Monolithic systems can be a calamity for a financial services organization.
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For New York brokerage Wall Street Access, it was almost fatal.
Its 3-year-old Microsoft C++-based system hung like an albatross over the firm because traders and customers couldn't get consistent results returned to them.
Vice president of software development Peter Underwood had enough. A year ago, he decided the time was right to implement the service-oriented architecture (SOA) he wanted all along and build a generic interface that would let his company expose data in a meaningful way for traders and customers.
"We went with Java and away from Microsoft C++," Underwood said. "It's very important our customer service folks and traders see the same thing as customers; that the data is derived from the same type of architecture."
The impenetrable legacy C++ system went away and Wall Street Access' developers used IBM's WebSphere Application Server and WebSphere Business Integration software to build its new AccessPoint application. Underwood said
"We exposed our services level to the application layer," Underwood said. "We're using Web services in multiple directions -- the Web services we expose via the application layer to the customer and the Web services we rely on from our back offices, different [stock] exchanges, market data and vendors."
For example, when a Wall Street Access customer requests a position on a stock they own, a back-office query is made to a database that returns 13 positions. It also hits a market data factory from where Wall Street Access gets quotes on that stock. Another data provider also returns news on the stock. Customers then get an HTML view of that composite data from three sources in sub-second speed, Underwood said.
"The biggest tactical advantage is the five- or six-time performance boost we get from WebSphere," Underwood said. "The long-term advantage is that leveraging SOA frees you up to do it well once and leverage it across the production layer. Do it once, do it well, test it and get it out there."
Underwood said moving to Web services and an SOA solved his enterprise's integration problems, but testing services and thorough documentation is imperative.
"That's the real lesson," Underwood said. "You've got to plan and make sure that interfaces are baked."
Web services have found a home with financial services organizations like Wall Street Access. While Underwood is fond of the ability his developers now have to make a change once thanks to the SOA and have it take effect across his enterprise, his team's next challenge is growing and scaling the architecture.
"There are so many disparate sources of information -- sub-systems [different CRM solutions or databases], market data providers -- that it lends itself to a Web services architecture," Underwood said. "What SOA is good at is gathering a composite set of data and composing it to a meaningful layer."