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Case Study: Tokyo-Mitsubishi TD Waterhouse i-mode Site

Building a basic, static-content Web site can be pretty simple. Providing dynamic, real-time access to information and services is a different matter, and it's even more difficult on the mobile Internet. Japanese financial houses that have mobilized their offerings for i-mode are some of the world's first mobile movers, and they've gained a significant lead in porting their online services to the wireless Web.

Tokyo–Mitsubishi TD Waterhouse Joint Venture

One foreign player that has caught on to the possibilities of i-mode and the wireless Web is the Tokyo-Mitsubishi TD Waterhouse (TMTDW) brokerage, a joint venture that began operations in Japan in July 2000. TD Waterhouse is the world's second-largest discount broker; Tokyo-Mitsubishi is a major Japanese bank. A few years ago, such a move would have entailed a massive bricks-and-mortar investment and a long wait for profitability. This is not so with i-mode, which, together with Web, call center, and Interactive Voice Response (IVR), forms the broker's retail electronic presence (the joint venture doesn't have any physical shops). TMTDW sees i-mode as the most effective way to reach consumers, and chief operating officer Robert Strickland expects 50% of customer contact to occur via i-mode in 2001. The firm is the only online broker in Japan offering trading of both American stocks and Japanese equities on i-mode, according to Strickland.

To launch the site, TMTDW had to jump through some significant regulatory and systems integration hoops. Key partner Bridge Information Systems provides bilingual news feeds, but to satisfy regulators, TMTDW had to find a way to provide—in Japanese—basic disclosure information on U.S. companies (balance sheet and ownership, for example) to Japanese customers. The necessary data is pulled off a server in the United States (owned by a Bridge Information Systems affiliate) and served up via English- or Japanese-language Web templates. TMTDW works closely with Bridge to make its i-mode site work. (Companies referenced in the text include Tokyo Mitsubishi TD Waterhouse Securities Co., Ltd., http://www.tmtdw.com (Japanese); Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi Ltd., http://www.btm.co.jp (Japanese); TD Waterhouse Group, Inc,. http://www.tdwaterhouse.com and Bridge Information Systems, Inc., http://www.bridge.com.)

Getting Networks to Talk

"It's really tough to get networks to talk," says David Turner, senior vice president for systems and operations at TMTDW. He says that the key challenge for developers of enterprise applications is to enable the reuse of existing infrastructure if at all possible. TMTDW already had middleware in place that could obtain real-time stock price quotes, enter trades, query trades, and get account balances, for example. "In order to move their businesses to the Net," says Turner, "companies have to find a way for their closed mainframe systems to be accessed from an outside presentation layer." You can do this in several ways:

  • Port the mainframe interface to a client-server system through some sort of interface tool on the mainframe. The servers establish a code-level connection with the mainframe and write directly to a defined Application Programming Interface (API).

  • Emulate a mainframe terminal screen, and send fake screens to and from the mainframe, as though they came from a terminal-based user (known as screen scraping). Some tools support it on most mainframes, and this solution tends to be relatively quick to develop. Watch out: If the underlying mainframe screens change, the screen-scraping program might no longer work.

  • Translate transactions from their native HTML code to the language of the middleware (often C). The problem with this technique is that even if you create a mainframe interface that multiple devices can use, individual client programs are often on each server, which connect to the middleware. In this case, the servers have to convert the code, and this process takes some time and causes duplication.

  • Add an XML layer into the environment. This technique centralizes the translation activity in just one spot and allows Web servers to talk quickly (more or less in their native language) to the gateway. This approach is ideal for high-volume environments, but introduces one more potential point of failure into the mix.

The TMTDW solution uses the last of these approaches, and Turner says that the system makes direct middleware connections to the Web servers for most transactions.

To see the advantage of this architecture more clearly, consider the TMTDW Japanese- language U.S. trading service. To permit the trading of U.S. equities, a subscriber connects to a server in the United States, and each screen of information is transmitted back across the Pacific, with the actual processing of the input being done at the U.S. site.

