Addressing more than 1,000 executives of the financial services industry at a Financial Markets Summit in New York today, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer announced that Travelers will use the Windows Distributed interNet Applications architecture for Financial Services (Windows DNAfs) to integrate its property and casualty computer systems for independent agents who sell its small-business insurance.
Windows DNAfs is a framework – designed to allow industry software applications to exchange information with each other and with mainframe systems – that is gaining wide support from industry software vendors and financial institutions.
The financial services industry is experiencing an unprecedented level of consolidation – last year alone 72 banks were acquired. Many financial institutions face significant dilemmas as they attempt to integrate computer systems because, as technology has evolved, the systems have often grown up independent of each other and are unable to share information. This sometimes leads to embarrassing and costly mistakes or inefficiencies. However, as the mergers continue and the depression-era legislation that kept banks, insurance companies, and brokerages separate becomes moot, financial institutions must find a way to integrate their systems – and do it without spending a lot of money.
The solution to this thorny problem took shape during several meetings at the executive briefing center (EBC) on Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus.
“Every financial institution that came to meet with us at the EBC said the same thing: ‘Make the pain of integrating our systems go away’,” said Bill Hartnett, Microsoft’s worldwide financial services industry manager.” And that was really the genesis of the Windows DNAfs architecture. We decided that we would help fix this – and 11 months later we’re seeing widespread adoption by some of those same financial institutions.”
Initially announced in December 1997 by Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates, the Windows Distributed interNet Applications architecture for Financial Services quickly gained steam, thanks to the formation of working groups made up of key software vendors in the banking, securities and insurance industries. Those groups defined exactly what technical processes should be used to allow industry applications to exchange information – with each other and with legacy systems like mainframes or AS/400s.
“The Windows DNAfs working groups have defined how applications will talk to each other and host systems – simplifying what was once a very tedious and time consuming process of rewriting code for each and every system update or application purchase,” said Peter Hazelhurst, vice president of research and emerging technologies at Phoenix International and a member of the banking working group.
Common plumbing on top of different and sometimes disparate computer systems will allow software companies to focus on delivering value rather than spending valuable time stitching together applications with those of other firms, or writing code specifically to make a new application talk to a legacy system.
During today’s event in New York’s financial district, Ballmer and Travelers CIO Diana Beecher announced that Travelers Property Casualty will adopt the framework. Several large financial institutions, including Crestar Bank and Sanford Bernstein, are also adopting the framework for their IT infrastructures. Even the oldest bank in the world, Italy’s Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) Bank, which was founded in 1472, is using the new framework.
“Basically, Windows DNAfs means that our independent agents don’t have to struggle with technical issues and incompatibilities,” Beecher said. “Instead they can spend their time and energy focusing on our business with the assurance that their applications will talk to each other and our mainframe.”
Initially, Windows DNAfs will help eliminate the workflow inefficiencies with which many agents are now faced, such as redundant entry of information. In an industry where information technology plays an important role, customers using Windows DNAfs are noticing the difference.
“We love it,” said Tripp Johnson, senior vice president at $22 billion Crestar Bank, based in Richmond, Va. “Windows DNAfs allows us to reduce everything we do on the network to a series of components that can essentially be manipulated any way we want to allow us access to almost any kind of information we want. That’s the way it should be, but not the way it was for a number of years.”