BlackHawk Network is a U.S.-based provider of prepaid and payment products in the United States and Canada. The company employs about 2,000 people and has hundreds of clients and partners (B2C and B2B), including Kroger, Simon, Disney, Staples, ITunes, BestBuy, Target, and eBay. BlackHawk Network focuses on gift cards. The company’s strategy was to increase the amount of online gift card sales by expanding the reach of the company and acquiring smaller companies working in this field such as NimbleCommerсe and Cashstar. For over a decade, we were involved in developing from scratch and well as providing ongoing support to NimbleCommerce — a white-label E-Commerce platform founded in Silicon Valley. When BlackHawk Network acquired NimbleCommerce in 2016, we remained a partner for the new owner. BHN had to choose and build a strategy with the smaller companies they had owned now to fit their vision. Which one should they focus on first? Which one needs more experts? Which must be closed down while experts transition to another project? How it is possible to save costs? How can automation be improved?
BlackHawk Network needed help from an expert team with merger-integration expertise to consolidate business assets after multiple M&A deals, integrating, migrating, and merging eight different E-Commerce platforms according to the domain model.
Each company, including BHN, had its own software and hardware; thus, the challenge was to consolidate all acquired platforms in one unified system.
The biggest problems that diverse systems caused for BHN were:
- Different UI/UX and architecture resulted in different user experiences, which caused a lot of confusion;
- High operational costs due to platform support and the development of the new features;
- Logic duplication for product catalog purchase flows, orders and order management, etc.;
- Infrastructure for every platform requires significant maintenance costs (mostly Amazon Web Services);
“Every company that BHN acquired had some kind of similar functionality, for example, Cashstar was only providing online gift cards, while HawkCommerce had a coupon system. When you buy a plastic gift card in a supermarket it still needs to be activated after the purchase. BHN already had all the necessary software and infrastructure for this, while most of the other companies that had been acquired didn’t even have an activation/deactivation ecosystem for offline gift cards. So, our goal was to make it all work as one system, enabling BHN with the software capabilities for online sales.”
– System Architect
Different companies had their own legacy software for onboarding, accounting, finance, fraud and risks, etc. The integration between those services was weak and required a lot of manual work. Here is how BHN’s financial department operated after the M&A.
“After the acquisition, some processes were handled manually. For example, the team from the financial department (10-20 employees) had to extract data from one system, put it into Excel files, process, and send them to another system. Those offline activities could be replaced with the functionality of our new platform, and experts could focus on more sophisticated tasks.”
– Chief Architect of Blackhawk Network
And of course, there was a problem with fragmented data — orders, transactions, profiles, and other types of data was stored in multiple databases in different formats. It took a lot of effort to generate reports and limit strategic knowledge and financial control, which put BHN in danger of data corruption and loss as well as potential security issues.
It was necessary to define all processes and build a domain model of the business (including clients, products, accounts, billing, etc.). The system architect had done that and subsequently created a plan for building a new system according to that domain model.
With all business-related process optimization questions answered and a strategy defined, BlackHawk Network was left with multiple E-Commerce platforms running on software solutions different from their own. Some platforms were set to be integrated and transformed, while others would be removed entirely. Those platforms that were merging had their own unique data models and adjusting them to each other would take a lot of time and costs. That’s why it was crucial to develop a new data model that would unify all systems. Basically, a new dedicated system for data management was needed.
An entirely new team developing a new system combined with services running on modern technologies for data management caused one more problem: some current BHN systems instantly became legacy ones. BHN processes could not be impacted during the development, so turning down all legacy systems was not an option — they needed to be slowly and strategically integrated with a new system.
The main goal was to develop a central console for business management to completely integrate with all existing and legacy systems, which would provide unified UI/UX and architecture while simultaneously updating statistics and financial reports across all platforms.
The new domain model of the business looked impressive and required consolidating dozens of technical parts and systems to bring the architectural vision to life. To achieve that, we decided to form several teams of experts to build a platform called Master Data 2.0 with an UI/UX management console called Hawk Eye. Each team took over a particular aspect of the technological solution. Three key teams were responsible for core services and were the main contributors to the project.
