Move up to the highest MFT maturity level by enabling self-service

MFT maturity
MFT maturity

Mainstream adoption of Managed File Transfer (MFT) started years or even decades ago. Most of the companies are very mature in the way they manage their MFT maturity infrastructure.

MFT maturity of MFT deployments

Over the years, with the acquired experiences and benefits of the innovations of the MFT vendors, the IT departments build a consistent and cost-effective offering for their customers (the lines of business). To achieve this, they go through multiple improvement steps like the ones listed below.

Build a Center of Excellence team (COE)

It is a team of individuals managed from a common central point independent to the MFT consumers. They are establishing best practices and ensuring that they are followed consistently. They define standards and methods, they regularly assess the technology, usages and strategy to make sure it still addresses the needs of the business.

Further, they measure the quality and cost of the MFT infrastructure. They are also providing expertise and guidance, supporting the different lines of business. This team ensures the success of the MFT deployment and usage, avoids fragmented approaches which create corporate risk, as well as brings consistency and finally allows the ability to provide higher quality for a lower cost.

MFT consolidation

Overtime or because of merger and acquisition events, companies have put in place multiple MFT solutions and various implementations requiring more skills to maintain. The consolidation to a unique and standardized solution will allow you to drastically reduce the cost and corporate risk.

Offer shared services

A shared service is a one-to-many pooled resource that can reduce IT costs, complexity and redundancy. This saves the organization significant costs because it avoids multiple business application teams developing their own approaches that result in duplicate efforts, processes and technologies.

What are the remaining challenges?

Then, if companies are so mature in MFT, is there still challenges not addressed? As adoption of the service grows so does the stress of a shared center of excellence team. The more requests there are to set up partners, the more people are needed.  Time delays start to kick in.  The biggest risk is that projects give up on MFT shared service and do their own. When projects do their own files transfers, there is risk associated with security, compliance, governance, reliability, etc.

Shared service teams often need to do more with less. They don’t always get well funded. As service adoption grows, their human costs increase to the dissatisfaction of senior leadership. This risk is increased by the fact that the volume of data exchanged through files is growing steadily year after year.

It’s impacting the lines of business who complain about the elapsed time to onboard new customers or to set up new interactions. The average time is often weeks if not months. This is impacting the business directly involving lost revenue and very frustrated customers.  It is not the best way to start a new relationship.  

Move to the highest maturity level by enabling self-service

To cope with these new challenges, my advice is to enable self-service.  For the business, self-service gives people the autonomy to help themselves. They don’t need to wait for IT. SLAs will guarantee the elapsed time of each service. Therefore, the lines of business will know in advance the elapse time to onboard a new partner. They will be able to plan according to their milestones and avoid any business or project impact.

For IT, self-service reduces operational costs by automating or allowing users to perform common tasks that used to be labor-intensive. The expected benefits of this approach are:

  • Align with the business by allowing to have the interactions and connection in place on time.
  • Provide a better service to the business. The processes are standardized, automated as much as possible, easy to consume and come up with SLAs.
  • Reduce the cost by lowering the involvement of the IT on standard requests.
  • Improve the consistency and sustainability of the MFT implementation. All the configurations of the MFT solution are standardized thanks to the automation brought by the self-service which embed these standards.

Enabling self-service: best practices

Now, let’s analyze how to set up such a self-service. First, we need to figure out the scope. The three main categories of services you need to deliver are:

  • Services to onboard a new partner and manage its lifecycle.
  • Services to define and deploy a new file transfer exchange flow and manage its lifecycle.
  • Provide the capability to monitor the activity.

Let’s go first through some recurrent questions.

How many services should I put in place?

If you analyze the needs and usages of the business application owners, you will realize that they have all similar needs. Finally, with less than 10 services in each category, you are able to cover more than 80% of the needs.

How the services will be consumed?

The business users must be comfortable with the tool they use to consume the services. Then, the tool to use is very dependent on the company. It could be an IT Service Management tool (e.g. Service. Now or Remedy) or a DevOps tool. It’s also key that the screens only reflect the information the business has and can provide, and that the language used be business-friendly to limit the risk of adoption failure.  To integrate with such a tool, the MFT infrastructure must provide REST APIs.

Key statement to succeed in enabling self-service for MFT.

To enable self-service, it is required to provide REST API. Actually, most of the MFT solution is coming up with native REST API allowing you to execute the same actions as the ones you can do through the admin UI.

Unfortunately, it would be bad practice to expose directly these APIs to the business consumers because they are too granular, too technical and too complex. The complexity is due to the fact that the product must allow all possible combinations of configuration while the consumers have only limited needs.

The best practice is to provide an API abstraction layer for the self-service. This layer will expose APIs specifically designed for target consumers. The goal is to:

-Build custom APIs that meets the exact requirements of the organization.

-Minimalize the set of parameters in API calls to make it intuitive and easy to use.

-Remove the complexities around implementing logic inside applications.

This layer will also embed all the standards defined by the Center of Excellence team. Then, thanks to this layer, we will be able to standardize and automate the full onboarding process (for partner or exchange definition) from the initial request by the business user to the technical deployment on the MFT infrastructure.

The methodologic approach I would suggest is split it into five phases described below.

Phase 1 – Prerequisite

All the prerequisites must be checked:

  • The target architecture of the MFT implementation must be ready
  • Standardization must have been defined by the Center of Excellence team
    • All flow types have been identified
    • The naming conventions are set
    • The way each flow type has to be implemented have to be described

Phase 2 – Scope definition

In this phase, you must identify all the target personas (application owner, middleware manager…) and define for each of them the functional needs (create/modify flow, onboard partner…). For each persona, you also have to identify why the tool will be used.

Phase 3 – Design

In this phase, the main items are:

  • Update your MFT architecture to position the API self-service abstraction layer. It could involve additional component (some MFT vendor provides a prebuild asset for that). Define the security mechanisms to control who (persona) can do what.
  • Define how tools which will consume the APIs will be integrated. Identify the integration constraints and identify the customization to be done.
  • Define the API and associated policies required for self-service. For that, for each flow type identified by the Center of Excellence,
    • Define the API interface to be exposed to the consumer. This API must be as simple as possible and meet the exact requirement of the target persona.
    • Identify all the attributes required to create the flow in the MFT solution and identify.
      • The attributes that must have the same static value for all flows of this type
      • The attributes for which the value can be calculated (naming convention or another rule)
      • The attributes that have to be provided by the flow creation requester
    • Specify the rules to apply to embed the standards
    • Specify the mapping between the API interface exposed to the consumer and the product API

Phase 4 – Implementation

It is basically the implementation of what has been designed in Phase 3. The key point in this phase is to involve the different personas in the process for the validation of the solution.

Phase 5 – Change management

Documentation and education are key to onboard the actors which will use the APIs through different tools/Uis. Don’t miss this phase to get a good adoption of the solution. Discover the advantages of MFT.

What’s next

Now that you have a Center of Excellence team in place and an operational self-service solution, your MFT implementation is standardized and this standardization is enforced. You can imagine as a next step to monetize the MFT services to split fairly the cost of the MFT infrastructure across all departments of the company using it.

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