The IT landscape is growing all the time and the separate applications are all closely entwined. This is making it more and more difficult to add new functionalities. For the bank, this is the most pressing reason to completely overhaul its IT landscape. Webwereld.nl interviewed Danny Streefkerk, Service Orientation Consultant at ABN AMRO, to discuss this process.
Banks were the first organisations to switch to automation on a large scale. By now, a wide array of interfaces have been set up to connect the countless older and newer applications. Implementing new functionalities means making changes all over the place. While speed is of the essence, this complexity makes a quick and flexible response to questions from the business difficult. For this reason, ABN AMRO is overhauling its IT landscape by introducing a Service Oriented Architecture. A series of Centres of Expertise have been set up to oversee the process, and to help the organisation implement the new architecture principles.
From a tangle to standardised services
A Service Oriented Architecture alters the way in which applications communicate with each other, Danny Streefkerk explains. Danny works as a Service Orientation Consultant at ABN AMRO’s Service Orientation Centre of Expertise. ‘At the moment applications still communicate directly using specially developed interfaces. All these applications and interfaces are closely entwined and tangled together. If you pull on one string the whole lot will come loose. So adding a new functionality means making a whole series of changes, which is complex and time-consuming. Everything is connected.’
This prevents the bank from responding quickly enough, and changes have too much impact. ‘To solve this, we’re implementing a Service Oriented Architecture, with standardised services that can be used by multiple different applications,’ Danny continues. ‘The applications are detached from the services. To achieve this, we are using an IBM framework called an Information Framework. If something changes at the back-end, for example, we no longer need to update the services or the front-ends.’ Once the point-to-point interfaces have been replaced by standard interfaces, clients can be offered functionalities that at present are still hidden away in legacy applications, for example.
Streefkerk adds, ‘In the past, if you wanted to take out a mortgage you had to sit down with an adviser to understand what your possibilities were. With access to functionalities via a web page, an app or another future digital channel, clients can take care of much of their business for themselves. A Service Oriented Architecture allows us to make these kinds of functionalities available quickly: new apps and applications are hooked up to an existing service that can be used universally.’
The change will have a significant impact on ABN AMRO, being a project-based financial organisation. ‘All of a sudden you’re going on about architecture to project teams that need to complete their projects quickly because the business is waiting,’ Streefkerk explains. ‘This causes friction. As a consultant you need to find the right balance: helping the team to achieve goals and make deadlines, while at the same being strict about implementing the new architecture. This requires not only technical skills, but also a wide range of soft skills. You need to persevere, you need to be able convince people and you need to communicate well.’
Spider in the web
Consultants at a CoE (Centre of Expertise) are not hidden away in an ivory tower. Danny comments, ‘I visit every part of the organisation and work with numerous people at the departments. A Service Oriented Architecture is still rather new for us. I offer advice and give presentations and training to our IT people. They’re critical, but what I tell them seems logical and on the whole they’re eager to help give shape to the new vision.’
Representatives from the CoE also sit down to talk to the project teams. ‘For example, we have an intake when projects begin, but our people also spend part of their time helping out, or they periodically sit in on project team meetings to offer their input. Writing management reports is also part of the job, where we answer questions, “Where are we now, are we not straying from the architecture principles, are we still on schedule, are we keeping things simple and where do the various departments stand in the Service Oriented Architecture maturity model?”’
Architecture is so important to the bank that projects are rewarded with additional funding if they stay close to the architecture principles. ‘If any major problems occur, we always have the option of taking a shortcut somewhere. That needs to be reported, though, and funds must be set aside immediately to solve the issue at some point in the future. These things don’t get pushed aside and forgotten. IT management is responsible for implementation, and I’m enjoying this excellent prospect to help create an entirely new and future-proof architecture. This transition to a Service Oriented Architecture is a huge operation, and for me it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to work on such a comprehensive programme.’