DK Sharma and Margam Sundararajan are not putting any limits on the potential for their plans for Citigroup’s future IT architecture. Respectively the head of technology and chief architect at Citigroup’s International Technology Organization, they are pioneering the adoption of an event-driven architecture (EDA) at Citi, a foundation that Sharma hopes long term will be “the nerve centre of everything we do at the bank”.
Both are realistic about the technical and business challenges involved in building an EDA – including scaling EDA technology for an organisation of Citi’s size and educating business management to its potential. But both the architecture and operations side of IT seem convinced that this is the way forward for the bank.
The Singapore-based International Technology Organization caters to the technology needs of Citi’s global consumer business – a unit managing 200 million customer accounts around the world. Architecturally, Citi has the classic problem of siloed, custom-built applications for different products and channels to the customer. And, as Sundararajan observes, this has meant applications have become “brittle” and difficult to change, resulting in Citi missing opportunities to be more responsive to the needs of customers.
Sundararajan and Sharma see EDA as a route to much more responsive services. It will provide the ability to react in seconds or microseconds to customer service queries or sales opportunities, says Sundararajan, with particular events triggering pre-set rules and actions on how to deal with them. Speed comes in development as well as in delivery.
Sharma says: “We [often] require custom development, but that has significant cost and time-to-market implications. With an event-processing engine, we were looking for more of a configurable solution than coding. And we wanted it delivered in a real-time environment across various touchpoints.”
Behind that search for flexibility and real-time responsiveness has been the adoption of a technology set from enterprise architecture software company Tibco. Citi’s EDA is based on a combination of Tibco’s iProcess Suite for business process management, its BusinessEvents tool for business rules definition and management, and BusinessWorks for service creation, orchestration and integration. Tibco’s EMS enterprise message service works alongside Citi’s own mainframe systems and messaging bus.
Another of the core advantages of its new architectural design is that it allows the company to prioritise different “building blocks” without having to worry about what goes on around them. As Sharma says: “With so much technology, business processes are embedded in the programs that have been written over time. By taking them out and putting them into an EDA set-up, you make [those processes] clearer. You also give empowerment to the business users in terms of how they define the [event] rules.”
Citi still faces challenges in the way the technology is introduced into the existing environment. First of all, it needs to be sure that the rules it puts in place are well tested and don’t breach existing tolerances. Citi admits that it has not yet mastered this constraint setting and has an intermediate layer where the IT department specifies the rules that business users want to enact.
Scalability and integration were two other issues that Citi faced in its implementation. Bulk uploads of data were a particular problem, as well as the way the architecture scales out across multiple applications in its four global data centres.
Citi is not alone among financial institutions looking at EDA – although few can point to actual deliverables. Sharma is proud to be able “to deliver services to our customers in a way nobody else is doing”. Despite the cutting-edge nature of the work and the inevitable “teething troubles”.
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