Frankfurter Fondsbank (FFB) Leverages Open Source

Talend Data Integration provides the "grease between all applications."
With Talend Data Integration, the implementation of new ETL processes requires a lot less time and development effort. Talend does everything we need it to do, and at the same time, gives us more financial leeway for other projects.
Matthias Richardt, IT Officer, Frankfurter Fondsbank

In the world of banking, it is true that the concentration of certain tasks and a continuous strengthening of core competencies can lead to significantly better performance. This is why Frankfurter Fondsbank (FFB) specializes in settlement services and the management of investment funds. The securities trading bank, founded in 2002, became a wholly owned subsidiary of Fidelity Investment Managers, an investment company actively involved in all important financial markets, in 2009. Currently, FFB administers 15.4 billion Euros (assets under administration) in almost 810,000 managed securities accounts, which makes it one of the leading fund manager in Germany. It offers more than 8,000 different funds from more than 220 domestic and international investment companies. As a bank that only deals with B2B transactions, the FFB offers its services to independent financial services providers as well as investment companies and banks. On FFB'€™s brokerage platform, qualified distribution partners and financial service providers can offer their customers the management of all their existing funds in a single portfolio. In its client business segment, FFB is the only German platform that offers investment companies and banks that want to remain the customers'€™ contractual partner, a real outsourcing option for their investment account management.

The FFB business model places high demands on an efficient and flexible IT system environment. Large volumes of data constantly have to be exchanged between numerous applications, and data required for transactions has to be provided in almost real time. This requires company-wide data integration, for which the bank introduced the data integration solution of the open source provider Talend in 2009.

The Challenge

FFB offers special services and operates an investment management platform that is made available to the entire financial services industry. Independent financial consultants or brokers, as well as banks, can use this platform to manage portfolios. FFB is fully responsible for managing the portfolios, from the actual order process to tax-related documentation which has to be prepared for the clients. For the technical processing, an efficient IT environment was developed, which is centered around a specialized backend system called Diamos-D, which manages all portfolios. This J2EE-based solution from Diamos AG, headquartered in the German Hessia, is surrounded by a few other applications as "€œsatellites"€ including the Internet front end that makes the data available via a web service interface and numerous other systems, such as the reporting system or the order processing system. There are smaller departmental applications that cover special business processes, such as deliveries and dispatches of investment companies that are not easily provided by the core system. The Internet front end is the most important interface with the users, who authenticate themselves with a user ID and a password, and then use all services they are authorized to use. This way, brokers can offer their clients the entire FFB portfolio of funds without having their own technical infrastructure. All price inquiries, order processes, reports or analyses can be carried out comfortably from the office, on the road or while meeting with clients. All that is needed is Internet access.

Almost all applications are interactive and data must be exchanged bidirectionally. Diamos provides the data to the front end, but data and orders released by the broker is also sent to the front end and processed there. When a broker triggers a transaction, data from the backend system and, if applicable, other systems is gathered, distributed, and transformed. Upon having been processed by Diamos, other information, such as an order confirmation, is sent to the user. Once a day, Diamos generates an invoice and triggers the ordering of the shares through the investment companies. The shares are then booked directly into the respective client portfolios, and the broker receives a transaction summary for informational purposes. In total, there are approximately. 2,000 ETL (Extract - Transform - Load) processes during which data is retrieved from one system, converted, and provided to another system.

Until 2009, FFB had been using the Hummingbird Genio software solution for its entire data integration. FFB was not satisfied with the software'€™s functional scope and started looking for other options. "€œThe main reason for switching our ETL tool was that we started importing formats from the backend system,"€ said Matthias Richardt, an authorized FFB officer who is responsible for this IT area. "€œThey were special XML formats, and enabling Hummingbird Genio to process these would have required a relatively high development effort."

