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Firm taps Windows Workflow Foundation to give customers more control

Remend, the maker of mortgage servicing default management software, completely revamped its app from J2EE to .NET delivered as a service.

Mortgage servicing firm Remend Inc. began work on version 3 of its default management solution right around the time the company's IT pros first heard about Microsoft's Windows Workflow Foundation (WF). Since then, a lot has changed for the San Mateo, Calif.-based company. Namely, it went from a J2EE multitier application to a .NET application delivered as Software as a Service (SaaS). And WF was at the heart of the switch.

A large part of our approach was to enable workflow integration both on a large scale and inside the workflows themselves.
Armando Hernandez
software architectRemend Inc.

Windows Workflow Foundation, one of the pillars of .NET 3.0 along with Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Presentation Foundation, comprises a programming model, engine and tools for building workflow-enabled applications on Windows, and supports both system workflow and human workflow.

Remend's real estate owned application previously had a rigid, hard-wired workflow that was very rigid, with a lot of the business logic and process flow baked into the code, explained software architect Armando Hernandez. "For the new version, we were looking for a different technology solution to expose more of the business flows and logic to the analysts and business users and configuration administrators," he said.

Herrnandez said they evaluated Java application servers that had some workflow and process automation functionality, as well as an Adobe workflow plugin to J2EE servers. When Remend looked at the spec for Microsoft WF, it met many of Remend's qualifications. "It was extensible, it was baked into the new SDK, it had the right models ready to work with in terms of sequential models and human-driven models, [and] it had the right orientation to encapsulate business process flows and the ability to work in multiple modes," Hernandez said.

The rules engine was also important to Remend. "Rules were a big component of what we were looking for," Hernandez said. "Having it well coupled with workflow and the ability to be extended and rehosted, means you can take the rule component and run it yourself in other ways. That was a really huge win for us."

For Remend, going from version 2.0 to 3.0 of its default management solution was a big change. The application previously supported J2EE application servers WebLogic and JBoss, the development environment was Eclipse, and they used Bugzilla to track bugs.

Now a .NET environment, Remend is using Visual Studio 2005, Visual Studio Team System for tracing issues and bugs, persistence layer SQL Server 2005, and ASP.NET with WF. The new application, Remend OnDemand, is being hosted on Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS).

Since the servicing side of loans has a large community of vendors, Web services also represent a large component of the application, Hernandez said.

"The ability to distribute workflow tasks is very important; all the different players have their own systems. A large part of our approach was to enable workflow integration both on a large scale and inside the workflows themselves," Hernandez said, adding that Remend architected the application to be service oriented: "You can interact with the application entirely via Web services if you want to."

Hernandez said the three cornerstones of Remend OnDemand are rules, workflow, and extensible data. "I was drawn to WF, but we also looked at the reporting services, [Windows Communication Foundation], etc. It was obvious with the whole [.NET 3.0] platform we could put together the requirements for our next version."

More on Windows Workflow Foundation
Reference: Windows Workflow Foundation Learning Guide

Tip: Get started with Windows Workflow Foundation development

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Made available last month, Remend OnDemand is designed to integrate mortgage servicers, lenders, realtors and investors and provides workflow control of business processes; real-time decisioning and analytics; and a consolidated information source. The solution provides the capability to configure the business process and decision points to meet client and investor needs.

According to Ture Anderson, director of product marketing, the earlier version of the product "had limited information [customers] could touch and change for workflow. Here they have complete configuration control."

In addition to enabling their application, Hernandez said Windows Workflow Foundation is also helping their internal developers. "The lead developers use it to encapsulate a lot of the logic and run it as rules, so you can just concentrate on function. The problem we had with version 2 is the logic was baked into the code. To make a change, you had to change the code, recompile, retest, etc.

With this solution a lot of the logic is encapsulated in the rules, so you don't have to test as much," Hernandez continued. "And because it's inside well defined boundaries there is less chance something else went wrong, which leads to higher quality."

Going forward, Hernandez said he would like to see improvements to the tooling around ASP.NET and enhancements to the APIs, and "areas of deeper components like the distribution transactions toolkit needs to be enhanced, but so far we're pleased."

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