The Fountain of Youth for Legacy Systems

Banks can ill afford time-consuming, expensive IT landscapes. According to the E-Finance Lab, a research institute in Frankfurt, Germany, a financial institution needs an average of four months to map and execute a new business process in its IT landscape. The responsibility lies with the obsolete IT architecture – composed of rigid, monolithic core banking solutions – that many financial services providers operate. Such architecture requires a great deal of effort to integrate new applications or business processes.
Banks are ill served by their rigid IT environments, because the dynamics of the banking market demand flexibility and speed from all players. Financial services providers must continually develop new products and map the related business processes in their IT systems. With monolithic software, that means setting up redundant solutions for every sales channel. Including operations and maintenance, this approach consumes the majority of the IT budget, so little is available for modernization.

An intelligent path to enterprise service-oriented architecture

Banks are increasingly turning to enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA), which encapsulates software functionality as Web services that are available to various applications. With enterprise SOA, only a single Web service, such as the functionality to create an account, needs to be provided to software for home banking and to a teller.
Because Web services are compatible with legacy applications, they enable a smooth transition to enterprise SOA. As part of the SAP NetWeaver platform, SAP offers the SAP Composite Application Framework (SAP CAF) tool, which is used to create SAP xApps. These SAP xApps use the functions and data of various applications and are linked to SAP NetWeaver as Web services – all without touching the code of the legacy programs. That approach is possible because SAP CAF serves as a broker between the composite applications and the legacy application. A metalanguage describes the functions that a legacy application fulfills, the data it needs to do so, and the data that it delivers. There’s no need to program a new interface for each access to the legacy application. The metadescription enables various Web services to access a specific part of the existing software.

SAP ecosystem creates industry-specific enhancements

SAP has met all the preconditions of a flexible software landscape that reuses existing resources and links to the enterprise service-oriented world of SAP NetWeaver. SAP CAF also permits third-party manufacturers to develop software solutions for SAP NetWeaver.
Founded at the beginning of 2007, the Business Process Management (BPM) Consortium supports the development of industry-specific SAP xApps and solutions for SAP NetWeaver that meet the special needs of the banking industry. The consortium consists of researchers from ibi research (a banking-related institute), jCOM1 (a BPM software supplier), and agentes (a specialist in banking software). The partners have developed the xApps Factory to produce SAP xApps for use with SAP for Banking – a set of modeling tools that financial services providers can use to create their own SAP xApps. In the future, the xApps Factory will also turn out predefined SAP xApps created especially for banks.

Modeling bank processes in the xApps Factory

The modeling tools of the xApps Factory describe business processes with simple graphical icons. This description makes it easier for banks to develop special SAP xApps, such as an application that customers can use on the Internet to open a new account. The department responsible first creates a graphic of the process flow with all the interactions involved. If the application needs access to a customer file, a message icon between the SAP xApp and the customer’s database indicates the exchange of data.
The xApps Factory automatically translates the process graphic into a workflow language using the SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure (SAP NetWeaver XI) component. The translation creates a skeleton of code that can be integrated with the required service modules. Services can be generated from legacy applications with mash-up tools like Kapow from Kapow Technologies with minimal programming effort. Some departments might perform some of the workflows manually during a transition period. In such a case, an online request by a customer triggers a message to an employee to examine the customer’s existing contracts.
The xApps Factory can address SAP NetWeaver XI and the workflow engines of other manufacturers, such as BizTalk from Microsoft or WebSphere from IBM. A workflow engine simply translates the graphical process icons into the appropriate format. The workflow engine also considers the properties of the workflow tools. To some extent, the strengths of SAP NetWeaver XI lie in automatic processing of a series of modules. To ensure that user entries do not increase the programming effort, the engine processes them up front and transfers them to SAP NetWeaver XI as a bundle.

Application texts in executable environments

To lower the costs of service-oriented applications, the xApps Factory features its own test function. That’s indispensable in the banking industry because solutions must offer absolute security for transactions. In the test environment, users can check process logic, the exchanged data, user entries, and the appearance of user interfaces before the software goes into operation, and they don’t need special programming knowledge to perform these tasks. IT-supported role play indicates the requirements of the needed services. It shows all the data to be processed in a table and the position of the data in the screen layout. Users can see the data required by the SAP xApp and the data that it exchanges with other applications.
The tests consider cross-company and cross-location processes that require an SAP xApp to access external IT systems. The test routine addresses all the servers involved and links them to the process. Banks can then simulate the processes – including specific roles and locations – according to the properties of their IT landscape and check the efficiency of the processes. Simulations with alternative processes or employees with varying qualifications can help estimate costs and throughput times. Banks can then calculate the optimal organization of processes and the forecasted resource needs, depending on the number of requests.

Easy management of project meetings

The xApp Factory has already produced its first predefined application that has been certified as SAP xApp powered by SAP NetWeaver. jFOLLOW! integrates the results of meetings into the project management functionality of the SAP NetWeaver Portal component. Project teams can use jFOLLOW! to monitor ad hoc work assignments across departments. For example, if several departments and the controlling department at a bank are collaborating on a new financial package, jFOLLOW! supports monitoring and control of the project. That can be very helpful to banks, because they usually do not have networked research and development departments.
A Microsoft Excel file first lists the participants in the project and the tasks that have been agreed upon. jFOLLOW! then imports the data with the assistance of an iView in SAP NetWeaver Portal and performs several tasks, including a check to see if meeting participants have also been created as users. The application creates a workflow for each task in the portal and transfers it into the work lists of employees. The lists document the progress of the work. When a due date approaches, jFOLLOW! warns the employee or notifies the next-higher manager. All team members always have an overview of the status of a task, and they can see which employees have worked on a task. Workflow management systems based on e-mail cannot provide that feature.
The xApps Factory can link these kinds of processes and applications to SAP NetWeaver Portal with minimal effort. To keep the solutions thin, existing resources are used as much as possible. For example, meeting follow-up combines Microsoft Excel, the standards processes in the guided procedures and in the middleware layer of SAP NetWeaver XI, SAP NetWeaver Portal, and SAP functionality for knowledge management.
The BPM Consortium is now working with SAP and selected financial service providers to define additional tasks that future SAP xApps can support and that xApps Factory can deliver in the future. The focus is on providing banks with tools that they can use to link their existing IT systems to SAP software and adjust to new requirements more quickly.

Erhard Petzel

Albert Fleischmann

Matthias Moritz