REA and NAB had just one year to create a way for consumers to search and fund a property purchase through realestate.com.au - but three months from launch, things weren’t working.
“We came to a point early-to-mid August where we realised we were still struggling to get close to where we needed to be,” REA engineering manager Jeremy Burton said.
“The data transfers [between REA and NAB systems] weren’t working, the file formats were wrong, and they weren’t conveying the right message.
“At that point I had real concerns personally - were we going to be able to get this alignment? What do we need to do [to make it happen]?”
Seven months prior in January 2017, REA Group - operator of realestate.com.au - and NAB had hatched an ambitious plan to bring property search and finance together in a single platform.
The aim was to allow a home buyer to “start their home loan journey on realestate.com.au, obtain a fully digital, credit-checked home loan application” and then see how that home loan would apply to any property they looked at on the site.
“About 12 months ago, a small group of us got together to imagine what this could be like,” Burton said.
“We really got on the same page and came together on what we were going to try and present to the customer, what they were going to experience, how was this going to work for us as a business etc.
“We came out of that really excited and with a real vision of where we were going to go.”
NAB and REA then signed a contract defining the project delivery and timeframes.
Work began in January with teams on both sides, since the success of the project heavily depended on how well they could integrate with each other’s systems, processes and data stores.
“We defined some file and interface specs, how we were going to transfer data, what was it going to mean, what was the security going to be like, all that sort of stuff and all went away to do our work,” Burton said.
Technology teams at each end worked on “what we thought we needed to do” and were in regular email and voice contact, Burton said.
But there was some misalignment between the partners, owing to their different sizes and preferred ways of working - and that came to a head in August as the delivery date loomed.
“It turns out the answer was working closer together with the right people,” Burton said.
“We got together 30-40 of us - quite a big imposte on the project to get that many people together for a large session.
“In that session we walked through a customer scenario with developers, testers, solution architects, BAs - everybody from every function from both REA and NAB.”
The two companies mapped out the customer scenario on a whiteboard and translated it “into what we needed to happen in the file and data transfers between the organisations".
“It was really enlightening to see how that helped because what it really did was put everyone in the same position of understanding what it is we were trying to do and why,” Burton said.
“It wasn’t just about someone writing a piece of code that’s going to get a piece of data from a field in a database.
“It was about ‘I’m doing this because this person who’s using the realestate.com.au website wants to see how their home loan approval might apply to buying a property’.
“Having that awakening with everyone in the team really helped us accelerate getting this stuff right and drove out a lot of the confusion that had been there.”
Burton credits the meeting with getting the project on-track and completed on-time in early October and within budget.
“It was a really impressive outcome given where we started and what could have gone wrong,” he said.
“We were committed to making it work and trying to uncover what it would take to be able to do that.
“It all came down to bridging our cultures and systems of work. The earlier you can understand those differences and challenges, the sooner you’ll be able to uncover these problems as you see them occurring and predict when they might happen better.”
On the REA side, the functionality is mostly enabled using microservices that run on AWS infrastructure.
Microservices handle aspects of the consumer journey including saving financial information down to a “profile” and pulling data that a consumer enters into a home loan application on realestate.com.au into NAB’s approval process.
NAB sends REA a message if a customer is approved so the data can be shown against properties that person searches. A batch file of conditional home loan approvals is shared with REA for reconciliation purposes.
NAB had to build its own integrations into a “number of existing and new technology assets, leveraging the digital front end as well as core banking systems and broker systems”, the two firms said.
The result, according to the pair, is a “world-first” experience for prospective property buyers.
“We want to help simplify the property buying experience for Australians,” NAB’s executive general manager of consumer lending Angus Gilfillan said at launch.
“This digital integration of search and finance means we’re making a process that is for many Australians quite overwhelming, a much easier part of their property journey.”
This project has been named a finalist in the telco/media category of the iTnews Benchmark Awards 2017/18. The full list of finalists can be found here.