Friday, January 20, 2006

Mobility: Not Just for Traders Anymore

Securities Industry News
(c) 2005 Securities Industry News and SourceMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company that manufactures the BlackBerry handheld device, is fighting a touch-and-go legal battle over U.S. patent rights, but there's no denying that it has already conquered the securities industry, which in turn is finding more ways to put the equipment to use.

Initially and primarily an e-mailing tool for traders, analysts and others with a need to stay connected remotely, particularly on the sell side, the BlackBerry has evolved into a full-fledged alternative to laptop computers for such tasks as customer relationship management (CRM). Salespeople can gain real-time access to company databases without having to boot up a laptop or personal computer in their homes or hotel rooms.

Handheld devices have not yet been fully embraced for job-related applications at other levels of financial services organizations, but software companies like Pyxis Mobile and Vaultus Mobile Technologies are working to fill those gaps.

Waltham, Mass.-based Pyxis has developed systems for portfolio managers and advisers to receive updates from home base while on the road. Forty-five major asset management firms have implemented Pyxis' mPlatform series of applications. Fund giants Pioneer Investments and Putnam Investments, for example, use Pyxis' mWholesaler on BlackBerrys.

Meanwhile, Vaultus, a five-year-old spin-off from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with customers in multiple industries ranging from ING Group and Prudential Financial to the U.S. Army, is going after the management layer of wholesalers, who need data packaged differently than do their salespeople.

Field representatives and wholesalers found it too complex to use laptops for entering and retrieving customer data, said Vaultus CEO David Birnbach.

Four years since it delivered its first handheld system to a mutual fund, Pyxis is building on the strength of mWholesaler and pushing out its mAdvisor product for the sell side; Christy said "major wirehouses" are interested in the latter as a way to obtain client and account information and raise their service levels. Pyxis also offers mPortfolio for institutional investment firms and hedge fund managers. "Portfolio managers would like to be on the road more," Christy notes, and with mPortfolio they can access their order management and portfolio management system and view accounts and transactions on an intraday basis.

Using mPortfolio with prices from data vendors such as Reuters and Bloomberg, investment managers can download current profit-and-loss statements, Christy added. Pyxis has a newly designed application, Mobile Data Manager, that allows access to a number of disparate data sources.

Boston-based Vaultus specializes in helping enterprises to link mobile access to existing back-end applications. Vaultus is going beyond mobile CRM to address the management side of financial services, said Birnbach.

The second phase for Vaultus is rolling out Reporting Dashboard, a prepackaged wireless application that gives managers instant access to their reports and business performance data, such as sales reports or distributor performance by day, week, month, quarter or year. Reporting Dashboard is targeted at wholesalers' managers and at managing directors of financial institutions, said Birnbach.

Could RIM's legal problems be a fly in the ointment for these BlackBerry-dependent vendors and their customers? Recent court decisions by U.S. District Judge James Spencer in Richmond, Va. favored wireless e-mail patent-holder NTP and threaten to cut off service to the more than 3 million U.S. BlackBerry users. Although consulting firm Gartner recommended in early December that enterprises put mission-critical BlackBerry system development on hold and consider alternative products, panic is hardly widespread. Because the judge rejected a $450 million offer by RIM to settle the patent infringement charges, many securities analysts now anticipate that RIM may just have to plunk down something close to $1 billion.

At a recent Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange (MITX) event in Boston, Joe Porrazzo, applications project manager for software engineering of CRM systems at Putnam, admitted to some uneasiness:

Putnam uses Pyxis for a Siebel Systems CRM implementation over BlackBerrys enterprisewide, with close to 100 licenses.

Pioneer's manager of application management, Tom Santaniello, said the firm is using an Epiphany CRM over Pyxis mWholesaler for around 50 users. Santaniello said that for technical strategy reasons not related to the court case, "we will have an alternative" to BlackBerry.

Christy said Pyxis is concerned enough to be "planning a worst-case scenario," which he doesn't expect to have to turn to. He emphasized, though, that Pyxis is not a BlackBerry shop per se, it just serves a community in which the BlackBerry is dominant.

Mobile phone giant Nokia may challenge RIM with its recent bid for Intellisync, a developer of wireless messaging and e-mail technology. Nokia is also a majority partner in the Symbian open-standard operating system. Christy said,

Microsoft is always one to keep an eye on, said Bob Egan, director of emerging technology at research firm TowerGroup in Needham, Mass.


Eze Castle Software announced the introduction last week of EzeMobile, enabling mobile access to an order management system (OMS) and related trading-status functionality on a handheld device or Web browser.

Boston-based Eze Castle, a leading provider of buy-side OMS, particularly to multistrategy hedge funds, said Eze-Mobile leverages the company's Microsoft .Net technology architecture to remotely deliver the Traders Console OMS, Portfolio Managers Console and Watchtower compliance engine. Trades initiated through EzeMobile can be allocated to specific portfolios using schemes defined in Traders Console. As the order is created, the pre-trade compliance program ensures the order is proper. All EzeMobile trading activity is tracked in the Traders Console audit trail for compliance and auditing purposes.

Another member of the Eze Castle corporate family, Eze Castle Integration, has promoted the cause of trading over the America Online Instant Messenger platform through a 2004 spin-off, Pivot Solutions. Its IMTrader network, enabling transfers of instant messages into OMS format, has more than 1,000 buy- and sell-side members. Pivot has gotten financial backing from venture capital firms Draper Fisher Jurvetson Gotham Ventures and Hudson Ventures.

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