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3 Most Important Technology Considerations for Modern Retirement Plan Recordkeeping Systems

It is a matter of fact that the typical plan provider organizations must provide enterprise services to an ecosystem of many stake holders: plan administrators, sponsors, advisors, participants, TPAs, and other service providers. Because of the varying needs of the stakeholders, most plan provider organizations find themselves forced to manage a complex heterogeneous environment comprised of new and legacy IT systems. Each IT system may require a different server, operating system, messaging platform, database and application. All these systems and applications cannot be maintained in silos. Data must be shared among these systems and applications to support the enterprise processes, making the systems integration a mandate. Keeping in view all these constraints, some principles in architectural considerations being considered by a few plan provider organizations are (1) Service Orientation, (2) Business rules externalization and (3) configurability over customizability.

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) brings a strong focus on service to IT systems at the enterprise level, by exposing business capabilities as services, permitting the creation of new business processes. SOA enables the plan provider organizations to not only transform internal systems to be more service oriented, but also provide new ways for integrating the various systems and permits collaboration amongst the plan sponsors, TPAs and other partners as well as third-party provisioning of useful business functions in a seamless, non-disruptive fashion; permitting organizations to change quickly in response to changes in the marketplace or competitive threats. Service oriented architecture seeks to deploy the technology of an organization as a series of re-usable, standardized business services that can be choreographed into business processes and higher level composite services. The net result is a highly reactive, agile and flexible architecture with a high degree of reuse, resulting in lowered maintenance and new development costs.

Business Rules are core-features by which process engines work and generally these business rules are the ones that differentiate from one company to the other. Business rules are typically configured to reflect the way an organization does various processes and the overall business; and the agility of the organization depends upon the ease with which it will be able to configure, modify and manage their business rules. Initially modifying the business rules was accomplished through time consuming and costly custom programming. Overtime they are moving to a forms-driven interface that enabled the creation of rules for routing of tasks, and validation and aggregation of data from application databases. The last few years there is an increasing interest in the business rules externalization and orchestrating them through third party Business Rules Management Systems. These are providing a facility for centralized business rule management. Rules-based applications address many of the urgent needs posed by every business organization: to change their business rules in order to adapt to accelerated business changes, and to overcome the restricting nature of slow IT change responses.

Some typical benefits of rules externalization are enhanced consistency of business practices, improved manageability and elimination of errors in implementing complex business decisions, reuse of rules across business processes, and predictability of the business impact of the developing internal and external changes.

Configuration over Customization: Plan provider organizations developed custom code to change or extend functionality of their proprietary systems, and eventually the same custom codes threw issues when the organizations wanted to enhance the system further. It might had been an easy task to add a few lines of code here and there at that point of time, but customizations have a way of multiplying and adding up to trouble if they turn into ‘zombie’ codes, particularly during upgrade cycles. During major upgrades, customization always proved to be as demanding and time-consuming as migrating to a whole new application, as the broken functionality had to be redeveloped from scratch. One sure way these plan provider businesses are adapting to cope with the challenge of upgrading and optimizing enterprise applications is through avoiding customization. Shifting from coding and development to menu or wizard driven approaches, should be the way forward. They are looking for the applications that are agile enough to allow companies to establish data fields, properties, workflows etc., and also to create or remove drop down menus and tabs, to adapt the application to align with the business process, without wholesale alterations to the code. Where all changes can be accomplished by way of built-in program utilities, without the need of a professional programmer.

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