Oracle, Can You Configure That Interface For Me, Please…

One of the fundamental differences between COTS and custom software is configuration versus code. There is a recent trend among COTS vendors to extend the depth of configuration to deliver user experiences that previously took customization. Oracle is one of the vendors offering software tools that allow the abstraction of certain parts of traditionally custom code (like interfaces) into more configurable platforms.

Sometimes referred to as low-code platforms, these platforms allow for reuse, standardization, and greater end-user participation and control. Distinct elements of previously custom code elements like business rules or accounting logic can now be seen as “configurable” elements in their own software modules.

Making Low-Code A Reality

TeraThink is helping our customer at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) explore how to leverage one of these offerings. Specifically, we are working to apply Oracle Policy Automation (OPA) to their financial systems portfolio.

One of PBGC’s main functions is enforcement of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). ERISA is a set of federal laws that define minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement plans in private industry. Additionally, ERISA provides protection for the individuals in these plans. These protections are applied to the administration of pensions through multiple conditions, calculation frameworks, and rules.

PBGC currently encodes each of these rules in different systems across the enterprise. There is no standardization and not all rules are leveraged nor available for use, in each of the various financial subsystems. Leveraging a tool like OPA allows PBGC to abstract all the rules into a single repository. They will be able to  apply and change those rules across multiple systems from one location and at one time. They will be able to provide a personalized experience to their customers by applying complex rules individually consistently and accurately with clear explanations as to the resultant conclusions.

Additionally, we know that implementing OPA will help PBGC realize the benefits of natural language modeling. This will put the power of updating and maintaining these complex business rules back into the business owners’ hands, breaking the cycle of developer interpretation and maintenance.

Automation Doesn’t Require Vendor Lock-In

While that concept may not seem intuitive on the surface, there is a reason Oracle has acquired over 120 software products and/or companies since the turn of the century. They regularly unveil acquisitions as rebranded products to replace, extend, or complement offerings in their current product line. Oracle OPA originally came from a small company in Australia called RuleBurst Holdings. In 2008, Oracle acquired RuleBurst and added it to their portfolio of products.

Ten years later, organizations can still use OPA as a standalone tool set. You can access OPA as a web service or leverage one of the adapters. Of interest to many of our clients are the adapters for use with other ERP products like SAP and Siebel. So just because your client isn’t “an Oracle shop” doesn’t necessarily mean this trend (or product) won’t be visiting your client or project in the future!

You may have already been an OPA user without even knowing it. If you’ve been to the IRS website for tax advice, you have used OPA. When you click on one of the topics, you are receiving your own personal OPA experience. This automated personalization helps deliver a better user experience without needing to create large amounts of customization.

Beginning Our Own OPA Journey

Our TeraThink team is just starting on this exciting journey with PBGC. This effort will also mark the first project undertaken by the PBGC financial systems organization leveraging an Agile development approach. We’re also implementing this on the Oracle Cloud Platform.

As we get further along in our project, we’ll be checking back in and letting you know what we’ve experienced. We look forward to sharing the observations we have and lessons we learn along the way.