracks in the CW emerged. The high end of the market is fairly well saturated, but imaging sales are surging among small and mid-sized banks.
The heavyweight bank imaging vendors are realizing it doesn't pay to fly in the sales and support team for smaller deals. Local VARs have a better grasp of the local politics and they respond faster to technical problems. Although these vendors have not embraced the channel to the same degree as other vertical markets, they are moving that way.
New software has made installing systems both easier and cheaper. Programs are generally written for NT and Unix-based platforms, and use standard database technology. They also take advantage of cheaper, increasingly available WORM and M/O-storage devices and CD recorders.
This software also provides more functionality. Many first image installs at small banks are capable of handling various document types, such as check signature cards and loan documents, benefiting VARs who can set up these systems.
In the Check Processing section we look at how low-cost MICR fonts and toner cartridges can be used to allow any business to print their own checks. The Relationship Banking section explains how MlCR-driven indexes can provide flexible custom access to data from CD image archives.
The Proof of Deposit section looks at the highly specialized POD field in which ICR technology is tweaked to solve the unique problems of pulling numbers off checks. Selling and supporting POD systems is probably better left to those who have the time to focus closely on this subject. This doesn't mean that others can't learn from their experience. The POD technology is being sold by software vendors for recognition of other document types.
More banks are delivering image statements on CDs to business customers, a service in strong demand in the corporate world. This growing market will benefit VARs who help banks utilize these new image archives. Again, see our section on Relationship Banking.
Technically sound imaging VARs, even those without banking experience, should be able to provide banks with solid solutions, if they're willing to learn the unique technology and culture of bank imaging. No one suggested how to make the cultural leap until I met Tom Houston. "VARs need good technical experience, and an understanding of this market niche," says Houston, president of Atlanta-based Cabbage Mountain Image Consultants, a firm which advises banks setting up check and document imaging systems.
While most imaging VARs are not likely to have experience with the technical issues, they can be learned relatively quickly. "A bigger problem is understanding the culture and relationships that are so important in banking," Houston says. "You can't pick that up overnight."
So, how does a successful imaging reseller expand into the banking arena? Hire someone who understands banking, he advises.
The new hire will be attuned to the business needs of this niche. Don't forget that the best sales solution isn't always the most technically advanced, says Houston. "Listen closely to what they have to say. That's why you hired them in the first place.":