Commodities trading is fast-paced, highly regulated, and critical to the economy. CME Group owns and operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the largest options and futures trading exchange in the world, along with the Chicago Board of Trade, the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), and COMEX.
CME Group sounds like the sort of organization that would hew to a conservative, time-tested development platform for applications. But according to Ari Studnitzer, managing director of architecture and product management at CME Group, the company has embraced a low-code platform that is helping keep both users and regulators happy.
In a telephone interview with InformationWeek, Studnitzer said that one of the reasons for moving toward a low-code platform was the ability to concentrate on business processes rather than code. A need to get past coding led them to Appian, which on its website describes itself as a low-cost platform for business process management.
Studnitzer said that CME Group set out in search of a business process tool in 2008 and found Appian then. "We had trouble with workflow because of the complexity of our environment," he said. "We found that we were just pushing spreadsheets around, and we didn't have a way to re-engineer that."
CME Group explored the possibility of writing completely custom code, but decided that major software development wasn't a core competency of the organization. "Writing a custom solution didn't make a lot of sense," Studnitzer said. Instead, the company decided to use a low-code platform, "...where we could continue to look at the data and constantly optimize the workflow. The goal was to bring the overall cycle times down," said Studnitzer.
"We provide critical services to customers across trading, clearing, regulatory services, as well as a host of technology for related workflows," Studnitzer said, adding that any tool, workflow, or application has to keep stakeholders in each of these areas satisfied for both capabilities and performance. "The sanctity of the marketplace is our foremost driver."
Within an environment that requires preserving market sanctity, Studnitzer and his group are looking for ways to optimize systems and applications. "We are constantly innovating our systems and looking to provide leadership and thought leadership for the industry," he said. "It's what drove us to Appian, and toward digitization of customer service and the broader customer experience."
For most organizations, a change from traditional development to a low-code platform would require a major sales effort in the executive suite. Asked about the effort at CME Group, Studnitzer said that the process made the sale job easier. "We build a business case for everything we do, and we were able to show the business case by reducing business cycle time."
Studnitzer said that building a business case means that every project, whether large or small, has to make sense for the entire business rather than just for the IT group. "In the old days, you had to justify a new ERP system. Because of low-code, the cloud, and the scalability inherent in it, you can justify the low-code solution as a way to get through all the siloed information."
The business case that Studnitzer's group built was based on a justification from two directions. He explained, "It's about having a numerator and a denominator. The ability to show the numerator in terms of reduced time to revenue and reduced time to market and a denominator in terms of a reduced cost to be able to accomplish those tasks is a very powerful proposition." Finally, though, "When you add a better user experience it becomes a very easy sell," Studnitzer said.
Using the Platform
A low-code platform like Appian isn't only a plug-in replacement for a software-development environment, Studnitzer said. "The way that we've looked at Appian is as a form of middleware. It is the critical enabler for moving data in and out of the source systems," he said.
He explained that the low-code platform allows for very efficient workflows around the source systems -- workflows that he said are far more efficient that traditional tools for business processes.
"In the old days people would use something like TIBCO or SAP for moving data in and out of, and around the source systems. Because the cost is less, we can look at automating workflows that wouldn't justify an SAP solution."
CME Group's technical skills have evolved along with its business processes. Studnitzer said, "Because we have such a strong technology organization in place, we were able to leverage some of our strong technologists and transition them onto the new platform. We've really developed the capability and it's been a wonderful journey. It mirrors CME's journey of migrating from a paper exchange to a digital exchange."
[CME Group isn't the only company exploring low-code options for applications. Read How One IT Shop Applies Low-Code Development Practices.]
Studnitzer said that CME Group is continuing to explore new ways to use the low-code platform and build new business processes. "We're moving all our customer interactions to a digital self-service infrastructure, and that's being supported by Appian. We're also looking to open up the Appian platform."
Opening up the platform means taking some steps that might seem unusual in a financial markets firm. "Internally we have 'code-ups,' which are like small hack-a-thons," Studnitzer said, though he explained that the goal is clear. "We want to allow people to come onto the platform and create apps."
(Cover image: maxsattana/iStockphoto)