Integrated finance

Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait was struggling with disparate applications running on heterogeneous systems until it opted for Microsoft’s BizTalk Server 2004 Enterprise Edition. Since the solution went live, the finance house has been able to create a single sign-on system, improve integration and bring consistency to its operations across ABK's 15 branches.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  October 31, 2004

|~|ABKSami4111.jpg|~|Sami Al Ali, general manager, IT division at ABK. |~|Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait (ABK) has deployed Microsoft’s BizTalk Server 2004 Enterprise Edition to streamline its operations and integrate its legacy applications more effectively. By implementing the enterprise application integration (EAI) server, the financial institutes’ staff now have easy access to customer data as its banking apps appear through a single virtual system.

Previously, employees had to access the 64-year old bank’s systems through individual packages, which were deployed on a heterogeneous system comprising Windows servers, IBM AS/400 and Unix servers.

“We had silos of information at the bank. In order to evaluate and serve our customers [properly] we had to see the whole picture and that was extremely difficult because the information was scattered across different systems,” explains Sami Al Ali, general manager, IT division at ABK.

“We had two options. We could either [get rid of] all our existing systems and get one super-duper IT system, or work with what we had and consolidate all the data,” he says.
In order to take control of its IT infrastructure, the bank, which has a network of 15 branches in Kuwait and one in Dubai, needed a solution that was simple and flexible. More importantly, the bank wanted a solution that ran in parallel with the legacy system without impacting it during the initial stages of the implementation.

After analysing other vendor’s products, the bank selected Microsoft’s BizTalk Server 2004 Enterprise Edition because it fulfilled the bank’s requirements. Priced at US$24,999 per processor, the software giant’s EAI server supported integration with an unlimited number of internal applications, as well as with external trading partners.

Microsoft believes ABK chose its middleware because it provided the bank with an economical solution that was easy to integrate with the existing apps. “We worked with them [ABK] before and they liked our service levels and support. Also, we offered the bank a solution that could work with its existing IT infrastructure. The organisation did not have to rip out the legacy systems in order to deploy our solution,” says Omar Dragmeh, finance sector manager at Microsoft North Gulf.

ABK teamed up with three systems integrators for the BizTalk deployment. Kuwait Danish Computer Company (KDCC) was the primary contractor for the bank’s HP hardware and support, Linkdotnet provided professional services and APAK provided the middleware adapters and the core banking delivery channel applications.

The biggest challenge faced by the trio was connecting the bank’s AS/400-based applications, such as Equation, a host banking system, a city dealer transaction system and the trade innovations financial system to Windows so the information could flow along a single data pipe.

While Microsoft provided standard adapters for SWIFT and ERP applications, it didn’t have specific adapters for the applications used by ABK; hence the bank turned to APAK for the bespoke adapters.

“The most challenging aspect of the implementation was connecting everything to the bank’s legacy system,” says Brian Hannaford, managing director of APAK Beam for the EMEA region.

“Most of ABK’s core banking applications were running on AS/400, so it was difficult to connect to the middleware. AS/400 is a dated technology that is still used by a lot of banks in the region. However, the Biztalk adapters will allow ABK to connect its host and banking systems to a consistent interface,” he explains.

The bank also decided to work with APAK because the organisation’s middleware was a vital component in its .Net-based Beamnet 2004, which is a branch automation and banking delivery channel application used by the bank to serve customers via the internet, interactive voice response (IVR), mobile devices and ATMs.

The bank believes that by isolating its apps from the business process, it is paving way for future development.
“Through the EAI capabilities, ABK has established a major building block within its banking systems that will also allow it to develop new products and services for its customers. In the future, if the bank needs to replace something, it can do so without affecting all the layers of the infrastructure. Since ABK’s business processes are now handled centrally by the middleware, it will be easy to either add or remove a new application,” Dragmeh explains.

Once the BizTalk adapters were in place, the ABK started plugging them into its system in a phased manner to ensure all its systems were working properly. The organisation also trained its staff to make sure they were comfortable in using the new system. Since the deployment of BizTalk, ABK has managed to move its point-to-point systems onto a single sign-on system, eliminating the need for employees to remember different user names and passwords. The new solution also provides the Kuwaiti bank with a single point of access to information from across its back end systems.

“Users don’t have to log onto multiple systems. The single interface brings in data from all sources and applications. The BizTalk server is the central point. All messages from different systems will pass through that central point,” Al Ali adds.

Furthermore, the bank is also able to provide consistency with its business rules and data across its entire customer contact and transaction points. This will support advanced customer relationship management (CRM), which the bank is currently evaluating.

“It will provide a consistent customer interface… regardless of what service a customer is using. It does not matter if the customer is using the services of a branch, an ATM, the website or the call centre, they will have the same experience across the delivery channel with access to all information,” Al Ali says.

Al Ali also believes the initiative will help the bank focus on its core competencies. “We [plan to] make decisions based on psychographics than based just on demographics. The bank will have more time to focus on customers because it will have a lot more information at hand and create up-selling and cross-selling opportunities instead of focusing on the IT, which is not its core business,” he says. “This way both the bank and the customer will benefit from the value-added services. The EAI solution is the foundation to take this initiative further,” Al Ali adds. ||**||

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