The Age of Digital Enablement
In today’s hyper-competitive business and technology environment, the demand for digital services grows steadily as CIOs stretch resources to support optimistic digital enablement strategies. Savvy consumers and employees expect self-service and real-time information exchange as well as fast and effective customer support while connecting from an expansive assortment of smartphones, tablets, and computers.
Getting the First Steps Right
Several years into the app world, the era of big data and pervasive social media, organizations also struggle to keep up with customers’ interests and sentiments. Likewise, the demand for increased productivity and partner collaboration drive a multitude of enterprise-focused mobile initiatives. In an Oct 2014 survey1 , 50% of companies reported a backlog of 10-20 apps. Clearly, many financial services organizations are stretched beyond their capacity to meet the demand.
In response to these pressures, the retail industry leads all others as they support customer purchases across the omnichannel retail environment. Financial institutions continue to struggle with batch processing limitations but are making progress with online and mobile banking. Organizations such as Amazon not saddled with legacy technology are the furthest ahead, encountering the fewest hurdles
Fortunately, recently developed and cost-effective data integration solutions are capable of shortening solution times while increasing transaction efficiency. They also enable IT to simplify the enterprise IT architecture while stretching future budgets. With the right solutions and expertise, CTOs become more responsive to business units, and forward-looking organizations are empowered to achieve their digital enablement goals.In this paper, we will discuss cost-effective data and application integration solutions to power an aggressive digital enablement strategy, the secret sauce of successful customer-oriented organizations
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According to an October, 2015 Gartner report2, “Mobile strategists must step up their development and innovation strategies to put mobile at the core of every project.” Looking closely at project drivers, we observe that organizations pursue digital initiatives to:
- Satisfy the demand for customer enablement and self-service apps
- Improve the user experience of existing apps
- Support many types of smartphones, tablets, and browsers
- Enhance customer service
- Enrich partner collaboration
- Increase automation and employee productivity
To meet competitive and organizational pressures, CIOs must deliver digital capabilities quickly and repeatedly across multiple business units. However, supporting a robust digital strategy requires that a number of significant IT challenges be overcome.
Data Integration Encumbers Development
A forward-looking digital strategy focused on the needs of the customer supports revenue growth, making digital programs a high priority. However, the timely and successful deployment of urgent strategy initiatives is limited by the pace at which digital applications can be produced and updated. .
Self-service portals, virtual chats, mobile applications, and other important front-end initiatives all require timely integration with enterprise applications and data. Many organizations are held back from achieving a fully executed digital strategy by back-end data access and integration problems that degrade project timelines and application quality
Complexity and Risk
While interacting digitally with customers and employees grows in importance as a critical success factor, the complexities of making it work with existing systems cause developers to fall short of meeting increased expectations. On the management side, the increasing complexity elevates the risk of change, resulting in a high level of caution among executives Custom code, point-to-point connections, and a multitude of environment configuration issues create a fragile infrastructure and increase security risks, making digital enablement expensive and time-consuming. Another enterprise survey3 reports that 70% of a project’s investment goes into integrating the back-end with enterprise apps and systems.
CIOs must deal with the complexity and risk if they hope to expedite the organization’s digital strategy. Acquiring the means for back-end developers to enable easy, scalable, and secure access to data from distributed enterprise systems then becomes a top priority.
Many organizations have multiple layers of legacy systems and applications running the gamut from IBM Mainframes to distributed Linux and Windows platforms with data and business functions organized by line of business.
They operate in an environment where customer information is spread across the enterprise, making it difficult to access and aggregate data as required to support customers’ needs at the time of interaction.
While many organizations have attacked the customer data consolidation problem with an enterprise data warehouse approach, this type of solution mostly supports batch processing and after the fact analysis. By and large, real-time interaction is limited because data warehouses are primarily designed for reporting.
- Integrating diverse applications on differing platforms
- Aggregating data for analysis and reporting
- Combining internal and external data sources
- A diverse set of customer access points leading to back-end systems
- Business units pressing for continuous deployment
- Maintaining rigor with change management
Although many organizations are attempting to or have partially solved the data integration problem, others have yet to learn of new approaches and technologies available to facilitate solutions. The most exciting and promising digital integration tools have been developed recently and awareness is still building.
