SOA meets hefty regulations

One of the promises of services-oriented architecture (SOA) is enabling companies to leverage existing legacy systems as a set of reusable building blocks that can be assembled to create new processes and applications quickly. That’s just what Transamerica Life Insurance was looking for when it sought to provide its business partners with self-service access in real time, working as it is in an environment complicated by government regulations.

“We exchange a lot of data with our different distributors outside the firewall,” says Jeff Gleason, an IT director at Transamerica. “A lot of that was being done via flat-file batch data exchanges.”

Gleason realized that to stay competitive, Transamerica had to provide business partners real-time access to its legacy back-end systems. That’s a complex undertaking, however.

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“We live in a very challenging legislative environment, with Sarbanes-Oxley, the Patriot Act, anti-laundering laws, tax laws, and other types of controls,” Gleason says. “As legislation and the competitive environment change, we need to be able to make changes to our internal systems quickly, including changing rules, the ways taxes are calculated, or the way a product functions given specific criteria….These things often impact our internal business processes.”

To provide real-time access, Transamerica also needed ways to validate agents as licensed and appointed to sell specific products in specific states. “Validating an agent is not as simple as looking something up in a system,” Gleason says. “Depending on the commission structure there might be many different rules about…the commission hierarchy.”

Web services and SOA were natural choices for Transamerica. “We needed a solution that was both tightly integrated and loosely coupled,” Gleason said. A lot of business logic exists within Transamerica’s current back-office legacy systems. “Instead of continually recreating that logic, it made sense to create a set of core services to expose that logic so that it could be accessed by different applications, processes, and channels, whether they were batch processes, real-time processes over the Web, internal fat-client applications, or even IVR [Interactive Voice Response] systems.”

SeeBeyond’s Integration Composite Application Network (ICAN) provides the tools for exposing as Web services the back-end mainframe transactions that provided much of Transamerica’s existing functionality. One such tool, eGate Integrator, is used to provide the message transformation from one data format to another. Other SeeBeyond tools leverage BPM capabilities to create the “agent hub” that handles the complex message routing required. So, for example, in response to a request from a user application, one of Transamerica’s three or four legacy policy administration systems might return a cryptic product descriptor. That product descriptor could then be passed to a separate distributor support system that would return a more user-friendly product name. That or another distributor support system might also handle commissions and manage the information on which agents are appointed in which states to which products.

Gleason advises those getting involved with SOA to do as much planning and preparation as possible. “If we had it to do over again, we’d spend a lot more time up front prototyping, testing, and setting up the architecture and standards. After all, you’re creating one object and one service that will be used by lots of different processes. You have to make sure you don’t make changes to the service that help one project but break others,” he says.

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