After three years of development, Web services are becoming established as enterprise and extranet middleware, enabling inter-business transactions and information flow by means of open and agreed message standards. Community collaboration can now be achieved without the need for great technical co-operation between competing firms, delivering savings for those that participate.
But overall, Web services and the adoption of the interfaces needed to deliver quantifiable benefits are still at an early stage. Many companies are still looking for bite-size steps that can be taken in the near term that will deliver the measurable benefits required to build a credible business case.
Meeting customer expectations with legacy systems
For many, one of the key areas in which Web services are providing value is in meeting growing customer demand for access to expertise or information via the telephone or Web. Much of the information these customers need is sitting on disparate legacy systems that were never designed to be accessed by customers and have no user-friendly interface. Building ‘point solutions’ that solve each customer requirement individually is expensive and time consuming. By using a Web services-based approach and providing interfaces to legacy systems, designers can build a library of services that can be used in numerous customer-facing applications.
In the retail finance industry, this information can be delivered via a help desk whose agents have access via a portal to what can be literally hundreds of legacy systems. Furthermore, data can also be delivered directly to customers through self-service Web applications that hide the complexity of the legacy systems behind them. This approach to both legacy and new applications is called a service-oriented architecture, as it enables applications to be built into new services relatively quickly without any modifications being made to the original functionality of the application.
Another area of customer service where Web services can help is with identity checking. The revision and tightening of the rules to prevent money laundering have brought with them a major headache for the retail finance industry. The regulations have made opening new accounts something of an obstacle course for customers, who often blame the bank for making this process so difficult. While the reaction of the high-street banks to these regulations has so far been a fairly uniform set of rules for the customer to present certain key documents, there is an obvious opportunity for any bank that substantially improves the experience for their customers. There are clear benefits to be gained from a Web service that can check an individual’s identity by reference to a range of data sources, such as electoral role and electricity supply.
Aggregation and netting
Web services can also help in the area of aggregation and netting – giving the ability to pull together assets and liabilities across lines of business. Previously, solutions would be created that focus on specific product lines, so that customers would receive multiple statements or reports from different parts of the organization. The growing prevalence of Web services capability now allows interfaces to be built for both new and legacy projects. This is leading to the creation of applications and databases that provide a platform built for rapid cross business aggregation. This will enable retail banks to provide customers with a consolidated view of all their dealings with the organization, spanning multiple product lines. Similarly in the wholesale finance industry, there is the potential for new applications that can look across instruments and spot arbitrage or new derivative opportunities.