Data Integration Solutions
BPM and API
To solve the data integration problem, many firms turn to solutions that include a business process management (BPM) system. The BPM tool extracts data from where it resides to be aggregated at the time of interaction and perform tasks on demand. It typically has no user interface and primarily performs data orchestration, issuing requests, and waiting for responses.
However, since many devices require system access for inquiry and transactions, firms have addressed this requirement by leveraging the application programming interface (API) available from software providers. The result is often ‘spaghetti code’ and single threads from each device all the way to the back-end systems.
BPM Integration Platform
The API Platform Solution
A more efficient solution currently employed by informed organizations is the API platform, a server, or cloud-hosted software product that connects to back-end database and application APIs. On the other side, it might connect to a front-end Web server or other apps that were previously connected directly to the APIs.
Moving the connection point up to the API platform gives the Web server or app access to all other back-end API connections. To implement a new user interface, IT may have to write a front-end application but the back-end connections are already in place, simplifying and accelerating the development timeline.
The whole arrangement functions like the efficient hub and spoke configuration found in modern airline and distribution operations. Every front-end device, such as a teller terminal or consumer tablet, accesses the system through a spoke consisting of the Web server, teller application, or similar digital interface. Likewise, the hub connects to any back-end service or data source through a single connection point.
Installing an API platform streamlines the data integration development process, simplifies interfaces, improves testing, and provides additional data for managing and monitoring application performance.
API Platform Functionality
The API platform works by presenting simple function-calls, such as get_account_balance that remain unchanged to front-end applications as back-end systems evolve. Once the API platform is in place, the process of adding new front-end applications is greatly simplified and accelerated.
Additional API platform functionality might include:
- User, traffic, and SLA management
- API security management
- Ability to proxy existing services or share new APIs
- Data collection for analytics
- Policy enforcement around security, throttling, rate limiting, and identity management
Without the API platform, a new front-end digital application might have 30 back-end connections to host and 30 different interfaces to test in a complex enterprise IT environment. Considering its advantages, the power and utility of an API platform is compelling.
The API platform centralizes and overcomes multiple technical challenges that may otherwise appear repeatedly each time new front-end digital capabilities are added.
- Data stored in different representations or structures may require translation with special considerations.Examples: EBCDIC to ASCII Batch to real-time Platforms—Linux to Windows, AS400 to Unix, etc. Different database technologies—Oracle to SQL, etc.
- Data aggregation framework considerations
- Various technologies to address
- Scheduled software releases and continuous deployment
- Audit trails for moving code into production
With CIOs facing an overabundance of complexity and the rapid adoption of new technologies, an API platform makes the transitions easier by greatly simplifying the links. An API platform accelerates change enablement as the world moves faster.
The simplified infrastructure and interfaces enabled by an API platform render the organization more agile and responsive, accelerating projects and enabling digital initiatives. Under prior schemes, a risk-averse management would further retard projects already burdened by complexity. On the other hand, the API platform facilitates projects by helping management work with appropriate levels of risk.
Business Value Justification
A properly implemented API platform provides an attractive upside to IT and the organization.
- Increases transaction efficiency
- Easier to implement and execute projects
- Simplifies IT architecture, adding control at a central point
- Stretches IT budgets with a simplified architecture, CIOs can do more with less
- Makes the CTO more responsive to the business side
- Facilitates future modernization of back-end systems (fewer connections)
- Maintains back-end systems control and governance
- Drives innovation
- Facilitates engagement with external developers
- Enables agility
- Generates additional revenue due to quick time-to-market to support business objectives
The API platform also helps organizations that pursue Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Until now, SOA has not been fully adopted because it did not have the benefits of an API platform and was often compromised to meet deadlines.The API platform decreases expenses and can help justify new revenue-enhancing initiatives. By increasing efficiency, new banking and financial services projects more easily meet bank efficiency ratio evaluation criteria.
API performance monitoring in an API platform can provide early warnings to prevent service disruptions. For example, a warning that the account opening process is slowing down can trigger remediation before critical thresholds are exceeded.
As part of a modernization project, an API platform helps projects to address current issues while allowing back-end systems to update more easily in the future. As such, an API platform is both an IT modernization strategy and digital enablement, a gateway to increased current and future competitiveness.
