In-Depth

Accelior Consulting/ING Lease

I. Project and Personal Information

Company and division name

Accelior Consulting Customer: ING Lease (Financial Services)

Web site URL: www.accelior.com

Project designation

Web Enabled Leasing (WEL)

Brief explanation of the goals of the project

To compete in the increasingly competitive lease management market, ING Lease needed to increase the volume of orders with flat headcount. Hence, the project’s goal was to automate ING Lease Belgium’s core order management process ("quote to contract") and enable additional distribution channels. Customer satisfaction across multiple acquired businesses (each with fragmented, heterogeneous IT systems and known process bottlenecks) was another important goal. ING Lease required a 360 degree customer view across different leasing types, e.g. leasing of IT assets, equipment, cars etc.

Brief description of the business risks involved

Without automating, ING Lease Belgium was running the risk of loosing business to competitors due to cumbersome order management process. Simply put, there wasn’t a way around automation. A traditional development approach ("big bang" IT replacement), replacing the mission-critical order management process was very risk, potentially causing general business interruption. Consequently, Accelior recommended and implemented an "adaptive, agile" approach, focusing on reusing the existing infrastructure in an optimal and flexible way.


This graphic shows how the Accelior "Lease Automation Platform" project reduced the risk of a "big bang" IT replacement by reusing existing backend services re-used by top-down defined business processes. The created, stable business services layer in the middle will further allow ING Lease to modernize back-end systems at a future point in time.

Brief description of how the system helps users

The system implements a unified front-end user interface and process layer orchestrating access to 18 backend legacy systems (mainframe, client server etc.). The benefits for the business are significant: (a) Re-keying of information, previously common across point systems, is eliminated (b) Order entry errors can be eliminated through automation (c) Spreadsheets filling gaps between existing backend systems are eliminated.


In addition, the system implements "best practice" business process using a standard-based BPEL process engine. Beyond IT standards, this technology empowers the business users, which can more easily understand the graphic process design. The result is processes that are easier to prototype and, based on improved IT/business user communication, more easily to modify. Business users certainly benefit greatly from this more flexible, agile IT system.


II. Organizational Objectives

What short-term and long-term benefits did the organization achieve from the project? Did the solution meet the projected goals for saving time and money? How were benefits measured? Was the system mission critical to the organization?

As to short-term benefits, the project was able to reduce cycle times for the "quote to contract" process from several days (interrupted) to a couple of minutes. Specifically, times to perform certain process steps, e.g. "customer identification" were reduced by 2-3 fold. In addition to this process optimization which directly affects the bottom line, the project resulted in two entirely new sales channels: (a) It electronically integrated 2 third party partners (Porsche Lease and Sun Microfinance) and allows them, via self-service, to directly enter orders through a web application. (b) Moreover, the project enabled the complete ING retail sales force, beyond specialized lease agents, to use the system online. The result is additional revenue, affecting ING Lease’s top line.


However, the long-term benefits are even larger: This project demonstrated the value of SOA and "Agile Development" to ING Lease and will have a significant impact on how IT projects are conducted at ING Lease in the future. The project successfully proved how core business process could be re-engineered without the risk of a "big bang" system replacement. It showed how existing IT backend assets could be leveraged. Furthermore, it created additional capabilities to include third party distribution channels and backend services (scoring, e-billing etc.) in the future. This capability will further accelerate business agility!


The most significant metric for success of this project really was time to market. Previously, no single such IT project at ING Lease had been completed in less than a 2 year time period. The "Lease Automation" project delivered on process time reduction, agent and customer satisfaction within 6 months. This was truly a breakthrough accomplishment.


Why was this accomplishment so "mission-critical" to ING Lease. Simply put, ING Lease didn’t have the time to wait for 2 years for the IT project to be delivered. The lease management market is extremely competitive and ING Lease needed to decrease the cost of operations as quickly as possible or risk being un-competitive and loosing business NOW. On the other hand, a new backend system was planned within 2-3 years. The system’s front-end had to be "future proof" or risk becoming irrelevant in a short time-frame.

Describe the features of the new system.

The new system implemented ING Lease Belgium’s core "Quote to contract" business process for multiple leasing offerings (IT asset leasing, equipment leasing, car leasing etc.), including multiple process steps/services. This includes sub-processes such as Credit scoring, Customer data verification, Notifications and Document character recognition. Future process extensions will include e-billing, post contracting (early termination etc.) and amortization.


