Shooting For Best of Breed? It's 'Ready, Set, Go' Says 1 Corporate

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Credit unions are on the brink of being able to choose best-of-breed applications from multiple vendors-without worrying about integration, supplementary servers, and security, according to one person.

"With web services, it's 'Ready, set, go!' for credit unions wanting to consume different applications through third party vendors," said Robert Mills, software development manager at Northwest Corporate CU.

As web services mature, IT folks are realizing that a document-sharing focus on systems integration really IS better than existing programming-focused techniques, known as Application Programming Interfaces (API).

In addition, web services, such as check imaging or data storage, can represent different types of data that older integration architectures can't.

"Web services provides an easy way to integrate systems that share data," said Mills, who recently won the 2002 Best Practices award for Web services from the CUNA Tech Council. "We are using Web services as the foundation for tying diverse applications together," said Mills.

Northwest Corporate created a Simple Access Object Protocol (SOAP)-based check imaging web service. SOAP is a widely accepted standard that frees applications from the grips of proprietary platforms and vendors. In short, by using Web-standard Extensible Markup Language (XML) messaging and the HTTP protocol, SOAP allows computers to communicate without any previously agreed-upon methods.

"Everybody agrees that web services is a standard," he continued. "We don't have to argue about which interface is right, or if web service is a good thing.

"Web services is therefore less focused on the political, and more focused on the technical," he added.

Credit unions are starting to feel the power of Web services, Mills said.

For example, Northwest Corporate's check imaging Web service is available to credit unions through the corporate's web server over the Internet, but is also being used on Portland-based Oregon Telco Community CU's Intranet.

True to web services' reputation for suppleness, that same CU was even able to put up the Intranet check imaging service in a mixed environment, composed of a Microsoft-based core processing platform and a Sun Microsystems- and Java-based third-party homebanking application-all within one week, said Mills.

No additional hardware or software needed to be installed in the same network as the CU's homebanking Web server.

And because of the flexibility of Web services, "I haven't had to change the check imaging web service at all to accommodate the credit union's Intranet application," he said.

Furthermore, the Northwest Corporate check imaging service requires end-users to authenticate only at the CU's homebanking log-in page. In fact, multiple end-user log-ins to access homebanking, order checks, or apply for loans from varied vendors may become a thing of the past.

"As soon as these diverse applications are designed as web services, institutions can authenticate other institutions instead of authenticating the individual at each point," Mills explained.

Northwest Corporate has plans to design additional applications as web services- though Mills was reluctant to reveal specifics. "We're looking at anything that we can re-brand. We'll write a web service that utilizes a service provided by a third party vendor and do a value add-on."

The $1.3-billion Northwest Corporate CU serves more than 300 credit unions in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and California.

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