According to a recent study by Nucleus Research, “We can connect solutions via platform configuration now without hard-coding anything. It has saved time, resources, and information can be sourced from the front office and shared across the company.”4
As the API platform becomes the central hub of the enterprise IT architecture, its utility and benefits increase. It becomes a key ingredient, the ‘secret sauce,’ of a successful digital enablement strategy as well as an attractive modernization framework.
The Path to Approval
An API platform might be hard to justify on its own when sold as a replacement for existing infrastructure and functionality. The cost to replace existing interfaces with a new architecture would make the project a lower priority.
The usual acquisition path is for the API platform to ride in with the architecture of a high-priority project. Once in place, it helps to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of future digital projects. After IT acquires the API platform, expanding its use to other systems happens more easily
Other digital enablement solution approaches incorporate a micro-architecture concept that overlays existing technology and extracts data from a variety of sources. Micro-Architecture modules run on top of existing architecture to mine information, are rules based, and do not subtract anything from the existing architecture.
Micro-Architecture solutions support a variety of IT functions, including query, analytics, predictive, matching, and integration to increase functionality and efficiency. For example, a bank anti-money-laundering process that required 45 minutes per investigation was shortened to 15 minutes by utilizing micro-architecture apps to analyze a database of previously resolved similar transactions.
These types of solutions are similar to BPM approaches but lack the transactional capabilities of an API platform. While geared towards batch processes, the micro-architecture approach enables the gathering and selection of data along with process rules to position the data for consumption by front-end digital applications
- Solution Agility—Interoperable components are configured and sequenced to meet solution needs
- Non-Disruptive Deployment—Non-Invasive, standards-based integration leverages existing assets.
- Accelerated Time to Value—Results delivered directly to multiple endpoints to operationalize value.
The NIIT Technologies Thought Board:
The Age of Digital Enablement
To meet competitive and organizational pressures, CIOs must deliver digital capabilities quickly and repeatedly across multiple business units. However, the timely and successful deployment of urgent strategy initiatives is limited by the pace at which digital applications can be produced and updated.
Multiple layers of legacy systems, custom code, point-to-point connections and environment configuration issues create a fragile infrastructure with increased security risks, making digital enablement expensive and time-consuming. The complexities of integration slow development and elevated risks result in a high level of caution among executives.
An enterprise data warehouse approach fails to solve the data integration problem and many organizations lack awareness of new approaches and technology available to facilitate solutions.
Data Integration Solutions and Benefits
The digital enablement data integration problem can be addressed cost-effectively by implementing an API platform and related technologies. API platforms increase transaction efficiency, shorten development timelines, reduce costs, and simplify interfaces and enterprise architecture. BPM, point-to-point API interface, and micro-architecture solutions provide limited benefits.An API platform also improves testing and provides additional data for managing and monitoring application performance. CIOs empowered by a comprehensive data integration solution can stretch future budgets and be more responsive to business priorities.
In addition to supporting a capable digital enablement strategy, an API platform solution may also benefit the organization’s modernization efforts. With a simplified, hub-and-spoke infrastructure, back-end system upgrades and replacements can be undertaken without directly impacting front-end applications and interfaces.
NIIT Technologies' Digital Services, Application Development Services, IMS, and BPM groups enable businesses to strategize, build, and leverage digital technologies and create market-ready solutions with transformational benefits.
- Outsystems (October, 2014). Mobile App Backlog Is Directly Damaging Revenue in the Enterprise [survey]. Retrieved from
- Richard Marshall, Nick Jones, Jason Wong, Brian Prentice (October, 2015) Gartner, Predicts 2016: Mobile Apps and Development [analyst report]. Retrieved from
- Mulesoft. API-led Connectivity Why mobile projects require API-led connectivity [infographic]. Retrieved from
- Nucleus Research Inc. (January 2015)
About the Author
Dan Boone – BFS Practice Head North America NIIT Technologies– is a well-known financial industries expert with extensive experience in technology and operations across banking, wealth management, asset management, and capital markets. His experience includes significant business process re-design enabled by digital technologies resulting in automation of key business services. He has worked for leading financial services and consulting firms and is a founder and organizer of First Commons Bank, N.A. in Boston, MA.