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What you Need to Know About the Hype Surrounding Straight-Through Workflows™

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Q&A with Reena Raichura, Director, Head of Product Solutions, Glue42.

The subject of desktop interoperability has been generating much interest in the financial markets sector recently, from both the vendor community and from financial institutions looking to streamline their workflows. In this Q&A, we talk to Reena Raichura, Director and Head of Product Solutions at Glue42, a technology company specializing in desktop integration and workflow automation, about why she believes the industry now needs to embrace the concept of Straight-Through Workflows (STW)™, and how that can be achieved.

TTI: What exactly is Straight-Through Workflows (STW)? And how did the idea come about?

RR: In simple terms, Straight-Through Workflows is cross-application workflow automation. It is about allowing data to flow electronically and seamlessly from one application to others regardless of the underlying application technologies, on the desktop. But, it’s much bigger than that. STW is a momentous shift in design thinking for the desktop. It’s about blurring the boundaries of applications and looking at the desktop holistically by analysing end-to-end business processes, workflows and user journeys first before designing an underlying solution. The result is a solution that matches the needs of end users, has real business impact, and creates the type of frictionless and effortless workflow experiences that the business is demanding.

It was born out of my frustration with how we have been developing applications for what seems like forever and the way we have been approaching desktop interoperability. And I can say that because I’m an ex-UI developer myself.

We’re at a tipping point with desktop interop. When it first came out, it was very much a technology-driven initiative.  The focus wasn’t on business processes and workflows, maximising business value and creating this frictionless, effortless experience for end users. It was more about improving the application development process, the delivery process and application stability, all of which you get with micro apps and microservices. So, desktop interop was almost a byproduct of that type of architectural pattern.

If you look across the vendor landscape today, some remain closed, some (a minority at the moment) embrace desktop interop fully, but the rest sit in a sort of halfway house, where they do a bit of basic interop but are still very much application-centric, and not really thinking holistically about what the business wants and how users interact with and move through their applications. But the businesses have moved forward, they want to build best of breed interconnected platforms of choice, and they need their vendors to support that.

Today, clients don’t ask vendors if they support straight-through processing (STP) for example, they just assume that they do. STW should be the same, it should be part of the DNA of any product, whether that’s a vendor product or an in-house application. We should be developing products with workflows in mind, using workflow-led design and looking at workflows holistically, rather than just putting in random use cases here and there. The industry is still going at this from the inside out, taking a technology-driven approach, rather than from the outside in, a business-driven and user-centered approach, which is where we need to be.

TTI: Sounds great in theory. But how do you address the challenge that every user and every organisation is different, each with their own way of working and their own individual workflows for different business functions?

RR: There’s a few things that we’re doing at Glue42. The first is providing a workflow store on our website, which showcases all the vendor partners that are embracing desktop interop in some form or another. This gives customers the ability to essentially build their own workflows, and meet their business needs. And these workflow solutions are quick to implement, we can stitch together a couple of applications in a few days, meaning that customers see business value immediately.

We also have a well-established, tried and tested implementation methodology and governance model for desktop integration. Educating our clients and vendors around this concept of Straight-Through Workflows is about getting people to understand that you have to start with human-centred, user-centred design, and look holistically at how end users are working. This could be desktop specific, or it could involve wider business process optimisation.

FDC3 is another example of how desktop messaging is being standardised. And FDC3 is an important initiative, but at the moment it is still very much technology-driven, coming from random use cases rather than looking at things holistically from a business and workflow perspective. So although we are coming together as a community, there needs to be more coherence.

TTI: How receptive are you finding the vendor community to these ideas?

RR: This is my biggest frustration. For example, just earlier I spoke with a vendor we’re trying to work with and it can be painful trying to get these guys on board, even when there’s a client behind the request for integration. So we do a lot of work around educating vendors. The newer ones, the niche fintechs, are generally on board because it’s a route to market for them. They want to be embedded in the end clients’ existing workflows. As for the traditional vendors, some of them are starting to embrace this and are going on their own platform modernisation journeys. But for others, it’s very piecemeal, particularly if their current APIs are not workflow centric or haven’t been designed with interop in mind. That’s why I’d like STW to be just as important on the front-end as STP is on the back-end. It should be part and parcel of every vendor product today.

It is a shift in mindset, however. One of the reasons vendors can be hesitant is because of the perceived competitive threat. But it’s actually a competitive advantage for them to open up, because when clients are building their best of breed platforms, one of their criteria now is how well can they integrate this application? And if that vendor isn’t on board, then the client is going to choose somebody else. Vendors shouldn’t be developing applications in isolation anymore, they need to understand that they are part of a larger ecosystem. Let’s move away from application-centric design and move on to workflow-centric design. That requires an open API economy, and getting vendors to open up and embrace collaboration.

Our Workflow Store at Glue42 provides a starting point for people that want to stitch together their current applications, while also thinking about the future. If an end client is using a legacy vendor app and thinking about the new world, embarking on a multi-year digital transformation program, for example, my message to those firms and their vendor partners is to embrace that legacy tech stack, and we can help them integrate their workflows now, realise business value earlier by mixing the old with the new. It shouldn’t matter what the underlying technology is. From a Glue42 perspective, if there’s somebody developing in COBOL – which I hope they aren’t, but if they are – then we will find a way to integrate that. We’ve got a lot of integrations with old tech as well as new!

TTI: Looking at the business benefits, how do you quantify the RoI of implementing straight-through workflows? And what kind of metrics are there?

RR: At Glue42, we have a metrics product, which many of our larger clients use as part of their desktop integration strategy, which maps how the users are moving through the various applications. That helps with the digital transformation journey, particularly when you’re rolling out new workflows or new applications, because you can see how people are actually using them, so you can quantify how quickly they might be moving from order to execution, for example.

We’ve also had anecdotal evidence from buyside traders that since they’ve adopted desktop interop and STW, their team’s trading performance has improved by 10-20%, which is really interesting. In the case of one particular trader I spoke with recently, pre-desktop interop, during fast markets he didn’t have time to look at all the data points across various applications. Whereas now, because he doesn’t have to scramble for the information and the information comes to him in a single click, at the point he needs it, he can actually stop and think about how he wants to trade, which has made a big difference.

TTI: If a vendor firm or a market participant wants to find out more about how they can adopt Straight-Through Workflows, what should they do?

RR: For the user community, I mentioned earlier that we are now launching our workflow store, where people can look at workflow solutions and build their own workflows. For the vendor community, we’re planning webinars to educate them on straight-through workflows, and why they need a desktop integration strategy in place. We want to encourage them to embrace Straight-Through Workflows and have that as part and parcel of their product suites.

The bigger picture is to share this idea with the community. STW is a vision, an ideology and a goal that we all need to be striving for, which can serve as a beacon for the community to come together and really embrace this final frontier of digital transformation.

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