Interview excerpts:

How did you make your choice of integration company for the SOA project?

Both then and now, in choosing a partner we approach the vendor, which submits a list of recommended companies. Neoflex was and remains one of IBM’s main partners, and it has the experience of working with integration projects based on the SOA method. Hence our choice was justified. Further, the great advantage of Neoflex is its wide experience of working with the Russian ABS which at that time was the main one for Renaissance Credit.

Incidentally, we are trying to move away from diverse back-office systems and changing over the whole bank to a uniform platform — the American ABS Profile from Fidelity.

Let’s deal with the business objectives which are achieved with the help of the new SOA landscape. Who are the end users of the solution, and what do business users obtain from the project results?

The IBM WebSphere product lines form the key integration layer of our entire IT architecture. So the end users are all the banks divisions, with no exceptions, both the people who work with front-office applications, and also those who work in the back office.

Firstly, which we acquired in the early stages of implementation, the possibility of quickly starting the loan conveyor — an online service with a high level of accessibility.

The second objective, whose achievement was especially important during and after the crisis, was the use of those advantages of SOA architecture which involve reduction of IT expenses. This means the possibility of large-scale re-use of the services developed. In simple terms, the costs of IT infrastructure, of its development and support should not increase as business grows. And we are succeeding with this — over the past three years business is growing steadily, but our IT budget has stayed the same.

A further advantage of re-using services is the possibility of rapidly bringing a new product to the market, whether it’s a consumer loan or a card. Without special investment and without losing throughput we can start up a new sales channel in a very short time using this particular SOA architecture.

How do members of the business divisions assess this new landscape and its new possibilities?

In this context it is worth noting one feature which is typical of retail banks. Everyone can deal with IT at a high level. It has worked out this way historically, since the retail business without a strong IT component is a kind of exception to the rule. For this reason business users at the bank are well versed and quite demanding. From time to time, when we offer a new service, the business has a lot of queries regarding the cost of one or other solution. Naturally, a financial model is created for each new project, and it calculates the payback and the period for return on investment, but this is sometimes insufficient. For those cases we have iron rules, which has already been stated: «Business is growing, but the IT budget is not.» In the end we have practically stopped increasing our investments in IT. These rules are well understood by business.

There is an IT strategy, there is a decision of the bank’s management, and there are the results from the tender committees — all this ensures the transparency of IT projects for the business divisions. That is, the bank’s IT service is focussed on the internal client. I can say the same about our partners from Neoflex. We have worked with them since 2006, and over that time this integration specialist has learned how to understand the bank’s business, which is also critically important. Neoflex has something which many other companies lack — an understanding of direct dependence: if the bank loses part of its business, the bank’s partner likewise loses part of its income. By no means everyone takes into account what would appear to be an obvious link."

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