Case Study: Scotiabank Uses IBM’s MQ for Mortgage Requests You Can Fire and Forget

When real-time wasn't worth the cost, Scotiabank found using the fire-and-forget nature of MQ Workflow brought big savings.

Fire-and-forget applications are that rare half-breed between real time and batch processing, that need to work in a given timeframe, in a given order, be tracked and managed but where usually, the effort to make them real time wouldn’t be worth it.

Scotiabank decided that fire-and-forget applied to its mortgage lending process, and set about a year-long shift from manual to automated processes to speed up the client experience and efficiency of its mortgage process.

It decided on using IBM’s Websphere MQ Workflow, which sits on top of MQ for messaging services. “We needed to replace a paper-based system of fax, paper and voice mails, linking our 1,000 branches with two central units,” says Dale Hamilton, Director of the Architectural Office for Scotiabank.

“The reason[s] we did it [were] to improve our customer experience while saving time for our staff by removing administration, [to] get a reliable audit trail for the sake of accuracy, and to eliminate duplication.”

Scotiabank is one of the five biggest Canadian banks, offering retail, commercial and corporate financial services and a full range of domestic financial services, from household and small business banking to wealth management, as well as corporate capital investment and online banking. It has CAN $290 billion in total assets and operates in 50 countries with almost 1,000 branches, four call centers, and 2,200 automatic teller machines.

Although the first application was mortgage borrowing, the Bank approached the problem by building a sub-structure for applications that could later be used to support other, similar processes.

“It’s especially important for pre-approval of mortgages to operate faster. This will improve the client experience with the bank and that in turn will improve our market share,” explains Hamilton.

The project took 15 internal staff and several contractors from IBM. The Bank used its own senior technical staff for mentoring the staff at the site. Much of the work was writing adapters that run on top of MQ to provide the necessary links into the applications systems.

“When integrating systems, there are a lot of jobs that you still need to do on your own, and we leveraged open source frameworks to implement an abstraction layer between MQ Series and our applications … Logging, tracking and security, auditing, and recoverability were all elements of the system that we had to provide ourselves,” Hamilton notes.

“MQ offers asynchronous communications, a sort of fire-and-forget process, so in order to be sure that transactions have completed we needed to ensure that there was a two-phase process for committing transactions.”

The bank’s central database is housed on DB2 on its zSeries mainframe, but this also has to link to remote Unix servers, running IBM’s AIX. The bank decided to put its MQ servers on AIX too. MQ then has fingers out into all the different applications on other machines. One of the reasons for picking MQ Workflow was its ability to run on almost any other Unix machine, including Solaris and HP-UX and even Microsoft Windows 2000 and 2003 servers.

“On the old system, fax traffic in particular was very messy,” says Hamilton. “You’d get incomplete fax messages, or faxes with scribbled, handwritten notes on them. People would then send a fax of the fax back with more notes and then voice mails would trail round the bank trying to iron out problems. The mission was to put in place a solid foundation for dealing with all this data online, and in the process eliminate a lot of non-value-adding activity.”

Approval of a mortgage is a fairly lightweight decision in terms of processed data, but completion of the transaction is far more complex. You have lawyers and real-estate agents in the loop, governing bodies that need document filings, and that’s a lot of detail. Lose any of it and you have to touch the client one more time to iron things out, and that wastes valuable time.

“You don’t want any of that to affect your closing date. People don’t go back to a bank if they have a poor experience, and missing closing dates is something that just can’t be allowed to happen,” Hamilton observes.

“We talk about having built a service-oriented architecture, which is an enterprise-wide approach to the organization of application programs, working alongside middleware and a process workflow engine, tied into other systems like the corporate directory and security. Effectively we’ve built a foundation and put the plumbing and technical framework and capacity in place for any number of applications.”

MQ Workflow has a tracking mechanism so IT can define all the steps in a workflow process and track them. The workflow process might occur over 10 days. MQ Workflow will produce work lists and reports of the activity.

“We’ve had a number of other uses of MQ for what we call 'pointed' solutions, where fire-and-forget is appropriate, where you don’t need real time power. We have found MQ to be helpful when all we need to do is reliably send data between two systems.”

“We have used it for synchronous workloads, but that creates quite a layer of complexity on top of MQ to make it behave like a synchronous protocol, and we probably won’t go down that route again. Nowadays there are Web services protocols like SOAP that are better suited for real time connector architecture work, although we will continue to use specialized protocols for our high volume applications.”

From the original decision, the foundation and framework were in place, the mortgage workflow system finished and all the branches rolled out, in just 12 months.

“The workflow engine affects all of the applications that it is going to run against. Many of the applications didn’t have hooks into MQ, and we had to modify them and provide those hooks and then phase in the new system over 1,000 branches.

“For a time there we had to support both paper and MQ version, today’s applications and tomorrow’s versions at the same time, while upgrading branches a group at a time,” Hamilton says.

The biggest point of concern over the whole project for Hamilton was when his team tried to build a wrap-around security system using some of the more advanced MQ features, and Scotiabank just couldn’t get these facilities to work.

“There were some integration issues between the Workflow and MQ related to security, you’ll understand if I don’t talk in detail about our security, but it held us up for a couple of months until we could get a work around,” said Hamilton, but said that apart from that there were few sticky moments.

Since the Mortgage application was finished, MQ Workflow has also been used to upgrade the workflow processes for loans across the company.

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