Transforming external integrations with event-driven architecture at Spirit Super
5% to 66%
of increased team capacity for new project work by reducing pressures of business-as-usual work
time required for the first third-party integration, down from 8 weeks
downtime since moving to a cloud-native solution
About Spirit Super
Spirit Super is a superannuation fund provider in Australia and supports hard-working Australians to save for their future and retirement. The profit-for-members industry super fund has around $27 billion funds under management and more than 321,000 members. It is the trusted super provider for more than 70,000 Australian employers, who pay a percentage of an employee’s earnings into a super account to be made available to an employee at retirement.
Length of project
The changing world of superannuation
After a long career, being able to retire and know that you have built the funds you’ll need in a pension, superannuation or in social security benefits can be a great source of comfort at the end of your working life.
In Australia, superannuation plays a significant role in the lives of workers, with 78% of people having money in a super fund for their retirement, with employers contributing funds into the account. Historically, workers may only have spent a small amount of time thinking about their super unless they were changing jobs or getting ready for retirement. Many would have been happy with the default fund selected by their employer or industry sector and would have experienced limited interactions with the fund provider itself.
But this is rapidly changing. The number of people exercising their right to choose their fund provider is growing and consumers have higher expectations of those managing their financial assets. Both they and the organisations interacting with super funds on their behalf are demanding convenience, transparency and products that reflect the modern working landscape at a minimum. Those who don’t innovate and provide the security, usability and digital sophistication that consumers expect risk being unable to attract and retain members.
Add into this complicated, frequently changing regulatory frameworks, market volatility, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and the current financial stress on household budgets and it is clear the superannuation ecosystem is facing significant challenges and disruption.
Using technology to maintain growth and deliver for members
Spirit Super recognised the impact technology played in its offer and wanted to position itself to be able to deliver the best possible service and experience for its members.
Formed in April 2021, following the merger of Tasplan and MTAA Super, Spirit Super had grown significantly in a relatively short space of time and needed to be able to maintain growth while continuing to deliver for its members. It recognised that its current technologies were reaching a ceiling and could not be relied upon to navigate the complex climate. It needed to act quickly to stay competitive as well as grow and scale in the future.
Spirit Super’s technology strategy was all about advancing the organisation and readying itself for further growth and merger opportunities. The development team were eager to move from their current system of monolithic, tightly coupled desktop applications to cloud-based solutions, but finding the time and capacity to implement this was proving to be challenging.
Due to the limitations of the on-prem systems, which required manual deployment across multiple environments and at times could suffer from poor performance, the team at Spirit Super were spending up to 95% of their time fire-fighting or dealing with business-as-usual issues. This left them with little time to deliver new and value-adding features, let alone consider the best way to move their entire platform to the cloud in a secure and efficient way.
Noting this lack of capacity, Spirit Super wanted to engage a partner who had the experience and know-how to guide the team along the journey, point out dead ends and help the team to do the right thing the first time.
It was important to us when we found a partner that there was someone who has been there and done that before so when we were going on that journey, we wouldn’t be going down dead ends. They were able to guide us and say the best way to do something the first time rather than us going around in circles and trying to work it out ourselves.John Nesbitt, Application Development Manager, Spirit Super
Identifying bottlenecks and improving efficiencies within the Software Development Life Cycle
Spirit Super engaged Equal Experts to review its Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) and provide advice on ways that it could improve, including identifying bottlenecks, increasing efficiency and improving connectedness within the business.
We worked with the team to observe their procedures and identified an ad-hoc way of working at Spirit Super, with no clear planning or prioritisation, little automation and limited approval processes. We provided recommendations to improve their SDLC and move to an engineering-led process, with high levels of automation, new ways of working and demonstrations of what good looks like.
Continuous integration and continuous delivery were implemented. This included how to gather requirements, break down work into tasks, manage the team’s capacity, create a definition of done and utilise automated testing frameworks. We introduced a light-touch scrum methodology which gave the team a structure to their workdays and enabled them to take ownership of their capacity and workload. This enabled Spirit Super to improve their efficiency and have more time to plan and enact significant changes to add value to the business by giving greater clarity on timescales for when work could be completed by the team.
Establishing a steel thread by migrating a single capability into the cloud
When you onboard a new member of staff, it’s useful to be able to get through the HR admin quickly and efficiently, including setting up their super account. Anything which slows down this process, including unreliable, cumbersome or slow member registration systems, can be frustrating and could impact an employer’s choice of super fund or the super fund’s reputation.
We advised Spirit Super to consider event-driven architecture to maximise the results the team needed. With event-driven architecture the team would be able to operate real-time transactions and data, have high resilience thanks to a decoupled architecture pattern and enable the faster delivery of new features and fixes.
As a proof of concept for the event-driven architecture solution design, we worked collaboratively with Spirit Super to create a new capability in the cloud – a service enabling third parties to register new members.
This steel thread enabled the team at Spirit Super to utilise the new SDLC processes and develop their understanding of cloud computing, event-driven architecture, infrastructure as code and automated testing while also demonstrating the business value in the solution design. A partnership model enabled Equal Experts to embed members within the Spirit Super team, providing opportunities for pair programming, coaching and on-hand support on an active project within the business.
