John Stepper Teaches Deutsche Bank to Sprecken Ze SOA

Deutsche Bank Managing IT Director John Stepper explains how he is building service-oriented architecture into the engine... with the car running.

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What we didn't want to do is just turn all the activity onto SOA and create spaghetti; to let 1,000 flowers bloom into something that, in the end, doesn't really add up to much. What the governance structures did was to build on the work we did on the infrastructure side, and advance it when it comes to things like naming standards. All of the engineering decisions that have to be made—which can make all the difference in how these things are used and operate. To extend that to communications, we had the same governance structure set up. We rolled these programs out to touch the development community in small groups. We made sure they were aware of what was going on, that we listened to the problems that were affecting them, and that we would determine what would make a difference for them.

That helped us distill some basic information assets—some basic information services, if you will—that would be relevant to hundreds and hundreds of applications. For example, things around investment data, end-of-day market data, single sign-on, core application libraries that every application would use, entitlements, and the like. And through this, again, instead of having 5,000 services, each with one consumer, we instantiated the service catalog with a smaller number—one the order of tens—that would be relevant to hundreds of applications. Then we again went to a communications program, to get people in tune with those, in touch with how to use them, and educated on how to get the most out of them. The early awareness training has been the easiest to get out there and make common.

On the infrastructure and communications, training is actually harder, because it's all sorts of skill sets there. And the detailed engineering training is probably the hardest. That's something we're working with third parties to shape, and we'll be rolling that out in the second half of this year.

CIO: Are you able to say what third parties you're working with?

Stepper: We started with the vendors we have, meaning IBM. But we found that the canned training only goes so far. We're trying to strike a balance between 'what are the service-oriented architecture skill sets we need' with 'How can we apply [these skills] at Deutsche Bank?' That means taking things like instrument data examples, application library examples, our particular implementation of enterprise service bus, etc., and make them as real as possible, so that when people need the training, they can actually do something as opposed to just going to the more generic vendor offering. It's been tough to strike that balance, but we're certainly working on it.

CIO: You have, again, over 100 projects in play, and a couple of those are flagship products for the bank. So clearly you're building. What decisions have you made in terms of languages, interoperability, standards? For argument's sake, as I speak to organizations that are doing SOA, some have chosen to use SOAP, some are going with REST, some aren't using either. Some are using their own custom XML payloads. What's your approach to how these applications actually touch each other? How are they talking?

Stepper: For the most part, we've gone the SOAP route, but I'd say we're not nearly done identifying and promoting specific standards. The governance body that I mentioned was formed in the first quarter? There are two of them. One is a SOA standards board, and that's exactly the kinds of things that they're incrementally defining, rolling out, and promoting in terms of standards. The 100 projects I mentioned are the projects that, over the course of the next 12-plus months, we expect to onboard to our SOA infrastructure. And based on the 20 or so that we have live right now, we're able to get real-world examples, extract what we think are meaningful standards, and then promote them in time for the remainder of the next 12 months.

So the answer to your question is, it's a work in progress. We have the people in place, and we think the timing is right, to do it in an academic way, but in a way that is relevant to the live applications that are coming onboard over the next 12 months.

CIO: What are some insights you've gained that you didn't anticipate, now that those first 20 applications are actually live? Any surprises? Any challenges? Any brick walls that you ran into?

Stepper: As much as I said we think we did a great job trying to get the infrastructure to production grade early on in the overall SOA timeline, in retrospect, I would have done that even earlier. I would have formed those governance structures even earlier, too, because I think we—and I think this is probably true in most organizations—I think we underestimated how large a transformation this could be; that is, going from vertically-aligned IT operations environment to something that's trying to make much greater use of shared assets.

It's not just about teaching developers how to use Web services. It's changing how the funding is done for shared services. It's putting governance structures in place. It's defining engineering and process standards. It's creating new roles where you have actual process analysts; roles that just don't exist today. I'm glad we have things that are live, because nothing beats having real projects out there that you've learned from as an organization. But I'd still look to put more weight, more resources, behind the early engineering of the infrastructure, and between the early decisions around process and engineering standards. I would do that a lot earlier than I did.

CIO: About how much earlier if you had it all to do over again?

Stepper: I would have spent, instead of the first half of this year, I would have done that at least six months earlier.

CIO: How large is the pool of enterprise application developers working on these projects now?

Stepper: That's an excellent question. So, across Deutsche Bank we have thousands of people just for the investment bank, and if you add in all of the key personnel at DB, it should certainly eclipse 10,000 people.

They're not all working on SOA projects per se, but the way we use SOA and why it's a big deal for us is, it's not a narrow definition. It's purposefully a broad definition of what a service is, what a reusable asset is, and by all means we use the traditional SOA tools and infrastructure to connect things. But as we talk about it across DB, it's much more about how to do things once and do them right, and not limit that to a narrow technical interpretation.

CIO: So this is well beyond the application developers. This is the fundamental go-forward philosophy of how your IT organization is going to align with the business.

Stepper: That's right, so when becoming a service-oriented enterprise is something that should be embraced by IT and operations and, really, beyond that. It's one effort. It's not the IT guys doing their thing to the side.

CIO: Can you give us a sense of your IT environment? I realize this is a very large organization and there's tens of thousands of technologies and products in play. But what are you building in? What languages are you preferring? We've talked about TIBCO and IBM. Throw a couple of names around for me, give us a sense of where the major stakes in the ground are from a vendor/product perspective.

Stepper: You're right; it's difficult to answer the question for the bank. I'm tightly-coupled to the investment bank, so my answer is going to be very different from somebody who sits in Germany where a lot of our transaction processing is done on the mainframe. Having said that, we've had a lot of success with equipment from Sun. They're certainly a major partner of ours. A lot of the development is Java, particularly in the investment bank. Oracle is certainly is a huge partner of ours.

CIO: I appreciate all the time you've spent with us today.

Stepper: It's been a pleasure.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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