Taking SOA to the bank

The fourth-largest bank in the U.S. restructures investment ops around SOA.

SOA is much more than throwing services over the wall. It's about building partnerships and fostering education across the enterprise. It's about rocking the boat. Such was the experience with an actual live SOA implementation at the fourth largest bank in the United States. David Margulius just wrote this excellent piece in InfoWorld about how IT movers and shakers at Wachovia used SOA techniques to "rock the boat" at Wachovia and changed their organization's culture.

Building SOA is 'like a rollercoaster. You go up and down, throw up a couple times, and at the end of the ride, everything’s great.'

Reuse was the driving force behind the project. Certoma observed that "each business had been building similar capabilities over and over -- desktop presentation, data management, workflow management, messaging, and customer information management." Certoma's goal was nothing less than "a complete restructuring of how CIB did development, centered around a core of reusable frameworks, components, and services that each of the business units could leverage."

Of course, the project meant a lot more than throwing some reusable services over the wall for discovery and consumption. Margulius wrote that Certoma had to make "sweeping changes" in the relationship between IT and the business. CIB’s central architecture group was reorganized into a 50-person team with a product management orientation that would build and evangelize an initial set of components and services. Those services would then be made available to business unit developer teams.

This called for changes in the way the business perceived IT as well. “We wanted technology to become an advisor to the business, not an order-taker,” she explains. The early stages of the process consisted of a five-month mapping process in which the technology teams closely scrutinized the jobs of the investment bankers, asking: “where do you gain competitive advantage by being able to build horizontal systems and services?”

One of the most notable improvements gained from the SOA, then, has been in the productivity of the investment brokers. Before, Certoma said, “A lot of them were modeling deals on Excel, and it would take anywhere from half an hour to a couple hours.” One new shared service enabled developers to put together a high-performance modeling application that shaved this modeling time down to minutes. Another business unit was able to develop an “equity desktop” application in 90 days that traditionally would have taken six to 12 months to design and build from scratch.

Certoma also said that the SOA was helping the bank win multi-million-dollar contracts, since having well-integrated technology that is clean and error-free is a key selling point.

Wachovia CIB’s SOA consist of business services and frameworks available for reuse across the enterprise. The services, mainly built in Java and .NET, are supported by underlying infrastructure frameworks and plumbing services such as logical data repositories that support federated queries, metadata management, a prebuilt desktop framework, app servers plus grid and fabric servers, along with in-memory data virtualization services and a service bus.

Tony Bishop, senior vice president and director of product management for Wachovia, worked with Certoma on the effort, said that a "mindset shift" was necessary for getting developers to work with the components.  “We’ve had to educate people about what’s already built, get them to think about how they build in a componentized environment, how to reuse, how to deploy, how to make it so it’s like a software package they just bought.” To address this, Wachovia built its own version of a SourceForge concept, in which developers "check in and out different versions of components based on a questionnaire and profiling from a service catalog."

Deploying a huge SOA of this magnitude, of course, is not an easy process. “It’s like a rollercoaster,” Certoma said.  “You go up and down, throw up a couple times, and at the end of the ride, everything’s great.”

One of the greatest challenges is overcoming mistrust, she said. “You have to have an unwavering commitment to your vision, because it will get hard. Getting the business groups to trust another group to build something for them -- it was not seamless, it was not smooth. You have to stick it out.”