In a "pure" XML model, the presentation to the client would be in Japan, maintained by people who understand Japanese, and provide quicker screen refreshes to subscribers. "Only when a transaction needs to be processed is it sent to the United States, where an XML gateway processes it and returns only the necessary data, not an entire screen full of information," explains Turner. Because the transaction is separated from the presentation, the language displayed to the client is irrelevant.

Providing this kind of generic gateway functionality helps make international expansion easier and reduces issues of language. Furthermore, because the people doing the transaction development are intimately knowledgeable about their own stock markets, they can ensure that the subscriber interface is designed to reflect local market peculiarities.

The key is to use XML, which makes developing for a multichannel database access system faster and cheaper, at about two-thirds the cost of building a conventional system. Also, "If you use XML, you can run Windows NT on your servers, which is cheaper and easier to program," Turner says. Using traditional methods, developing custom code to enable the system middleware to talk to each of the brokerage's customer contact channels (i-mode, IVR, Web, call center) would be expensive. By implementing an XML server, the translation has to be done only once, and adding additional channels to the XML server becomes substantially easier.

The aim, says Turner, is to allow customers to access their brokerage accounts via any channel using the same username and password. It isn't only the customer who has to be able to access the account information. The operator at the call center has to see the same data on the screen pop up when accessing the account via Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) software at the call center.

TMTDW has implemented only a little XML so far, but the desirability of providing a single middleware layer for all channels, and the same authentication for all channels, is true whether you use XML or not. "Ideally, we'd like to move to an XML gateway approach in [the] future, if economically feasible," Turner says.

XML on a TMTDW i-mode Site

XML was fully implemented in crafting TMTDW's U.S. disclosure database, which provides the basic disclosure data on U.S. companies to Japanese subscribers. A U.S.-based database partner of TD Waterhouse already supported XML, so all that had to be done for i-mode was to create the presentation layer. The development was very quick: Japan-based developers worried about the look and feel of the pages while U.S. developers looked after the data.

To try it, access (The page displays garbage characters unless the browser supports Japanese character sets.) Then, type any U.S. stock symbol (for example, IBM), and click Go. The screen you see sources the data from the U.S. server, but the page comes from the TMTDW Japan Web server. i-mode users see primarily the same thing, except that the page is formatted for the small screen.

The firm spent almost half a year and some $1.5 million on its i-mode effort, although the systems integration work for i-mode was done together with the launch of the call center and Web and IVR channels, so it's difficult to put a precise value on the i-mode site alone. Furthermore, some half-dozen partner SI firms and Web shops were involved in building the site as well as the tech muscle of Tokyo Mitsubishi Bank, one of Japan's largest.

The firm found that building the i-mode component of the system wasn't much different from building the Web or other nonwireless portions, but "The project management and systems integration planning task was huge," says the TMTDW vice president of systems, Seiichi Tanaka, a transplant from the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi. Turner adds that development costs in Japan are fairly high. See Figure 3.6 for a detailed diagram of the site.

Figure 3.6 The TMTDW i-mode site integrates servers on two continents to provide mobile online trading in English and Japanese.

TMTDW Site Future Development

The TMTDW team is planning to expand stock trading services to the following platforms:

  • Palm. TMTDW will modify the existing i-mode code base slightly and move it to a separate Web server to take advantage of Palm's new Web clipping feature. (Palm now supports modified HTML in addition to native Palm OS.) Dollar cost: low five figures; time to market: two months.

  • PocketPC. TMTDW thinks that PocketPC devices can access the existing i-mode code, after it's moved to a public Web server. "We'll use device detection to pretty up the client interface for the PPC," says Turner. Dollar cost: mid-four figures; time to market: two weeks.

  • J-Sky and EZweb. The firm is considering using a U.S.–localized product named Everypath to enable these additional MML and HDML channels cheaply. Everypath "screen scrapes" Web servers and knows how to reformat the output to suit J-Sky and EZWeb devices. "As a result," says Turner, "we don't have to build in direct middleware connections to our core functionality—Everypath 'steals' code from [one of our] existing channels. Cool!" Dollar cost (rental basis): high four figures; time to market: six weeks.

