One conundrum has long puzzled software makers: how to build software with enough mass-market appeal to make development cost-effective, while also aligning it to specific business processes. The latest solution is the development of composite applications. These use XML, a standardised description language, to build applications from various components of other business systems.
Yet at the US arm of financial services group HypoVereinsbank (HVB), composite applications are far from ground breaking. "We've had them since 1998," says Dave Dart, CIO and managing director of HVB Americas. "They weren't called composite applications then, they weren't particularly sophisticated, but the principles were there."
Back in the late 1990s, HVB Americas started to realise it had a problem with its IT infrastructure. Its foreign exchange system was struggling to process high volumes of transactions. Scaling up the system demanded high levels of manual intervention, which in turn resulted in unacceptable error rates – as high as 30% in some instances.
Dart says HVB Americas decided that some form of process integration and automation capability was necessary. "We never had the luxury of replacing any old applications, but I had some experience of middleware from a previous life, so naturally we looked at a middleware solution – taking 10 or so applications and gluing them together, wrapped with some business logic," he explains.
HVB Americas implemented software from SeeBeyond to provide the integration capability, building a simple exception notification tool so that transaction problems could be flagged. Since the first phase of the project was completed in 1999, HVB Americas has extended the concept across other areas of the business, increasing the sophistication of its composite applications. Most recently it implemented SeeBeyond's ICAN5 Suite to develop a composite application-based management dashboard.
"We never set out to have a service-oriented architecture," says Dart, "But now where we're developing products with similar attributes, our infrastructure allows us to build a business logic library, where we can pull working components from.
"This has made a tremendous difference to the time it takes to get products to market. IT used to be the cause of delays to projects; now we can deliver products faster than our guys can test them."