In terms of specific accomplishments, the system created a business-critical 360 degree view of a customer leasing commitment across many customer data repositories (different leasing types, international aspects of a customer etc.). It currently handles 200,000 process instances per year within Belgium, which will rapidly increase when the process is rolled-out throughout Europe as recently decided by ING Lease. From an architectural perspective, the system enabled the integration of 18 different systems for 10 functional integration slots.

Explain the functions of the new system.

The new Leasing Automation Platform is used by leasing sales reps to sell leasing offerings. Previously, leasing offers required heavy manual intervention from sales reps, re-keying in multiple systems and using Excel sheets to make calculations. Beyond significant internal process optimization, the new system now also integrates additional ING-internal trading partners: ING Bank Network and opens up third-party vendor integration driving additional revenue through enabling new self-service e-Business channels (straight-through processing).

Who were the internal sponsors of the project? Which officials or groups were opposed to developing the application? Why?

The CIO of ING Lease Belgium was the main sponsor of the project after being showed a "composite application" prototype created in 2 man weeks. He became the project’s sponsor, as he understood the power of this incremental approach to developing the business process implementations with a rapid turn-around. In a nutshell, he was appealed by an approach that would reduce project risk and help him gain control through iterative feedback. He was very surprised by this rapid progress, which was in stark contrast to his experience base from past projects.


On the other hand, the aging IT department was opposed to this "agile programming" project, as they were unfamiliar to this new development approach. This radically different approach certainly meant change from the way things were done at ING Lease.


One further point of caution was the serious failure with a "Financial Services Architecture Bus" project at ING, which tried to build a Service Oriented Architecture by exposing existing backend system functionality via web services. The reason for the project’s failure was its bottom-up approach, simply exposing existing interfaces as web services without a hard "top down" look at business processes. While Accelior’s approach truly remedied this initial failure, ING IT and business staff initially had trouble grasping the fundamental difference of approaches.

Were users of the system involved in the project during the planning and development phases? If so, how?

Absolutely, following the "Agile Development" or "Extreme Programming (XP)" methodology, the project made a conscious effort to involve as many users from all levels as possible in order to avoid IT/user disconnect.


User involvement was central in capturing business process flow requirements in a top-down approach, prototype, and iteratively verify and extend them. In total, more than 50 users were interviewed in the process. In the beginning, processes were documented in Visio; later, feedback conversations were directly implemented as prototype flows. Importantly, the Accelior architects were instrumental in reconciling the visionary, big picture view of the CIO with the perspective of operational middle managers as well as the daily hands-on experience of end users (sales personnel).

What were the greatest challenges in completing this project? How were they overcome?

Key challenges included that fact that users and IT personnel were unfamiliar with the rapid, iterative "agile development" process and sometimes disoriented as to how their role and contributions changed. Furthermore, the lack of tools for agile development, e.g. an integrated repository to link the iterative analysis, prototyping and development steps efficiently ("integrated repository for the agile methodology"), created challenges. Both challenges are indicators that "agile development" is not yet mainstream, but a very leading-edge, innovative way of developing software.


The project was successful to a large extent because of its tight core team of 4-5 team members skilled in the techniques of open source development with limited tools. They brought "agile development" expertise to the project. Also, the project leveraged Accelior’s SOA factory, an infrastructure framework (common services as well as XML Database) based on experience from prior projects. The SOA factory created a stable core for the very agile and iterative development process.


As to specific best practices, the project avoided large group brainstorming sessions in favor for many 1:1 interviews put in context by the core project team. This approach proved successful, as larger group brainstorming can easily end up as a big mess due to the many different perspectives and the lack of a big picture view of frontline end users and stakeholders. Also, on a positive note, the graphical process modeling capabilities of Oracle BPEL Business Process Manager greatly improved the communication flow across different parties.

Were the goals changed as the project progressed? If so, what were the changes and why were they made?

Adhering to the "Agile Development" philosophy, the project was defined on a tight 6 month schedule and managed against fixed major milestones. While analysis, prototyping and development activities during the milestone phases were heavily modified, the major milestones remained fix.


Some requirements drift was successfully avoided based on the decision to focus on automating the 80% most common processes while keeping the 20% most exotic processes semi-manual (e.g. enhanced with document-handling services rather than fully automated). The only major functionality added to the base requirement of automating the in-house order management steps, was enabling of electronically integrating partner channels. This however, was relatively simple as the SOA was fully leveraged.


III. Category

Middleware/Application Integration

Also emphasizes the use of middleware to link multiple packaged and/or packaged and internally developed applications, and multi-vendor DBMS systems to allow seamless integration between dissimilar systems.


