To streamline the work of highly skilled (and highly paid) developers in its Global Wealth Management Technology group, Merrill Lynch is building extensions to Microsoft's Windows Workflow Foundation, a platform for building workflow-enabled applications, that make the tool set a productive platform for automating processes. The group already has used the Microsoft platform to create a financial adviser program and a client data middleware tier that delivers up-to-date client information to applications, and more wealth management workflow projects based on Windows Workflow Foundation are on the drawing board.
As its name suggests, Workflow Foundation, a component of .NET Framework 3.0, allows developers to design custom workflow solutions by dragging and dropping task objects onto a flow diagram. The platform is a combination of programming model, runtime engine and developer tool. (For those new to the term "workflow," think of the process for filing an expense report -- you send it to your boss for approval, and he or she either approves it or sends it back to you with questions; after your boss approves the expense report, it goes on to accounting, which also either approves or sends it back, and eventually someone cuts you a check. This is the type of process that can be automated with workflow software.)
"Before, we had to build workflows from the ground up, which takes a lot of time," says Kumar Vadaparty, director of Global Wealth Management Technology at Merrill Lynch. "In addition to that, the software captures all events and puts them in one SQL database -- this would also take a lot of time to do ourselves."
Building a Better Workflow Tool
Vadaparty's group of six developers, which supports the wealth management application developers, began playing with Workflow Foundation before it was generally available. Although it met some of their requirements, he relates, the group felt that certain pieces were lacking, so it fashioned them with help from Microsoft engineers.