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The Tuesday 'Skunk Works' Lunch Club

Brown-bag sessions produce banquet results

Increasing a Competitive Edge
Natexis Bleichroeder, Inc., a subsidiary of Natexis Banques Populaires, is a specialized investment bank based in New York with offices in several other U.S. cities and affiliates in London and Paris. The firm specializes in global equity sales, trading, and capital markets activities, and executes trades in more than 60 countries including the U.S., Europe, Asia, and emerging markets.

A long-standing Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) and Replication Server customer, Natexis Bleichroeder was faced with a number of internal IT objectives to streamline trading processes and improve customer service, as well as fierce competition from other broker-dealers. To address these challenges, the firm's senior vice-president of applications, Susan Symczak, organized a lunchtime, brown-bag problem solving team. The purpose of the team was to learn about and evaluate various technologies and with this knowledge develop solutions to address the company's internal objectives and external competitive challenges.

"Our main challenge," says Symczak, "was to transform our existing systems into real-time, 24-hour global systems. We needed to do this for competitive reasons, as many of our competitors were already operating around the clock. In an environment in which everything has become electronic trading, we wanted to streamline our systems to speed up trades by implementing straight-through processing. We also wanted to enable our systems to handle an increase in the volume of trades with no need for additional resources, and provide the capability for our customers to view their portfolios in real-time."

The Tuesday 'Skunk Works' Lunch Club
The completely voluntary Natexis Bleichroeder brown-bag group consisted of about 10 individuals who met each Tuesday to learn about various technology products and consider how they might be helpful to their efforts. The group included database administrators (DBAs), PowerBuilder developers, Java developers, application integrators, and others from the company's IT division.

Symczak provides an example of one existing process that the team was hoping to improve. "For instance, if a security was being traded that we hadn't traded before, we needed to do a security master update that would update several systems including our trading system, our back-office system, and our settlement system. Ideally, you want to be able to do that in real-time. However, at that time, we were doing it in a batch mode, probably every half-hour or so. Doing it that way slowed down the trades. It required human intervention. And it took longer to flow through all the systems and update the portfolio and information for the traders. Thanks to real-time events, we can do that in real-time now so both traders and customers can see more of what's going on in their environment as it occurs."

Discovering Real-Time Events
Natexis Bleichroeder has been a Sybase shop since 1996. Its first client/server applications were developed with PowerBuilder. Over the years the company has relied on numerous Sybase products including Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE), EAServer, OmniConnect, and Sybase IQ to run its business. Members of the IT staff met fairly regularly with their Sybase representative to learn about new and emerging Sybase solutions. It was in one of these briefing sessions that the Tuesday brown-bag group learned about real-time events.

The real-time events capability in the Sybase Data Integration Suite is the first data management solution to proactively push time-critical data from heterogeneous enterprise databases to messaging architectures, eliminating the "information lags" created by batch updates or intermittent polling processes. Real-time events combine heterogeneous data movement with real-time messaging in one easily integrated, open standards-based solution, eliminating the need for custom coding and lowering total cost of ownership.

Specifically, real-time events enable event-driven information from multiple systems to be pushed directly to the message bus for a consolidated real-time view of key operational data from multiple data sources eliminates intrusive, costly-to-maintain polling applications for generating real-time alerts and notifications and enables auditing and data management to meet security and/or regulatory requirements with change data capture capability.

'We Knew Immediately That Real-Time Events Would Add Value'
"As we learned more about real-time events," says Symczak, "it seemed to be a good fit for us. We're a small company and our budget isn't huge, so we need technology that will really add value. We saw that it would give us the ability to send and receive messages in real-time from the database, making the database part of our messaging infrastructure. That really benefits our company."

"We realized that real-time events would enable us to do straight-through processing," adds Leonid Shteyngardt, vice-president and manager of the DBA group at Natexis Bleichroeder. "We also saw that it would enable us, in addition to updating our transactional systems, to simultaneously update our intra-day data warehouse, which is what allows our customers to view their trades and portfolios."

Brown-Bag Sessions Produce Banquet Results
Once the Natexis Bleichroeder team honed in on the value of real-time events, its next step was to create a proof-of-concept (POC), which it did with assistance from Sybase technical consultants. This, too, was undertaken in the context of the Tuesday lunchtime meetings. With the POC successfully completed, the team rolled out a pilot project to test real-time events in real day-to-day operations. Again successful, the team put real-time events into full production. From the beginning of the project to production rollout, the weekly lunchtime project took about six months.

"The brown-bag lunches really started out for the fun of learning about all these new technologies," says Symczak. "Which makes it all the more fulfilling that we were able to develop, test, and implement a system that has produced important benefits and made us more competitive. Real-time events have enabled us to upgrade to a real-time, 24-hour global trading system, without having to add resources. Trades are processed faster, while multiple mission-critical systems are simultaneously updated. We've achieved our straight-through processing objective as well as enabled our traders and customers to see the results of trades in real-time. We can also handle an increase in the volume of trades without needing to add resources, which is important. Real-time events have even provided benefits to our settlement department where settlements now happen seamlessly."

Natexis Bleichroeder is already thinking of other ways in which it can add value through the use of real-time events. One area the team has been focusing on is risk assessment - using real-time events to send a report to the risk management department each time a trade crosses a pre-determined risk limit.

"Real-time events is a very good technical solution for a lot of business problems," says Shteyngardt. "I would definitely recommend it to organizations that already have a server messaging infrastructure as well as those that don't. Real-time events make your database into an active player in your straight-through processing system, which is critical if you're to be competitive in this business. It simplifies a lot of solutions and makes it a lot easier to solve real business problems."

About Natexis Bleichroeder
Natexis Bleichroeder, a New York-based broker-dealer, needed to move to real-time, 24-hour global systems for competitive and operational reasons. A weekly brown-bag IT group found the solution in real-time events, which it deployed to achieve important business results.


Key Benefits
> Real-time simultaneous updates to multiple transactional and reporting systems
> Speeds trade execution due to real-time events-enabled straight-through processing
> Processes increased the volume of trades with existing IT resources
> Ability to compete more effectively and win new customers

Sybase Technology
> Sybase Data Integration Suite real-time events
> Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE)
> Sybase Replication Server

> Financial Services

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PBDJ News Desk monitors the world of PowerBuilder to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the PowerBuilder and i-technology space.

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