Global Trade Management
A case study of an enterprise application designed to orchestrate the global import-export trade by managing individual transactions, payments, and legal documents.
To comply with non-disclosure agreement, I have omitted and obfuscated confidential information in this case study. All information in this case study is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of BNY Mellon.
What’s the single most important thing in global import-export trade? Getting paid of course. But it is also the most complicated part of the trade process due to the nature of international dealings such as distance, differing laws in each country, and difficulty in knowing each party personally.
In 1999, BNY Mellon — the largest custodian bank in the world revolutionize the global trade business by introducing Global Trade Management (GTM) platform — a web-based platform that enabled importer and exporter around the globe to manage transactions and legal documents using financial instruments like ‘Letter of Credit’ and ‘Collections’.
Today, more than 1,200 exporters, global trade banks, and freight forwarders depend on this platform to process over $9 billion in international trade transactions each year.
Reference: BNY Mellon Press Release
Fast forward 16 years later — 2016, GTM evolved with numerous iteration with the functionalities and customizations added over decade with changes in trade regulations, technology advancements and growing business requirements. Most of these changes were incorporated without giving much attention to scalability, consistency, and changing user needs. The result was an extremely complex piece of software which was difficult to operate, costly to support, and nowhere near current web standard.
When we started project our high level goals were to:
1Unified Experience: Bring all touch points and use cases of trade process at one place with a simple, intuitive and consistent user interface.
2 Productivity and Operational Cost: Save user’s time and organization’s technology and support overhead by eliminating redundant features, processes, and applications.
3Modern Design: Design an interface which is modern, responsive, and scalable which address user needs.
I led the redesign of GTM between March 2016 to July 2016 and collaborated with two experienced designers for guidance and prototyping. I also received huge help from front end developers, information architects, and visual designer of BNY Mellon’s UX team.
In addition, I worked with software developers, operation support team, and the business product manager.
In August, 2016 the MVP of redesigned application was launched.
The discovery phase of the project began with domain study, stakeholder interviews followed by application & technology audit, and competitive analysis. I had to learn the fundamentals of trade process and the intricacies of underlying applications before conducting stakeholder interviews and subsequent research.
“This is a can of worms better left unopened.”, said Tech Architect — who has managed these applications for a decade. As I started talking to users, product managers, developers, and operation support personnel, I realized the truth. I was amazed by the complexity of the system and the number of issues with which applications were delivering the experience.
The users were using four different applications, each with its unique credentials, and user interface to process a single trade. One for initiating and monitoring ‘Letter of Credit’ , second for monitoring payment schedules and cashflows, third for report analysis, and forth for document upload and verification.
The users were spending a huge chunk of their time on analyzing reports to track transactions and to understand their overall credit position. The reports were difficult to understand. And hence users were using CSV version of reports to do operations in excel to gather insights.
Usability Issues and Workarounds
There were a plethora of usability issues — few of them including, drop-downs with either too many or too few options, poor search directory, redundant steps etc. It had become routine for many users that they did not even notice these issues anymore.
The application interface was not responsive and was missing out the growing needs of customers who were using tablet and mobile for business.
Operation Support Overhead
The operation support staff was busy answering calls of users seeking transactions status and payment schedules. It was unusual as they should be handling technical issues instead of giving status and credit information.
Hopping between application was a major cause of the disjointed experience.
Users were spending more time on pdf and excel reports to gain insights as the application was unable to provide such a functionality.
Growing number of users were using mobile devices for keeping track of their business activity in the fin-tech world.
Operation support staff were spending more time on executing basic functionalities of applications
Reframing The Problem
How might we empower importers, exporters, and intermediary banks to manage transactions, payments, legal documents of import-export trade life cycle with consistent and seamless user experience?
Introducing GTM Redesign
A single platform to accelerate trade activities with powerful transaction grid: To drive insights with built-in intelligence dashboard; To monitor transactions, payments, and documents at all time on all devices.
Monitoring Transactions, Payments, and Documents
The landing page of the application hosts an interactive grid listing all transactions, payments, and legal documents.This grid allows users to scan, analyze, compare, filter, sort, and manipulate information to derive insights and perform necessary actions.
The details page contains individual transaction details.The various stages of the trade process and related details are separated by tabs. Each of them provides a quick summary and context-based actions towards the top.
Create Transaction with Ease
A step-by-step wizard to guide the users to initiate a ‘Letter of Credit’ and ‘Collection’. It allows users to see the number of steps required to complete transactions and an option to save transaction in draft mode.
The dashboard page provides access to key information of the overall trade position, and payment schedules through widgets.These widgets can be scaled, arranged, added or removed as needed.
We eliminated a huge chunk of reports with transaction grid, however, some reports had to be left untouched for regulatory purpose. The remaining reports were made available through the universal reporting page. The users could access these reports using search, pre-built categories, and users could also bookmark or subscribe to reports if required.
Link to prototype: GTM Invision
The page layouts, navigation, and taxonomy were designed with emphasis on consistency, scalability, and responsiveness of elements.
The entire application utilizes five basic layout patterns, with each layout designed to serve a specific purpose.
Navigation and Taxonomy
I worked with the ‘Information Architecture’ team to integrate GTM alongside a suit of applications and services on the new platform. A special care had to be taken to integrate the application to maintain scalability of the overall information architecture.
Agile UX Sprints Planning
Beyond design challenges, educating stakeholders on design thinking and agile methodology was a major hurdle. Additionally, the project was a ticking time bomb as the underlying platform was soon to retire, and these applications were to be decommissioned immediately.
The Agile UX method was best suited for such massive time bound project. As we concluded our primary research, we jotted down the user stories. They were then prioritized and validated with product managers for a particular sprint.
The typical user story consisted of a specific user, a low-level task, and a high-level goal.
We identified three key user types: Importer, Exporter, and Operation staff.
User story format
As a [user/persona], I would like to [low-level task], so that [high-level goal].
As an Importer, I would like change expiry date of a ‘Letter of Credit’, so that I can create an amendment to the ‘Letter of Credit’.
While running an agile sprint we made sure that the design sprint is always ahead of development sprint. This empowered us not only to conduct research, design, and testing, but also to resolve conflicts with development team well ahead of time. At the end of the sprint, the application was subjected to user testing and product manager’s approval for a quick feedback.
Positive results and much more to do
After five months, the project was in a stable stage for us to push MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
The initial feedback from user testing was a huge motivator to continue our effort. The interactive grid, single sign-on, and the ability to see all the three components — transactions, payments, and documents at one place was an instant hit. We also realized that there is still a long way to migrate all the functionalities of legacy applications.
The development and business team realized the value of user center design process, and was pushing hard towards the common goal. It was a huge win.
Return on Investment
As it is with all enterprise application, the ROI is dependent on efficiency and productivity of end users. GTM saved a huge chunk time of traders by eliminating application hopping & obscure reports. It was too early to estimate the precise impact but just to forecast the scale of impact — imagine a mere 2% increase in productivity for 1200 individual traders and bank analysts with $50,000 average salary per year, it could lead up to $1,200,000/year savings. ( $1000 savings*1200 traders)
Achievement and Learnings
I received 2 Excellence awards from business and technology each. Within a short period, I had learned a valuable lesson in product design — to be a pragmatic designer. I learned to integrate business, technology, and time constraints in my design. I learned to collaborate with developers and business. It was an amazing experience.
Congratulations for making this far! I hope that you enjoyed reading the case study as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
I am looking for a full-time product designer role. If you are looking to hire one, I would love connect with you.