The Talend Solution

Within the context of a traditional evaluation process, Matthias Richardt and his team started taking a closer look at four ETL tools (Extract - Transform - Load), scheduled an application presentation with their manufacturers, and then examined their suitability for practical use under real conditions during a two-day "€œproof of concept"€ trial. These trials included, for example, the measurement and analysis of the system'€™s performance regarding real jobs. Ultimately, the solutions offered by Informatica and Talend made the cut.

"€œThe decision in favor of the Talend Data Integration was ultimately made due to a combination of four criteria: functionality, references, support, and pricing model,"€ said Matthias Richardt. "With regard to these criteria, Talend was ultimately the winner, because the tool fulfills all requirements and, at the same time, offers the most attractive pricing model. Informatica'€™s functionality was also very good, but we felt that we were buying, at a high price, a solution that offered so many functions, 90% of which we actually did not need."€

Talend's open source approach did not have a significant impact on our decision. "€œWhat was important to us was that the solution meets our requirement profile. The provider'€™s business model was more or less irrelevant to us. Open source was not a requirement, but also not an exclusion criterion,"€ explained Matthias Richardt. "€œOne thing was clear however: we would not be implementing a tool that did not come with reliable support. In this regard, Talend was absolutely convincing."€œ

Talend'€™s licensing model is very different from the model of traditional closed source providers: the license is based on "€œdeveloper seats"€œ, i.e. developer workstations. The number of integrated data sources or targets or data volume is irrelevant. The FFB initially purchased three developer licenses for the current Version 4 of the Talend Data Integration. For the installation and setup of the first jobs, Talend held trainings to quickly make employees productive and able to work with the tool. Since Talend is based on Eclipse, and because this development environment is very popular at FFB, the developers quickly familiarized themselves with the tool. Also, the operators of the IT infrastructure (FFB uses T-Systems as its hosting provider) were trained and the colleagues there familiarized with the operating aspects of the software. The predetermined schedule has been minutely adhered to until now, and the replacement of Hummingbird is almost complete. As a result, Talend has now been FFB'€™s company-wide data integration standard since the middle of 2010.

The Advantages

In the end, the software's open source approach was very beneficial for the implementation of the first projects. In addition to the three licenses for the enterprise version, the open community version, Talend Open Studio for Data Integration, is very popular among developers. With the help of the free software version, developments can try out things without any restrictions, and basically use it as a playground to carry out smaller proof-of-concepts. Work results can always be transferred to the central repository and thus integrated into the commercial version. "€œWe are very satisfied with our decision for Talend; all expectations have been met, if not exceeded,"€ said Matthias Richardt. "The Talend Data Integration as an ETL tool offers a lot more tool sets than its predecessor by Hummingbird. In addition, the implementation of new processes requires a lot less time and development effort. Talend does everything we need it to do, and at the same time, give us more financial leeway for other projects."€

After having successfully migrated the existing ETL processes, FFB has already uncovered another use for the software. In the past, numerous processes had not been handled by the ETL solution, but decentrally by scripts that are running on different processors. Often these are only jobs like "€œCopy data from A to B". In the practical setting, however, this type of "€œhand coding"€ often brings problems with it, because they are insular solutions of which only a few employees know how they work and where they are. An undocumented copy process within a complex workflow is a potential risk, because an error in this process could paralyze an entire job stream. Medium-term, all this special know-how that only a few people are familiar with is to be integrated into the central ETL repository. Currently, the bank is planning to replace all scripts with Talend-based ETL processes by the end of the third quarter 2010. This is not a small feat for FFB, because it relates to about 2,000 jobs, making this project equivalent in scope to the migration from Hummingbird to Talend. The bank will therefore double the number of its developer licenses.

"€These days, everyone is talking about cloud computing and real-time transactions, and an issue such as ETL often seems somewhat trivial. But for us, this is a very fundamental base tool that simply has to work,"€ summarized Matthias Richardt. "To me, an ETL tool is the grease between all required applications, and Talend fits this role perfectly."€