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Stability and Agility in the Core Systems
The Transaction Banking Core Systems (TBCS) unit is responsible for position management and overall processing of transactions in connection with the securities managed by the Bank. TBCS comprises the following core systems: Avaloq, Valorenzentrale (VVZ), and the Output Management System (OMS). Challenges include enormous growth in terms of order volume, as well as a wide range of new business and regulatory requirements.
Manuel Steiner headed the Transaction Banking Core Systems unit at Vontobel until the end of March 2023. He was responsible for the operations and maintenance of Avaloq, Valorenzentrale, and the Output Management System.
The volume of processed orders in this unit has more than doubled in recent years. Today, the number of orders placed during highly volatile markets, which mainly result in an increased system load in terms of end-of-day processing, have practically become a matter of course and are hardly noticed by the user. Similar volume growth has been recorded in the OMS and Valorenzentrale.
At the same time, the scope of new business and regulatory requirements has increased drastically. You can see this, for example, in the number of changes that have been implemented in these applications. Whereas in the early years of Avaloq, we generally had two main releases and two smaller maintenance windows, all of the areas of TBCS have since switched to a monthly maintenance window, as well as weekly hotfix updates. Nevertheless, the system availability of all applications, in particular during the volatile periods we’ve seen in recent years, has remained at nearly 100 percent.
Graphic 1: Number of trades processed in Avaloq
A wide range of factors and their interactions are responsible for ensuring the stability of the applications:
A stable infrastructure as a solid foundation is indispensable. Whereas OMS and VVZ run on a consolidated platform that is operated by Vontobel, Avaloq runs on a dedicated infrastructure that is also operated in-house by Vontobel. The corresponding technical responsibility, monitoring, and the expansion of this infrastructure are coordinated in close cooperation with the respective application managers. This means we are not dependent on external suppliers for our day-to-day business.
The implementation of new requirements, comprehensive analysis, programming, and system tests are all carried out by specialized teams for all subdivisions and applications in close cooperation with the internal client. In the event of questions or operational problems, support is provided by the same employees. This results in extremely close cooperation with the corresponding specialist divisions and ensures a quick response to inquiries and requests.
A small team of five employees is responsible for support and test coordination. The integration of this unit into the same division comes with many advantages.
On the one hand, looming issues can be addressed and resolved quickly by the specialists who are responsible for these individual areas. On the other hand, knowledge acquired during production can be integrated into future tests in the same team. The tests have been continually automated and expanded in recent years. Automatic tests are currently performed at least once a week and evaluated together with the developer teams.
Further test campaigns, as well as approvals with the internal client, are coordinated for every maintenance window. Here, load and performance tests in particular have demonstrated the areas in which bottlenecks could occur in the event of high volumes. These findings then lead directly to corresponding plans and projects and have resulted, among other things, in the fact that Vontobel has been able to process the trade volumes of the past two years with zero delays.
“A wide range of factors and their interactions are responsible for ensuring the stability of the applications.”
Senior Project Manager
In addition to the areas mentioned above, the technical processes and coordination of the installation of the corresponding release packages are also extremely important. The necessary steps are automated as much as possible and handled across all test levels in the same way as during production. This drastically reduces the risk of subsequent errors during operation.
Rapid provision of test databases that are required for approvals and automated testing also help to ensure stability. In many cases, monitoring of end-of-day processing, analysis of log files, and monitoring of program run times also indicate further areas for optimization.
When it comes to system reliability, our team of around 30 specialized employees are the most important factor. A large number of the employees on the team have worked at Vontobel for many years. This means that they are able to pass the Vontobel values of ownership, foresight, and tenacity on to the newer employees.
In addition, Vontobel’s clear focus on in-house employees also helps. External specialists are mainly called in to support the in-house team with larger projects. Our organizational proximity to the business, in particular to Transaction Banking, helps us to react flexibly and quickly to new requirements. The employees appreciate the wide range of responsibilities given to them and the opportunity to offer their input in their teams and in projects.
Furthermore, a constructive approach to and joint review of mistakes as a team is important in order to be able to react quickly to any possible operational issues in the event of an emergency.
In addition to the topics mentioned above, such as increased volatility and the great deal of effort required to tackle regulatory issues, maintaining the applications will be a challenge in the future.
For example, in addition to many similar aspects, growth of the database for certain processes, which slow down depending on this database, is a complex and costly issue.
Also, in terms of HR, it will be a major challenge to find successors for the employees who will soon be retiring due to the extreme competitiveness of the IT sector at the moment.