In an effort to keep pace with the times, SunTrust Banks wanted customers to be able to check balances and make transfers from their cell phones. But there was a hurdle: How could customers tap into the necessary legacy applications and data that sat on SunTrust's mainframes?
In September 2006, the bank, which operates 1,683 retail branches and 2,518 ATMs in mid-Atlantic and Southeastern U.S. states, began examining the problem. Glenn Schneck, SunTrust's assistant VP for mainframe services, said many banks now offer mobile banking, including Bank of America, the largest commercial bank in the country.
"You can do a lot of what you can do online," he said. "You can check savings and checking account balances, transfer between accounts. Say you're on vacation, and you want to do a transfer. You would be able to do that from your phone."Doing things an easier way with SOA
SunTrust could have done it the hard way: by writing a bunch of COBOL code to enable bank account data to communicate with Firethorn Holdings LLC, a mobile banking application that sits on customers' cell phones. Instead, SunTrust turned to service-oriented architecture (SOA) technology, sometimes referred to as Web services. Schneck said that approach cut development time by about 75%, getting a pilot project up and running in 60 days rather than the projected time frame of 240 days.
SunTrust's story is indicative of large mainframe shops, where SOA is on the upswing. A recent study by Share, a group for mainframe and other large system users, found that the larger the company, the more popular SOA becomes. The survey of 431 Share members indicated that for companies with 1,000 employees or fewer, less than 25% have adopted SOA or plan to. But for companies with 10,000 employees or more, that number jumped to nearly half.
As soon as SunTrust opted for Web services, it evaluated proof of concept from three companies: GT Software and its Ivory products, Seagull Software and its LegaSuite, and IBM and its CICS Service Flow Feature.
No doubt, GT Software had a leg up, as SunTrust had used its green-screen software BMS for years. But Schneck insisted that GT's proposal for a mobile banking application was the most impressive -- and by "most impressive," he meant quickest.
"We didn't want -- or allow -- vendors to come in here and give us a set of criteria," Schneck said, describing the proof-of-concept process. "We told them the criteria."
Under those parameters, a GT employee doing a demonstration for SunTrust was able to set up a basic Web service on the company's mainframe in 20 minutes, and that included a break. That was fast compared with other options, and convinced Schneck that GT could help SunTrust get a mobile banking application up as soon as possible.
Last August, SunTrust began application development with GT Software; and by Oct. 1 it had completed all the regression and performance testing and begun the pilot project. A month later, it was generally available. Schneck declined to say how much the software cost .
The GT Ivory software acts as a middleman and translator between a Web application such as Firethorn's and the multiple legacy banking applications that sit on the mainframe. Thus, when a SunTrust customer wants to check his balance or make a transfer, he launches Firethorn's application on his cell phone, which in turn passes the data request onto Ivory's software. Ivory accesses the CICS-based banking applications that sit on SunTrust's mainframe to acquire information or make changes. The process is then reversed to provide the customer with his answer or confirm a transaction.
"You just call the Web service," Schneck said. "The Ivory service executes all the CICS transactions in the background."
GT Software allows users to install its software either directly on the mainframe or on a separate x86 or Unix server. SunTrust decided to keep everything inside big iron. "I'm a mainframe guy from way back, and I don't like the extra points of failure," Schneck explained. If we can go directly on the mainframe, we do it."
SunTrust is also working with GT Software on improvements to Ivory's software. Schneck said, for example, he'd like to see another GT product called Ivory Data Access be rolled within the general Ivory Service Architect software. Data Access, formerly called tcAccess, allows SQL programmers to use SQL commands to access mainframe-based databases such as DB2 and IMS. Schneck said the company has been responsive.
"We have no reservations," he said. "We have not had one problem call since Oct. 1, either for performance or the product breaking."