Forefront Communications

WatersTechnology: Desktop App Interoperability: On the Front Lines with RBC and OpenFin


Sam Belden

Sam Belden

Serendipity can strike at any moment. Whether it’s finding your true love, a new best friend, or finding a $10 bill in an old pair of pants the day before payday, for some reason, things sometimes just fall into place. In the world of technology, serendipity tends to come after a problem occurs.

For RBC Capital Markets, the catalyst for change came in 2015 when senior executives were traveling and couldn’t connect to Salesbook, the company’s internal order management system (OMS).

As Kim Prado, global head of client insight, banking and digital channels technology for RBC Capital Markets, remembers it, one of the execs emailed her one night while on the road, saying that he couldn’t get the application to launch. The reason was simple enough—he was trying to run it in Internet Explorer, but for a remote login, you needed to use Chrome. It was clear that they had a problem that needed to be addressed immediately.

“That’s when the lightbulb went off—we needed something that would enable us to be browser agnostic,” she recalls.

Salesbook was originally rolled out in 2011 using the .NET framework, before moving over to the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) graphical subsystem, which became ubiquitous at banks for rendering user interfaces after it was released in 2006. Prado and her team had realized that several key issues were hampering the system. First, they couldn’t deploy updates and new tools quickly: “We were not nimble, and it took so long to make simple changes,” she recalls. Second, training new employees was a “nightmare,” she says. There were 50 or so blotters that essentially cover the needs of every salesperson who ever worked at the bank, and there were plenty of knowledge gaps among users as to how each one worked. Support was also a challenge because, again, no one knew how each blotter interacted with the others.

Yet, the big problem was that they couldn’t deploy upgrades in a browser-agnostic way. Prado says that for a brief moment they tried to switch from WPF to HTML5 internally, but they didn’t have the necessary expertise to make the change and that existing off-the-shelf software wouldn’t work. “Deploying into a [traditional] browser is not scalable or sturdy enough,” she says.

So, the problem persisted—and then serendipity struck.

One of Prado’s colleagues, Sung Juhng, went to a Bloomberg conference and found a potential solution to the challenge they were facing. “He called me up and said, ‘Kim, I met a vendor called OpenFin—you need to see this,’ and that’s how we found them,” Prado recalls.

In April, RBC allowed WatersTechnology to sit in on the planning session and standup calls for a two-week sprint to build out search functionality for Springboard, the application that allows the bank to launch Salesbook. It sits above Salesbook, which is wrapped in the OpenFin container.  Desktop app interoperability is becoming increasingly important among the biggest banks and asset managers in the capital markets, as these firms want to both make their employees more efficient, and be able to experiment with new fintech companies, data delivery and analytics software. OpenFin, which was launched in 2010, is largely considered to be the first to successfully use containerization techniques to build a browser specific to the needs of a financial institution.

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