OCC, the world's largest equity derivatives clearing organization, clears approximately 19 million options and futures contracts a day. As you might imagine, this involves a lot of moving parts; heightened regulatory expectations in OCC's role as a Systemically Important Financial Market Utility require the need for accuracy.
At OCC we are always looking for ways to improve our processes and strengthen our resiliency. One solution we recently identified is further pushing the bounds of automation, using two low-code tools: Appian, an application development platform, and Blue Prism, a robotic process automation (RPA) platform.
Why do we want to do this? In the case of the Blue Prism RPA, a number of our processes require substantial time from our colleagues, but very low levels of expertise and creativity. Automation would free up their expertise for more skilled work, while also resulting in faster response times and few mistakes, which will benefit the users of the U.S. equity options and futures market. The Appian platform, which we use for end-to-end processes, could help us digitize more complex manual processes, making them more transparent, visible and auditable.
It seemed like a win-win. The challenge? How do we build automated functions quickly and efficiently? This is where the low code from the Blue Prism RPA and Appian platforms come in. Low code is a class of programming software geared toward non-programmers. The pre-built and pre-tested objects within the platforms save us the trouble of re-solving basic coding solutions. Instead, we can focus immediately on our business problems. Users interact with a graphical interface to move objects to build an application that automates a real business problem, without any high-level coding on our end.
The solution is easy to use and understand, so our business stakeholders and our Information Technology team can work side-by-side on automating a solution, allowing for easy alignment of goals, functionality and our system capabilities. It also allows for a diversity of viewpoints when developing a program — people who normally wouldn't see an application until it is completed can give their input along the way, saving time and limiting the number of versions needed before an application is completed.
We've used low code at OCC to build apps within four different categories:
- Process, particularly involving more than one business team. These apps streamline existing systems that often rely on shared spreadsheets, or emails pinging back and forth, or some other manual system that's prone to duplication, misunderstanding or failed oversight.
- Checklists, or other apps without workflows. These generally replace Microsoft Access, spreadsheets or emails in confirming that a given set of criteria have been met.
- Integrations, both inbound and outbound. These involve automating a portion of a Representational State Transfer (REST) procedure, a Content Management System (CMS) task, or a File Transfer Protocol (FTP).
- Bots, which automate mundane repetitive tasks that humans had previously performed due to system limitations.
One example that demonstrates what low code can do is using the Blue Prism RPA to automate the Most Frequent Financial Reporting (MFFR) conducted by our Credit Risk Management team. Prior to automation, our analysts would spend nearly two hours a day maintaining daily email records from firms reporting their risk to us. It was tedious, it depended on timely emails, and it added little to our analysts' day. By leveraging RPA, this reporting system is automated, freeing up time and increasing reliability.
Another example is our Corporate Actions Events Management system. We began using the Appian platform to register all new events and record all related research and analysis. Rather than manually creating and saving reporting material through physical documents, emails and spreadsheets, our colleagues were able to easily create and store them in one place. We could then share a read-only version with a password-protected login with our auditors, giving them easy access to all they needed to review.
Similarly, when one of our participating options exchanges wants to launch a new product, we now use the Appian platform to document and store all the required analysis, setup, readiness assessment and approvals we need before we go live with the product.
In short, low code works. Since 2015, when we launched our first two apps, we've used low code to build 21 apps that have spanned over 20 departments and have close to 300 users. Importantly, the process is time-efficient: Some of our simple and medium-complexity apps were built within a day, and all were built within four weeks, as you can see by the chart below. We've even developed nine high-complexity applications during this process, each of which was completed within 8 weeks.
In my assessment of our program, I found that it has resulted in OCC developing applications approximately 10 to 20 times faster than if we had chosen to go the route of traditional programming. This is the result of a variety of factors, including the visual development tools and assembly ethos associated with our low code platforms, the pre-built and pre-tested objects, and the ability to focus on our business problems right away. Additionally, the process is secure and scalable, meaning we're able to build once and deploy anywhere, multiplying their benefit.
As OCC continues to modernize and scale our capabilities, low code will be a key part of that. It's one way we are clearing the path to a stable tomorrow for our organization and the users of our markets.
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