DNAfs good building block for banking industry

Microsoft’s Distributed interNet Applications architecture for Financial Services (DNAfs) may not revolutionize the infrastructures of large financial institutions, but it is likely to provide a helpful framework for those with smaller IT shops, said Steve Gesner.

Windows DNAfs is an industry framework that allows financial service software applications to “talk” to each other and exchange data with legacy mainframe systems. It utilizes Microsoft BackOffice products, including Microsoft Transaction Server, built into Windows NT Server.

According to Gesner, the vice-president of interactive services for Toronto-Dominion Bank in Toronto, “When you get a bunch of developers together, before the companies came out with these frameworks, a lot of them sort of stumble on to those ideas anyway because…putting together middleware layers with their components is not rocket science.

“I think the DNA structure has just helped decodify that for other companies (who) perhaps, unlike TD, don’t have access to a fairly well-trained, diverse team of developers. So it allows someone who’s running a smaller shop to go, ‘Ahh, here’s how all of the pieces fit together.'”

Robert Landry, group director for retail, banking and consumer credit at The Tower Group in Needham, Mass., said Microsoft’s DNAfs will have an impact across the industry, but agrees it will probably be used in different ways by different institutions.

“Smaller institutions may use it in its entirety. Larger institutions would use it as a beginning point that has more complexity and it (would) essentially allow them to build a best-of-breed solution from different vendors which they could then customize,” Landry said.

Not a new idea — DNAfs was announced by Bill Gates in December 1997 during a keynote at the Bank Administration Institute’s Retail Delivery Conference — Gesner said “a lot of what Microsoft is calling DNA now has been around, they’re just repackaging it.”

According to Landry, “there have been frameworks of standards set up for relatively limited components of the overall architecture,” but DNAfs represents a larger effort.

However, the problem is that “it’s still not complete,” he said. “The devil is in the details and what’s yet to be found out is whether vendors will, in fact, be able to agree, and whether there will end up being a common, useful framework that comes out of this.”

The new framework, he said, includes more detail than previous offerings, but there is a downside. “Once you start [using] that then vendors are giving up, in a sense…their way to differentiate themselves.”

TD’s Gesner said his bank developed a framework in October 1996 with the launch of the TD Access PC service, an initiative which used Microsoft components.

“This is a Windows-based customer client piece of software that talks in turn to an NT-based complex of transaction servers, database servers, security servers, SNA servers, the whole nine yards,” he said. “So in many ways we were sort of on the cutting edge of the DNA movement by building a middleware layer out of our legacy systems to talk to NT using a variety of Microsoft components.”

Gesner said TD also used a Microsoft-based middleware layer when deploying TD’s Web banking service.

“When we built both of those services, DNA was not a formalized framework. Now that DNA has been positioned as a formalized framework, you could look at what we’ve done and go, ‘Hey, that’s DNAfs.'”

According to John Grispon, worldwide banking industry manager of Microsoft’s Application Developer Customer Unit, DNAfs is designed to help share information between channels and eliminate “the fragmented view of the relationship with the customer” that can result when channels aren’t integrated.

Gesner explained: “In our situation, a lot of the sharing of information happens back in the legacy system…(but) you clearly could take this type of framework and go in and selectively pick off chunks of customer information, consolidate it and present it.”

By providing a framework, or what he calls a resource kit, Grispon said DNAfs allows financial institutions to offer faster response to customers and “to use, not lose” their investments in existing technology.

Gesner agreed. “We’ve essentially been able to leverage all our mainframe-based development and deploy that out through our implementation of Microsoft’s middleware to our customers and that’s incredibly powerful when you can leave your legacy systems essentially undisturbed, but at the same time extend all that power, all that information, directly on to the desktops of your customers.”

In addition, he said, building on top of high-powered Intel-based machines is very cost-effective. “Frameworks are good because they give you a road map,” he explained. That said, however, “none of this stuff is easy, even if it’s all written up for you in a manual or up on a Web page, but it does help guide your development.”