The Benefits of Service Oriented Architecture for Financial Services Organizations

The banking and financial industry is an industry where legacy systems are prevalent. Banking systems tend to skew older and are very heterogeneous in nature. This heterogeneity of legacy banking systems is also coupled with the fact that replacement and integration of these systems is a difficult undertaking.

Mazursky (as cited in Baskerville, Cavallari, Hjort-Madsen, Pries-Heje, Sorrentino & Virili, 2010) states that older architectures complicate integration of enterprise applications because the underlying elements have created ‘closed’ architectures. Closed architectures restrict access to vital software and hardware configurations and force organizations to rely on single-vendor solutions for parts of their information computer technology. Thus, closed architectures hinder a bank’s ability to innovate and roll out new integrated financial products.

The flexibility of SOA facilitates easier connectivity to legacy backend systems from outside sources. Because of the size and complexity of most enterprise banking systems, a potential reengineering of these systems to flawlessly accommodate interaction with newer systems is not economically feasible. Inflexible systems can be difficult to modernize and maintain on an on-going basis. Furthermore, banks’ legacy systems can suffer from a lack of interoperability, which can stifle innovation.

“According to a survey commissioned by Infosys and Ovum in May 2012, approximately three quarters of European banks are using outdated core legacy systems. What’s more, 80% of respondents see these outdated systems as barriers to bringing new products to market, whilst 75% say such systems hinder, rather than enable, process change. Integration cost is effectively a barrier to service provision flexibility and subsequent innovation” (Banking Industry Architecture Network, 2012).

The greater the number of banking systems that can easily interact, connect and share data with other systems and services, the more innovative banks can become with respect to their product offerings for consumers. Market demands can be more easily responded to when new product creation is allowed to flourish with appreciably lower system integration costs. New applications can also be developed in much shorter time frames in order to react to customer demand as long as services are maintained and shared across the enterprise.

According to Earley & Free (2002), a bank that identifies a new business opportunity such as wealth management but has never provided such a service in the past can quickly ramp up functionality by utilizing services previously designed for other applications. The new wealth management application is designed without duplicating functionality in a more cost efficient and rapid manner. Smaller and mid-tier banks can capitalize on bringing new applications and services to market quickly and economically. This responsiveness allows smaller banks to offer similar products as those offered by their larger competitors. The modularity of SOA design precludes the need for substantial re-engineering of smaller/mid-tier banks’ information computer technology. This is an important benefit because smaller banks do not have comparable financial resources with respect to the more sizable industry players.

Additionally, SOA has the potential to free up development resources sooner, enabling those resources to engage in other development initiatives. “Few banks will be able to buy or build new capabilities quickly enough to satisfy market requirements without an SOA” (Earley & Free, 2002). In the survey conducted by Infosys Consulting and Ovum (a London based research organization), 100% of banks responded that SOA would become the “dominant, accepted future banking architecture“ (Banking Industry Architecture Network, 2012).

Furthermore, banks can employ multiple services to complete a business process. One service that determines the value of a portfolio of financial assets at market rates (mark to market calculations) could be coupled with another service that calculates the Value at Risk (VaR) of the bank’s entire portfolio. In a similar fashion to the new wealth management application example previously cited, the dual components could be made available to many other enterprise wide financial services and applications that require portfolio valuation and risk related information. In this manner, the functionalities are not inefficiently repeated across every application where they are requested.

Additionally, via use of SOA, “New technology provides the ability to mix and match outsourced business processes with on-premise assets and services” (Essvale Corporation Limited, 2011). Software designed or in use by third party vendors can become more easily integrated with bank systems and processes due to the high connectivity of an SOA approach. According to Gartner research, smaller and mid-tier banks are adopting SOA in order to make the most of their limited IT budgets and resources. “Until now, midtier banks had to rely on customized software packages from a single vendor, and assumed all of the maintenance costs and function limitations inherent in a single, proprietary set of solutions” (Earley et al., 2005). Due to a rising interest in SOA, technology vendors that serve the financial services industry are increasingly working with integration providers to offer a standard set of component integration (Earley, et al., 2005).

One of the benefits of SOA standardization is the enablement of more functionality, performed by much less underlying code. This leads to less complex, more cost effective system maintenance; thereby reducing operational risks.

“A fully implemented SOA provides a bank with a highly predictable application environment that reduces risk in day-to-day operations, due to the minimization and isolation of change to the production systems. Banks that fail to take this approach must constantly change their interfaces as external and internal requirements change. This introduces significant risk and the need for near-continuous testing to ensure that the customer ‘touchpoints’ and the back-end processes do not fail, while ensuring that one data or service change doesn’t adversely affect other data changes integrated through an interface” (Earley et al., 2005).

Conclusion

SOA has an important role to play in the architectural repertoire of banking and financial organizations. Its loosely coupled design characteristic allows services to be shared and reused across the enterprise without disparate systems concerning themselves with the underlying development code. Multiple services can be combined together to form reusable chunks of a business process. Outside sources can connect to legacy backend systems via an API, which increases the opportunity to mix and match vendor capabilities with in-house assets. SOA also helps banks and financial firms ramp up new applications and functionality quickly and economically, increasing product responsiveness to market demands. When SOA is combined with Event Driven Architecture, dynamic event driven systems can be developed that do not rely solely on the less proactive request/reply paradigm.

Banks and financial companies need to remain innovative, cost effective and anticipate customer needs in order to remain profitable. SOA allows organizations to become more agile and flexible with their application development. The rise of applications on mobile cloud enabled platforms means that customers will need to connect to data wherever it dwells. “Bank delivery is focused on reactively providing products on customer request, and mass-market, one-size-fits-all products (for mainstream retail banking). However, it is no longer feasible to force-fit mass-market bank products when technology devices, context and location are key elements to the type of customized bank service a customer needs” (Moyer, 2012). As SOA continues to mature with cloud enabled solutions and the rise of mobile computing, it is primed to be the building block for the next generation of banking application functionality.

References:

Baskerville, R., Cavallari, M., Hjort-Madsen, K., Pries-Heje, J., Sorrentino, M., & Virili, F. 2010. The strategic value of SOA: a comparative case study in the banking sector. International Journal of Information Technology and Management, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2010

Banking Industry Architecture Network. (2012). SOA, standards and IT systems: how will SOA impact the future of banking services? Available from https://bian.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/BIAN-SOA-report-2012.pdf

Early, A., & Free, D. (2002, September 4). SOA: A ‘Must Have’ for Core Banking (ID: SPA-17-9683). Retrieved from Gartner database.

Early, A., & Free, D., & Kun, M. (2005, July 1). An SOA Approach Will Boost a Bank’s Competitiveness (ID: G00126447). Retrieved from Gartner database.

Essvale Corporation Limited. (2011). Business knowledge for it in global retail banking: a complete handbook for it professionals.

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