Three Master Data teams — MD Platform, MD Product 1, and MD Product 2 — were created during the development process. Each team worked on an ecosystem with over 30 microservices; each microservice represented a couple of business entities and Front End development.
“Every business entity is not just a set of forms or data, but a hierarchy structured according to certain rules. Entities sometimes require a very complicated validation. You can’t just add something to the system, an entity had to have particular requirements. Starting from simple — the number of symbols in the form, to more sophisticated — only certain values are acceptable in one form when we have particular combinations of values in other forms. In addition, each entity has its own business logic. This logic could be beyond Master Data 2.0 scope, in this case, MD2.0 only manages it, while other systems develop a logic that can use the data from either entity.”
– Volodymyr Bilous, Software Architect, former Team Lead of the Platform Team
Master Data integrated all systems and consolidated them into one platform, which became the central console for managing the business. MD teams created the architecture. The domain model was modified during the implementation process, but the teams followed the main concept. They identified critical data, prioritized migration tasks, and provided timing and performance assumptions. Master Data teams were involved in a spectrum of data-related tasks, including:
Five ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) microservices, aimed at receiving data from systems, including Legacy, transforming it for the new model. All of those microservices became the central storage point of information from all systems.
Four microservices that monitor changes and updating data across all ecosystems.
“We built most of the core services entirely from a scratch using Domain Driven Design approach and multi-service architecture. Some technical goals were the real challenge for us, with the scope and complexity we never faced before. Every iteration of the development process was putting my team out of the comfort zone because we had to find original ways to solve specific problems, developing unique and custom software. I can’t say we had a problem with repetitive and routine tasks, not at all! My team is in a process of constant growth in this project, and now new challenges are what defines the Platform Team. We expect it to be hard and fascinating.”
– Volodymyr Bilous, Software Architect, former Team Lead of the Platform Team
The CSP team was responsible for Settlement, working on the number of microservices for financial reporting, a billing system for BlackHawk Network. This system collects client account data and makes it available to manage through Hawk Eye.
The Galaxy team presented information from the entire system in the form of easy-to-understand business reports. Those reports included overall progress, sales, and new clients.
The HawkCommerce team basically worked on the maintenance of an old platform and support the remaining functions.
The AMP team focused on the B2B system in order to add new clients. They had created an Original Content platform from scratch to facilitate the successful and streamlined management of global partners. The platform has a rich selection of services for the swift onboarding of account-managed partners through the full transaction lifecycle of transaction decisioning and decline management, settlement, fraud control and reporting while also providing self-service portals for SMB onboarding, administration, and end consumer showcase and engagement. As of the time of the writing, the AMP team has already launched three clients from the USA, Canada and the Great Britain.
The CashStar team was formed with our experts to integrate the CashStar platform with Master Data 2.0.
Some Items from the Technology Stack:
- Wide usage of AWS (Redshift, Lambda, S3, Athena, Redis, ElasticSearch, Kinesis, AWS SNS/SQS, etc.)
- Spring Framework, including Spring Boot components
- Event Sourcing
- Gateway Service
- Authentication and Authorization (Attribute Based Access Control)
BlackHawk Network gained a new level of business management and financial control thanks to consolidated data, advanced reporting, and cutting-edge UI/UX approaches. Thanks to our teams’ efforts, we were able to build a high-scaled, enterprise-grade Consolidated Enterprise Platform for BlackHawk Network.
Currently, up to 100 connected services are running and could be managed through the HawkEye console. An advanced and flexible reporting BI system that was designed and integrated by our teams was introduced; the system provides 40+MM records a day and supports over a hundred report types. This system constantly produces valuable information for data-driven insights.
Business processes and assets consolidation led to the reduction of operational and capital expenses thanks to infrastructure and maintenance cost optimization. Restructuring the business systems was completed without any disruptions to critical processes. Data of any complexity level was moved from the platforms thanks to our data migration and reconciliation tools. A number of legacy platforms were suspended, freeing up more than $200K/month of additional business-critical resources in operational savings (these funds were previously spent on servers, databases, and tech staff support).
We are committed to ensuring the quality of core BHN’s business operations long after the completion of the platform consolidation, as we remain a partner in support and development.
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