IV. Methodology/Process

Describe how productivity tools or techniques were used in the project.

Various productivity tools were used to facilitate the analysis, prototyping and development steps. "Mind map" helped during early requirements analysis stages, while Visio was used to model and document the process. Here is an example of the process documented in Visio:


For the purpose of prototyping, Accelior relied on a combination of BPEL process flows modeled with Oracle BPEL Process Manager in combination with its own proprietary WPM (Work Process Manager) toolkit, which provides common infrastructure services, an XML Database as well as a release management toolbox. Furthermore, the project relied on Eclipse and XMLSpy for development and JUnit and JMeter for testing.

Were testing tools used during development? If so, when were they used? Was the testing cost-effective?

In the "Agile Development" methodology, continuous testing plays an important role. Apache’s JUnit and JMeter were used heavily for ongoing unit testing as well as load testing later in the process.


Was a formal or informal software development life-cycle methodology employed? If yes, please describe it.

Accelior, the system integrator for this project, followed the "Agile Programming" or "Extreme Programming – XP" methodology of iterative analysis, prototyping and development steps based on 50+ user interviews. The following graphic depicts the difference of this approach relative to the traditional software development approach. Many small iterations reduce the overall project risk by providing the opportunity for early and ongoing feedback.


Equally important, the project was guided by a "top down" approach to first defining the "ideal" business process before mapping process steps/ "services" to existing backend IT functionality. This methodology avoided IT/business user disconnect. It also avoided a similar failure of a purely "bottom up" web services project, as was earlier experienced by ING. Instead of a large collection of potentially useless services, this project yielded exactly the right services as required to implement the business vision.

What formal or informal project management methodologies and/or tools were used to manage the project? If used, please describe how.

Within the guidelines of the "Agile Programming" methodology, the project was managed against fix major milestones during a 6 month project timeframe. Between major milestones, independent analysis/ prototype followed by development cycles drove the progress.


The key "tool" for the requirement analysis were 1:1 user interviews interpreted within the context of the CIO’s "bigger picture" vision by the skilled, small 4-5 people architect team. Accelior’s WPN toolkit (common services, XML Database, release management toolbox) as well as the graphical Oracle BPEL Process Manager facilitated the prototyping and development process

Were software quality metrics used? If so, what were they, and did using them significantly help the project?

SW quality metrics were mainly driven by user acceptance, meaning the agreement to or rejection of iterative prototypes built based on user interviews. The project was unit tested in small portions according to the project iterations with JUnit used as the main unit testing tool to ensure SW quality. To fulfill performance requirements, Accelior tested using JMeter load testing tools


V. Technology

What were the major technical challenges that had to be overcome to complete the project successfully? How did the team respond to those challenges?

The major challenges of this project were non-technical. They were mostly related to the unfamiliarity of the extended team with the agile development approach of gathering process requirements, which created confusion. In order to minimize such challenges in the future, the team is currently publishing a "cookbook style" booklet for educating end users and members of the extended team about the "agile development" concepts and methodology.


Technical challenges related to efficiently facilitating the prototyping process arose on prior projects. Learnings from these experiences are already implemented in Accelior’s WPM (Work Process Manager) toolbox, which contains tools to facilitate the migration from mock-ups to the actual deployment, including existing infrastructure services and an XML database infrastructure etc. Hence, Accelior complemented the "agile development" methodology with a high level SOA architecture. This toolbox very well supplements agile programming through a shared overall architecture.


Minor challenges arose exposing mainframe backend system functionality as web services. These challenge were addressed by involving mainframe experts as part of the team when needed.

What software tools, including databases, operating systems and all development tools, were selected for the project? Why were they selected over competing tools? What process was used to select development tools and software platforms?

To implement the project, Accelior chose the Oracle SOA Suite and implemented it in a highly available fashion. Products used include:

  • Oracle BPEL Process Manager
  • Oracle Fusion Middleware Application Server (clustered) used to host web services
  • Oracle RAC clustered database
  • Oracle Grid Control
  • Oracle XML database

Accelior chose the Oracle SOA technology suite, because it offers a comprehensive technology solution for BPM/ SOA that fits Accelior’s needs for a standards-based BPEL process engine and an XML database needed for Accelior’s WPM SOA accelerator framework. At the same time, Oracle’s Grid technology is a great, scalable enterprise infrastructure for SOA. Overall, Accelior found the Oracle SOA Suite easier to use, highly available and more cost-effective compared to other solutions on the market both from suite vendors as well as BPM vendors.

