IT Management

The POC used realistic business functions with each of three vendors working in a one-week window. This was done to avoid what Schneck calls the “Wizard of Oz” solution, which is where a vendor visits and creates services without bank staffers knowing what was involved. For the POC, SunTrust personnel actually used the products to complete the tasks, evaluating aspects such as ease of installation and use, vendor support, reusability, training requirements, ability to create composite applications, and achieving a purely mainframe option. The POC demonstrated that the GT Ivory product best satisfied the requirements. When more projects required SOA using CICS, SunTrust purchased Ivory and began modernizing the mainframe. 

The initial POC involved two or three programmers who effectively used the product with no formal training. Since that time, two architects have trained more than 50 other developers via an internal one-day class.  GT Ivory’s visual development environment allowed SunTrust to implement a pure mainframe solution, avoiding added complexity or points of failure. It also provides flexibility to run on other platforms if desired, and supports front-end programming in languages such as Visual Basic, .NET, Java, etc. An added plus was two-phase commit database support.  

The first project to use this technology was mobile banking, which enabled customers to access accounts via cell phone and perform many functions traditionally through Voice Response Unit (VRU) or Internet banking. This was efficiently implemented by creating 35 Web services without writing any COBOL code. These services operate at a very granular level to enhance reuse, facilitating the creation of composite services for customer functions such as balance transfers and account information. 

The project started on Aug. 1, 2007, and proceeded through several stages of testing and acceptance: development, Integrated Testing/Client Acceptance (ITCA), Production Readiness/Dress Rehearsal (PRDR), and production. ITCA and PRDR require multiple iterations and PRDR includes several performance tests. On Oct. 1, 2007, 60 days later, the application entered pilot production. Since that time no problem tickets have been generated. 

Subsequently, the bank implemented—over a weekend— a sales application feature allowing U.S. citizen clients or prospects to open accounts online for consumer checking, savings, and/or money market services, with immediate access to online banking. Primary processing is done on the mainframe using CICS and GT Ivory-created Web services. This application required 48 Web services, plus two COBOL programs for DB2 access. 

These projects were justified on an ROI basis with business unit assistance. The Web services enablement tool increased ROI and enabled the removal of an antiquated vendor product. 

Not surprisingly, customer authentication and identity verification are critical for both financial protection and government regulations. Since customers must be registered for Internet banking before signing up for mobile banking, the two access methods use the same sign-on criteria. 

Challenge questions provided by Equifax confirm client identity; the bank also allows customers to use eSignature verification for agreement and/or saving electronic versions of required account disclosures. 

WebSphere MQ is used on the mainframe with the “hub” being on AIX. But Schneck feels this “increases the chances of outages, errors, and issues due to the addition of extra hops to and from AIX, as well as imposing additional costs for separate systems, support, and licenses.” He doesn’t believe AIX accomplishes anything that couldn’t be processed on z/OS and feels mainframe hubbing would reduce overall costs. 

Keeping track of SOA Web services requires expanded project management and software inventory tools. The bank uses an existing change management environment for SOA components and an inplace mechanism for publishing services. Governance is an ongoing process. 

Schneck notes that SOA is really nothing new to the mainframe, since they’ve used “services” for many years. The ability to publish Web services for use by front-end processes allows the mainframe to be used as a large server. “GT Ivory lets us efficiently and rapidly create Web service interfaces to our existing CICS business functions,” he says, “saving 75 percent of mobile banking project development time by using it vs. COBOL application coding.” 

Tom Sedlack, SunTrust’s solutions architect, adds that SOA governance is an extension of IT governance. “In addition to that,” he says, “we plan to implement WebSphere Service Registry and Repository (WSRR) and IBM Tivoli Composite Application Manager (ITCAM) for SOA to help in managing services from both the design and run-time perspectives.” 

For several years, Schneck, with his manager’s blessing, has touted benefits of Linux on System z and potential savings from server consolidation in areas such as electricity, cooling, and floor space. Linux on System z implementation is planned in the next few months, running DB2 Connect and possibly Oracle databases and WebSphere Process Server, among other applications. 

During Schneck’s time at SunTrust, there has been occasional talk about “migrating off the mainframe,” perhaps to distributed AIX or Windows; he has refuted this by demonstrating that the true cost and support of a distributed architecture doesn’t match mainframe attributes. He sees migration as infeasible, “considering the workload, availability, scalability, reliability, disaster recovery, and other requirements placed on the IT organization.” In fact, some of these application migration attempts have failed. 
He calls CICS “The world class” transaction processor and the backbone of SunTrust’s environment. “IBM Hursley does a great job of listening to their user base, and changes they make are what keep CICS number one in the transaction processing arena,” Schneck says. 

And he notes that an overall “green effect” (not to be confused with “green screen”!) lets companies save on all environmentals by consolidating workloads on a mainframe, as well as reduce software license costs. Being convincing, he feels, stems from “persistence and a belief in what is right for the company,” and the fact the mainframe is so deeply ingrained in the corporation and so successfully supports both legacy and innovative applications. 

Countering industry rumors of mainframe skills shortages, SunTrust’s technical support department finds the qualified workers it needs. And Schneck sees success in the movement within IBM and the SHARE user group organization to get younger people excited about the mainframe. 

From many SunTrust perspectives, the mainframe remains a vital platform for hosting innovative banking products and will continue to be modernized with SOA enhancing CICS. Customer service and IT-enabled innovative products such as mobile banking and the sales application center feature help make SunTrust an industry leader.

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