Open development tools and third-party apps are allowing banks, retailers and payment companies to innovate quickly, but there's also a downside.

As the number of apps for banking and payments increases, so does the reliability risk. "With a mobile payment app, there's a certain number of experiences and expectations that they will be smooth," said John Rakowski, director of technology strategy for AppDynamics, a San Francisco-based company that digs through programming to identify trouble spots where apps may not work properly.

At each state of a user's engagement with an app, there's the potential for a disturbance. "There's the log in, checking balances, making payments or transferring funds. All of those are separate things and they have to perform well," Rakowski said

John Rakowski, director of technology strategy for AppDynamics
John Rakowski, director of technology strategy for AppDynamics

Over the past few years, mobile wallets have proliferated, as have the use of tools to enable companies to quickly deploy mobile commerce apps. For banks, there's the added complication of apps that perform a fuller range of financial services; and the pressure to build their own mobile wallets to provide a competitive alternative to third-party apps. For merchants, there's pressure to manage point of sale systems that can run additional apps that handle other business functions.

And as the Internet of Things expands, it will add another layer where things can go grown as connected devices run payment apps, Rakowski said. The result is a complex network of apps that are themselves complex, where latency can crop up at different points in a workflow, causing an entire session to break down.

"We expect things to work in a blink of an eye day in and day out," he said. "So we expect a mobile payment to work like that."

AppDynamics faces competition in the app monitoring space from companies such as Inetco and Traceview. Such services are getting more attention given the substantial abandonment rate for mobile apps.

The almost constant addition of apps to serve consumers, and the rate of overall change as new options emerge to make payments, both cause performance issues and make these problems harder to find, according to Rakowski. "And these apps don't exist in a silo," he said.

The company examines APIs and an app's architecture to find clues that the app may not be working properly. That can be a flaw in a line of code, or a small deviation in performance of part of the architecture that's not immediately apparent.

AppDynamics sends an alert and a diagnostic plan to fix the glitch. "The idea is to resolve an issue before it gets large," Rakowski said.

AppDynamics charges a licensing fee for its software depending on how it's used, and earlier this week signed ABN Amro as a client. The bank would not make an executive available for an interview, and AppDynamics would not discuss specifics of the bank's deployment.

Broadly, ABN Amro plans to use the technology to increase speed to market for new IT deployments. Speed can create elusive, multifaceted code performance problems, and even small changes can ripple across the bank's operations, according to ABN Amro, which plans to use AppDynamics to map the paths of business transactions to manage the risk of new app deployment.

"I think this is just reflective of the ever increasingly competitive nature of online services," said Rick Oglesby, president of AZ Payments Group, adding it's easier than ever for a user to switch providers, and customer experience is a key point of competitive differentiation. "If you're not measuring every interaction, and proactively using the measurements and resulting data to drive continuous improvement, you'll be passed by quickly."

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