Describe the overall system architecture. Were elements of the technical infrastructure put in place to support the new system? Please describe.

The overall architecture leverages the existing backend systems (18 integration points from AS400 mainframe to client server apps), on top of which a web services layer is implemented leveraging Oracle J2EE Application Server. The mid-office layer comprises the BPEL process deployment running on top of Oracle J2EE Application Server and an Oracle RAC-based XML Database. This layer, as well as the web services layer, is managed by Oracle Grid Control. For Identity Management, Oracle Single Sign-On module integrates with ING’s IBM Tivoli Access Manager infrastructure.


An important part of the mid-office layer is Accelior’s WPM (Work Process Manager) framework, which provides core common services in an SOA infrastructure. As to the user interface, it is either implemented by a web application for ING sales reps or extends to partners (electronic sales channels).

What characteristics of the tools and technologies used were most important in achieving the business purposes of the system?

The industry standards-based Oracle BPEL Process Manager is a natural fit to prototype and implement business processes from a business analyst perspective in a graphical fashion. It bridges the gap between the requirements model and the actual implementation. At the same time, BPEL interfaces effectively with web services, which expose legacy backend functionality.


A second core tool that ensured the project’s success is Accelior’s WPM (Work Process Manager) SOA factory, which provides the rapid enabler foundation to successfully implement SOA/ BPM. Leveraging the Oracle XML Database, WPM is an SOA framework that draws from the experience of multiple successful prior SOA projects.


VI. Project Team

What was the size of the development team?

The core development team included on average 4-5 full time architects. From time to time, specialists (such as an AS400 mainframe expert) were added to the core team to address specific areas of expertise, such as mainframe connectivity.

Describe the software development experience of the team members.

All software architects involved were skilled in agile programming. Most importantly, team members drew from experience being part distributed, open-source development efforts – a key success factor to make agile programming work!

What was the composition and skill level of the team? Did development teams require training to work with the technology?

Development team members came with the pre-existing experience to practice agile development Core team members were familiar with Accelior’s WPM "rapid enabler" framework from previous projects. Individual team members are AS 400 mainframe experts (for web services connectivity)

How many person-months/days did the project take, and over what calendar time frame? Was a formal schedule created at the start of the project? Did the project stay on schedule?

The project of implementing the quote to contract process took 6 months, April 2005 - September 2005. Formal major macro milestones were established at the beginning of the project and the project staid on milestone. In fact, based on previous project delays and traditional project time frames(never under 2 years), ING Lease Belgium’s CIO was very positively surprised that the 6 month project plan was met as promised. Between major milestones, the project plan was continuously adapted to new findings during iterations.

Did management and the user community consider the project a success?

The ING Lease CIO, considers this project a great success, as it will enable ING Lease Belgium to meet important business goals and stay competitive in a tough market in a record time development timeframe (6 months whereas any other IT project was never accomplished below 2 years). Users can now handle 80% of leasing contracts (except the most exotic ones) in minutes instead of multiple hours spanning several days. No user needs to re-key data in multiple systems and use spreadsheets on the side, which was previously a common practice.


As an overwhelming vote of confidence for the success of the project, ING Lease decided to roll out this project across all countries in Europe and, at the same time, start a similar BPM/SOA project together with Accelior for ING Bank. ING wants to replicate the success of this project.


End user feedback is equally positive. While every new IT project means change for users, users feel ownership of the new system as they have been involved in the development process through interviews and prototype iterations. The development effort took great strides to develop a very user-friendly front end to the system, which won the good will of the user community.

If you had to do the project over again, would you do anything differently? If yes, please explain why.

Many lessons learned developing SOA/BPM systems were identified by Accelior during earlier SOA projects and turned into the WPM (Work Process Manager) SOA factory. Hence, this project started with an existing foundation based on prior experience implementing success factors and avoiding mistakes.


This said, agile programming is still a leading-edge, innovative approach in need of further improvement. Many of those areas of improvement are non-technical. In terms of involving a large number of end users and business-users in this agile programming project, our feeling is that a "cookbook" style training document could have helped better prepare users. Many users were surprised and initially confused by this fundamentally different methodology compared to traditional development approaches.


Also, our experience was that individual user interviews were more effective than group brainstorming events. A group meeting tried during the process to reduce the time of individual interviews turned out to be less effective than expected based on different user perspectives, diverse "big picture" business understanding etc. The group was far harder to focus on identifying the best business process than individual input put in context by the core architecture team.

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