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Building Applications

ABN AMRO expands its presence in the United States through several acquisitions and e-commerce initiatives.

ABN AMRO, a Netherlands-based financial services company with $540 billion in assets, has been expanding its presence in the United States through several acquisitions and e-commerce initiatives. Faced with formidable technology hurdles in bringing together disparate systems, the bank chose to build its own application integration solution, dubbed Web Objects for Legacy Functions, or WOLF.

Now, the bank is reaping the benefits of its internal effort by having the capability to develop innovative solutions without having to gut existing systems.

Louis Rosenthal, executive vice president at ABN AMRO and a member of the bank's global IT Executive Council, is responsible for the development and support of all IT applications used by commercial, retail, mortgage, and e-commerce business units in North America. He started his career in banking 24 years ago with the Bank of New York, and since 1999 has managed the application development group at ABN AMRO.

Rosenthal spoke about the efforts of the group with BS&T senior associate editor Ivan Schneider.

BS&T: Describe the IT organization.

ROSENTHAL: The IT services group comes from our history of acquisitions that we've made in North America over the past seven to eight years. We're consolidating into one organization. The ABN AMRO Services Company is not just IT but it's the core bank operating and processing functions as well. We've consolidated our IT assets and a lot of our processing centers to become a much more efficient organization.

BS&T: Do you work with organizations outside ABN AMRO?

ROSENTHAL: We do white-label some of our products and capabilities to others. We are providing services to a number of financial institutions. We actually do some of their processing and work, and we have white-labeled some of our technology to some pretty significant banks in the U.S.

BS&T: How does the WOLF system fit in?

ROSENTHAL: It really started as a way to quickly deploy Web applications off of our legacy environment. The president of the services company wanted to be able to deploy Web applications in six to eight weeks, beginning to end, soup to nuts, no ifs, ands or buts. That got us to focus on the legacy platform that drives the Web applications, and that was the birth of WOLF.

We've now deployed WOLF throughout the organization. We've probably got a dozen high-volume production environments where the WOLF adaptor set is deployed. It really makes it much easier to think about extending those applications and the data that resides in it to other channels. It allows us to deliver services that we never thought we'd be able to deliver without great expense.

As our business strategists think about new ways to sell our products and new channels to sell them through, WOLF will give us a shorter time to market.

BS&T: What are some examples of how you're using the system?

ROSENTHAL: Go to mortgage.com and you can get almost as far as the commitment point and you can see some of the things that we do. You can't do those things unless you have strong IT support, things like our one-fee mortgage. Instead of giving out a long list of what we think our estimates will be, we commit to one fee on closing costs. We guarantee it. To do that without losing your shirt you need to work in real-time, to estimate what your costs will be.

We also have some very unique capabilities in corporate cash management. We're providing all kinds of capabilities, from receivables processing to payment processing, invoice processing and global money transfer capabilities. We are pushing origination and access to some of these products into our customers' offices, desktops and operations.

BS&T: What interactions do you have with the home office?

ROSENTHAL: We've got a number of interactions with my peers in Amsterdam. They've been here on a number of occasions to look at this and study the technologies. We're in the process of working on a way of deploying this as a reference application in the Netherlands. They are very similar in terms of their systems and environment-they're just as legacy as we are.

The neat thing about using WOLF is, from a technical knowledge standpoint, you don't have to learn the application intimately. You need to know the basics of UML Unified Modeling Language and you need to know the basics of the SOAP Simple Object Access Protocol architecture. Then, we can provide some very quick computer-based training to learn some of the proprietary stuff that we've written.

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