We engaged Spirit Super’s various third-party providers to understand, clarify and map out each provider’s requirements, use cases and workflows. This was then utilised to generically define and create an Open API specification for a publicly exposed member service supporting third parties to integrate with Spirit Super when onboarding or registering new employees with the super fund.
A data pipeline was built with Kafka which pulled membership data into a secure, private cloud and was used by the API to determine if the applicant already had an account with Spirit Super. This enabled third parties to call the new API without requiring the on-prem systems to be available. The API was hosted in Microsoft Azure and the solution allowed all data changes to be captured as events, which enabled the system to be easily extended over time with new capabilities as and when required by the business.
This approach also introduced additional benefits to Spirit Super’s development including improved and automated testing frameworks for unit, functional and end-to-end tests, built-in auditing and logging and more robust processes.
We also worked closely with the wider IT teams to set expectations on the design and implementation of cloud architecture, security and networking to ensure it would meet compliance requirements and vital security considerations.
The team were very excited to be part of this project. It was brand new technology that we’d not used before and brand new ways of working but in Equal Experts we had experts that we could ask, not just what are you doing but why are you doing it that way? So that was extremely invigorating for the team members to be able to pick something up that was new and run with it.John Nesbitt, Application Development Manager, Spirit Super
Ability to scale effectively
The steel thread’s success and Equal Expert’s support during the three-month engagement proved to be the catalyst for the rest of the platform development at Spirit Super. It has left the organisation with an understanding of the benefits of cloud computing and how the flexibility, ability for rapid change and improved reliability can offer the business significant benefits which will ultimately improve the experience for its partners and customers.
The first third party to integrate with the Spirit Super system budgeted an integration time of eight weeks, based on previous experiences. However, due to the simplicity and ease of use of the API, the third party was able to get the first version of the integration working in just two days. This saved the partner organisation months of time-consuming work and allowed them to start seeing the benefits of the integration almost immediately, cementing an improved relationship between the businesses. As the API was built in a generic way, it is envisaged that other third parties would have a similar experience integrating with Spirit Super and this will allow new partnerships and business relationships to be materialised in a much shorter space of time. The successful integration to third parties and seamless flow of customer data into Spirit Super will also improve customer confidence in Spirit Super as an innovative super provider with advanced capabilities ready to meet their needs and the dynamic superannuation sector.
Due to the close collaborative work undertaken within the steel thread and the improvements made to the SDLC, Spirit Super’s team have been empowered to own the delivery of the solution and feel confident in deploying it themselves. Management of resources within the team is much easier and the team’s product/sprint backlog is now mainly made up of project work (66%), a significant improvement from the 95% of time dedicated to fire-fighting and business as usual before the engagement. The team are already releasing new opportunities from this new architecture and rather than making regular small changes to on-prem systems, the team have the confidence and capacity to build cloud-native solutions where appropriate to improve the system in the long term.
A modern approach to delivering software
By implementing event-driven architecture alongside the successful proof of concept use case and upskilling their internal team on ways of working, we provided Spirit Super with the building blocks for the next generation of its technology.
Through the engagement, Spirit Super gained a deeper understanding of event-driven architecture and crucial advice on high-level architecture that would not only support the first steps of its journey but also how it could evolve the architecture in the future. Rather than spending years trialling different options and solutions, encountering frequent roadblocks or delays, Spirit Super was able to forge a direct path to success by working with Equal Experts to understand what good looks like, gain different perspectives and use tried and tested technologies.
Now that we have the API platform foundation built, I feel like the team has the confidence as well as the skills to continue to build innovative products that help us deliver on our member service promise.Alex Mehl, Chief Technology Officer, Spirit Super
Spirit Super now has an ongoing framework to extend and continue the migration of more capabilities into the cloud and reduce its dependency on on-prem systems, which comes with resiliency, scalability and significant performance benefits. Due to security patches and other updates being applied to on-prem servers, Spirit Super’s systems can be unavailable for up to 45 minutes each month. Anyone wishing to sign up via the third-party member registration service during this period would be unable to do so or would receive an error message, with this poor user experience resulting in members being lost if they decided to choose another provider. By implementing a cloud-native solution with no direct dependency on on-prem systems, Spirit Super has experienced zero downtime, with enhanced availability and consistent response times. This improved user experience has meant no members have dropped out of the registration process since its introduction.
By moving to agile practices we’re much more proactive in our approach. We were able to achieve something in nine months that would have taken years to accomplish without partnering with someone who was able to guide us the best way, first time.John Nesbitt, Application Development Manager, Spirit Super
The processes and approaches introduced during the Equal Experts engagement are now being adopted by the wider technology team at Spirit Super, with those who worked closely with Equal Experts acting as advocates for the approach and coaching colleagues. This expansion of knowledge sharing across the technology team, alongside a new platform that can be extended and expanded quickly and easily, is helping the business respond to the ever-changing superannuation landscape while continuing to deliver value for its members.
One of the highlights of the engagement for me was the feedback that we were getting months after the engagement finished. The development team told us how smoothly everything was running, how happy they were with the patterns and practices we put in place, how easy it was to add new functionality to the architecture and how happy the development team actually were in their work day-to-day.Mark Tranter, Principal Consultant, Equal Experts.
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