Process-driven development at EBS Building Society. EBS engage Blue Light as a preferred partner for strategic technology-intensive projects. This case study describes the culmination of a series of projects in the domain of mortgage origination and fulfilment.
In operation since 1935, EBS is the largest building society in the Republic of Ireland. As such, it derives most of its revenue (over 90%) from the mortgage business.
From the customer perspective, a mortgage is a loan. From the lender perspective it is a portfolio of financial products, including the mortgage itself but also life assurance, house insurance and potentially payment protection and title insurance.
In effect, mortgage lending is a complex business. There are many competing objectives, such as product enhancements versus operational efficiencies. Furthermore, business objectives and priorities necessarily change with time.
Since the turn of the century EBS has faced a number of challenges not unique among its peers. An increasingly competitive landscape saw the erosion of the domestic client base through international expansion. Comparative shopping became the norm. Furthermore, the need to facilitate faster time to market was placing serious strain on the existing technical infrastructure.
In this respect, EBS had evolved a multiplicity of proprietary systems in support of new product and channel offerings. Market trends dictated the need for seamless integration with external partners but the nature of the existing infrastructure was such that the incremental cost of change was inhibiting the delivery of new business value.
Large-scale change programmes require multi-year phased implementations and, to be successful, need to be closely aligned to ongoing business objectives. Between 2005 and 2009 Blue Light consultants filled key roles in relation to project management, solution and technical architecture, business analysis and software development.
In the first instance, a Blue Light team was instrumental in the introduction of a highly advanced technology solution connecting EBS IT applications directly to those of mortgage brokers, thereby enabling EBS enter a new market segment. The project was extremely ambitious with very tight deadlines, high elements of business complexity and a technology solution based on open systems standards and an organisation-wide service-oriented architecture (SOA). This project won the overall award at the BT Inspired IT Awards in 2005 and helped EBS gain substantial market share through faster turnaround time for loan approval.
Most recently, using the Bancassurance business driver as a catalyst, this SOA platform was extended through the provision of a Rich-Internet application (RIA) front-end to EBS’ insurance partner’s systems and services. Runner-up in the financial services category of the 2008 Inspired IT Awards, this project was successful in that it significantly reduced the maintenance effort associated with white-labelling insurance product offerings.
Even new systems designed to meet current business objectives and built to the latest technological standards will succumb to the same inefficiencies over time – unless they are designed with change in mind.
Designing with change in mind requires the development of a component-based architecture with emphasis on re-use. EBS had already made significant progress in this regard and over time, with a move towards a distributed Business-to-Business (B2B) operating model, this would evolve into a pure SOA.
The cornerstone of this approach – and something that is central to the Blue Light Methodology – is an emphasis on the underlying business process, as distinct from the software systems that support it.
As an IBM Solutions Partner, Blue Light specialise in modelling the underlying business process using the IBM WebSphere® toolset. In this regard, IBM Process Modeller® enforces a degree of rigour that leads to a more clearly defined, carefully thought out, business process. Experience on this project showed that the business audience greatly appreciated the level of detail enforced by this exercise. In essence, it provided a common terminology that better enabled communications between the business and IT functions.
The key here was the level of granularity used in modelling the underlying process. Process Modeller forces the modeller to specify the 'business items', such as the mortgage application form, flowing through the process. These business items are defined down to the level of individual attribute.
From this perspective, the activities in a business process simply transform a set of business items - adding value along the way (e.g. from a mortgage application to a loan). By considering the various activities from this perspective it is easier to determine how they might ultimately be 'implemented' in the target process.
In reality, complex business processes are rarely if ever supported through a unified technology solution/platform. Instead, many activities remain manual and usually for good reason – maybe the activity does not readily lend itself to automation, such as handling an exceptional request.
IBM WebSphere® provides design patterns for automating process activities. One of these patterns, a business rules engine, was used to encapsulate cross-field dependencies, thereby decoupling business logic from the associated client application. Since the new process went live this has greatly facilitated ease of maintenance as new business rules evolve.
From an implementation perspective, candidate business activities are implemented as services and orchestrated through the industry-standard business process execution language (BPEL) and in this sense the process is ‘implemented’ through technology.
These loosely coupled services can readily be re-wired as the underlying business process evolves.
At a high level of granularity, the mortgage application process consists of three interrelated sub-processes; data acquisition, underwriting and funds issue.
For obvious reasons, EBS decided to focus initially on data acquisition. The primary business activity in this instance was the completion of the associated mortgage application form, implemented as an RIA using Adobe Flex®.
This sub-project was particularly important to the business as it was closely aligned to the organisation’s strategic member-served programme. In this regard, EBS, Blue Light and Adobe Consulting worked together on an agile development project. The iterative nature of this approach proved particularly important in helping to prioritise the vast array of business requirements – more than we could ever hope to deliver given the time constraints. It also helped ensure strong buy-in to the delivered solution.
All images reproduced with the permission of EBS
"Blue Light has a unique blend of business and technical expertise and a clear vision of how to bring best-practice to bear on complex IT problems"
Head of Information Technology
EBS Building Society