ING's SOA route drives up service delivery

Legacy systems can’t be replaced but can be worked with

The Asia Pacific region for global financial services giant ING is now reaping the benefits of a move to a service-oriented architecture in the form of new and improved service delivery channels for customers.

The SOA program has been going on for three years and is being spearheaded by ING Asia Pacific's head of applications and architecture, Shannon Murphy, who is based in Hong Kong.

Murphy told Computerworld the SOA journey is a long one with "a lot of talking" required first, and then the work begins at the data layer which takes between three and six months to implement a common view, then it's SOA on top.

In ING's case it's about 50 percent through the project, but Murphy expects activity to "explode" this year and continue into 2008 so there is at least some level of standardization throughout the region.

With every insurance company having legacy technology "whether we like to admit it or not", Murphy believes they can be put to good use as it not always makes sense to migrate off them, particularly when they are doing their job.

"We have a legacy reality and as markets heat up new processes are required, so we can't wait six months to build a new model, so we adopted processes and a data centric approach," Murphy said. "We get core data from legacy systems and wrap it around a process layer."

ING Asia Pacific includes all countries from New Zealand and Australia to India, Korea, and Japan, but the regional office doesn't mandate other business units and local businesses are allowed to innovate how they see fit, but Murphy said there are benefits from choosing similar solutions.

"So it started in Korea and we moved that work into Japan, China, and Taiwan, and will be moving it to the [other] businesses and Australia is evaluating the fit of this technology - I'm confident it does," he said.

"What we are doing kind of just makes sense. We stole the idea from the US where they use different tools to implement the same strategy. There are fundamentally good practices to use process engine on top of systems to coordinate back-end transactions."

ING Europe is still in the process of technology selection and the chosen technology for Asia Pacific's SOA strategy was Tibco "for commercial reasons".

Murphy said the move to SOA is definitely a paradigm shift, and probably the third or fourth wave in the financial services sector.

"As we migrate to a consumer technology driven society SOA allows us to say we can service you regardless of the device," he said, adding ING customers should have some common expectation of the service wherever they go.

Conceding SOA is "a little over-hyped", Murphy said it is the key to being able to orchestrate activities and yield about 49 percent commonality between ING's 139 financial applications.

"Korea has been doing the process side of things for a year resulting in faster claims turn-around and reduction in cost. Doing it this way saved us a fair number of dollars because we didn't have to invest in a new system. We can measure processes much more effectively, or change incentive programs to respond to customer complaints. We can monitor this in real time and I personally didn't anticipate that kind of behavioural change."

Murphy said what has really changed is the organization's common definition of what is a process and what data it needs.

ING can now launch products faster, service customers more efficiently, and be innovative like offering travel insurance policy activation by SMS.

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