How the Site Works

Customers access the TMTDW site (it has English and Japanese versions) via the i-mode menu list to trade U.S. stocks and Japanese equities. Each trade costs about JPY1,900 ($15.83), depending on the type of trade and the size of the transaction. Providing all the information needed to conduct a trade on a four-postage-stamp-size screen is a challenge, and the site had to drop all but essential screen information. Simplifying input is even tougher; a few clicks are all anyone wants to type. It takes three clicks to reach the TMTDW site from the i-mode default menu.

Customers on the Move

Network communication between the handset and the TMTDW server is mediated on a 30-minute session time-out. If the customer's taxi zips through a tunnel, the trade request isn't lost. (Japanese mobile traders tend to be more willing to trust the air interface than do those in the United States.) The TMTDW system accepts orders at any time (the orders are held until the next trading session if the markets are closed).

i-mode GRIMM Gateway

NTTDoCoMo has rigid specs for interfacing official content and service provider servers with the i-mode gateway. Because the TMTDW site appears on the official menu, connection is made to the gateway via a leased line between the gateway and the TMTDW server center in Tokyo. Other portions of the TMTDW system use virtual private networks (VPNs) to transmit data. The site warns clients that NTT DoCoMo server outages can and do occur.

TMTDW i-mode Site

Most clients access their TMTDW account via the main i-mode menu (in both Japanese and English). That transaction flows via the NewsLink data center, although most users don't know that. Nonclients who use NewsLink access TMTDW via the NewsLink i-mode Web site. In other words, clients access NewsLink via the TMTDW main site first so that they can be authenticated and so that TDTMW can tell NewsLink that the clients are entitled to the additional privileges of paying customers (see the later section "Email Alerts").

The TMTDW service gateway is the NewsLink-branded host site, where customers can access screens for trading, price lookup, portfolio summary, Bridge news, email-alert sign-up, company disclosure information, and help. Bridge news is reformatted for i-mode phone screens (narrow text, preset file size) and produced separately in English and Japanese. This is the first time Bridge has provided its usually proprietary newsfeed to the public. It provides 20-minute-delayed headlines to the site that are accessible by any i-mode user for free (in exchange for her email address) and the full story in real time to registered TMTDW customers. The real-time market data and NQN News are provided by Nikkei Quick (not shown in Figure 3.6).

Stock Trading

The trading of U.S. stocks is provided via TD Waterhouse servers located in the United States. Clients can trade NYSE, Nasdaq, and AMEX listings, but not Japanese American Depository Receipts (ADRs) or EFTs (shares listed on other electronic exchanges). Japanese equity trading operates off Tokyo Mitsubishi affiliate brokerage servers and allows the trading of issues on the Tokyo and Osaka exchanges as well as on the Jasdaq and Nasdaq-J markets.

Email Alerts

At the TMTDW site, i-mode users can sign up for a variety of email alerts, including

  • News related to specific companies (as many as 20 for registered customers and as many as 5 for noncustomers).

  • Financial news alerts including the Nikkei average, Tokyo Bonds and Forex, major foreign markets, hot stocks, mutual funds, business results, top news on Japanese companies, financial news, top news on foreign companies, and events (registered customers can sign up for all, and noncustomers can sign up for the first three).

  • Quote alerts on specific stocks and on market performance (as many as 20 for registered customers as many as 5 for noncustomers).

In mid-May 2001, TMTDW sent out some 15,000 email alerts per day, growing at 3% per week. The cool thing about providing free NewsLink data to noncustomers and enhanced data to clients is the possibility of creating even more customers for Bridge. "We hope to create more customers for TMTDW and Bridge and get our name better known," says Turner, adding, "This is the same thing that's been done effectively on the Net, of course, but it takes some faith in the medium to commit this kind of cash to it."

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