The Evergreen Funds has begun to rely evermore on XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Linux, the open-source version of Unix created by Danish inventor Linus Torvaldis, as a primary ingredient in its integration of disparate applications and systems. The mutual fund firm, which is currently upgrading its primary and redundant data centers, has come to rely on Linux to connect its NT and Unix environments.
Evergreen inherited a host of legacy technology when it was acquired by First Union Corp. a couple of years ago, and in its drive to straight-through processing has had to contend with integrating those systems as well as its own to provide a seamless operating environment. Furthermore, Evergreen, like any financial services firm in 1999, is looking to provide its clients and employees with access to comprehensive sets of data through a single browser front-end. This is only possible when previously distinct data sets are commingled through middleware.
"We began focusing on integration about a year ago," says John Gidman, Evergreen's chief technology officer. "Middleware and distributed objects systems are basically the glue. It lets us do more for our employees to make them more productive. It lets us use more of the electronic medium to provide customer service ... With this, we can use voice response and the Web to do far more than we could before."
A good part of the integration has relied on Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), as well as IBM's MQ series messaging and queing technology. XML has played a large part in transferring quarterly reporting information to R.R. Donnelly, a firm that handles the sales and marketing of Evergreen's funds.
"Using the Internet with XML has given us the ability to dramatically reduce the time it takes us to do our quarterly reporting," Gidman says. "The biggest problem has been with differences in data definitions and cycle times. We need our systems synchronized well, and XML allows you to have a lot of coupling between systems. As long as we publish in that format ... (R.R. Donnelly) knows our definitions and they can move it into their systems."
Gidman lauds the benefits of open-source codes like XML and Linux, contending that if the Global Straight-Through Processing Committee, SWIFT and FIX moved to an XML-based data definition, the industry could solve some messaging problems "very rapidly."
In a sign that the operating system is really catching on in the financial services industry, Gidman has come to rely on Linux more and more to connect Evergreen's NT and Unix environments. "We're finding a lot of use for the Linux environment," he explains. "Open source is the next big thing. We're using Linux for file servers and basic connectivity between our Unix and NT environments. More and more, we're going to use open source code ... Open source allows very high quality because of the sheer volume of people testing and debugging. Increasing to the bug-based, in my mind, increases quality and decreases the time from when a bug is found and when it is fixed."
Evergreen has already provided links between its shareholder systems and its sales systems, and, now, the firm is beginning to integrate financial management reporting systems with its investment operations, Gidman says. On the Internet side of things, the fund manager allows its employees access to its Domino-based contact management system and other databases, and clients can view prospectuses, financial commentary and NAVs, as well as utilized financial calculators and pricing tools.
Gidman says that Evergreen's Web capabilities will make a huge leap forward in the coming months, but he declines to specify what functionality. Evergreen is looking to have its Web services on par with the top ten mutual fund companies in the country, all of which, Gidman says, avail account access, online trading and integration with third party investment tools.