- Industry: Gift Cards, Prepaid, Payments, and Financial Services
- Location: Pleasanton California, the US
- Partnership period: Since 2017
- Team size: 78 experts
- Services: Business Processes and Assets Consolidation, Data Transformation/Migration, and Post-Transition Support
- Expertise delivered: Architecture Design, DDD, UI/UX, Mobile/Design First, and Microservices Architecture
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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 volume of online gift card sales by expanding its reach and acquiring smaller companies working in this field, such as NimbleCommerсe and Cashstar. For over a decade, we have been involved in first developing from scratch and then providing ongoing support to NimbleCommerce — a white-label eCommerce platform, founded in the Silicon Valley.
When BlackHawk Network acquired NimbleCommerce in 2016, we became the new owner’s development partner too. BHN had to choose and build a strategy for the smaller companies they now owned to fit their vision. The company needed to determine which of their smaller businesses needed to be focused on first, given more experts, or, conversely, shut down, the employees of the latter being transferred to another project. Additionally, BHN also aimed to achieve any possible cost savings and automation during the consolidation process.
BlackHawk Network needed help from an expert team with merger-integration expertise. More specifically, they were looking to consolidate their business assets after multiple M&A deals and the integration, migration, and merging of eight different eCommerce platforms in accordance with a business model of their business domain.
Each of the client’s companies, including BHN themselves, had its own software and hardware. Thus, the overall challenge was to consolidate all the newly acquired platforms into one unified system.
The most significant problems BHN were faced due to the differences in their software and hardware were as follows:
- The different UI/UX and architectures resulted in different user experiences, which created a great deal of confusion. Too high costs were associated with the platform’s support and the development of any new features.
- Logic duplication for the product catalog purchase flows, orders and order management, and some other parts of the functionality that needed to be improved.
- The need to maintain separate infrastructure for each of the platforms entails significant maintenance costs (mostly, Amazon Web Services).
“Each of the companies that BHN acquired had some kind of similar functionality, for example, Cashstar provided online gift cards only, 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 single system and give BHN software functionality for online sales.”
– System Architect
The different companies had their own legacy software for onboarding, accounting, finance, fraud and risks, and so on. The integration between those services was quite weak. It 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 it, 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 the problem with fragmented data — orders, transactions, profiles, and other types of data that were stored in multiple databases in different formats. It took a lot of effort to generate reports, securely manage strategic knowledge, or exercise financial control. This put BHN in danger of data corruption and loss, as well as exposed them to potential security breaches.
It was necessary to define all the processes and build a domain model of the business (including clients, products, accounts, billing, and so on). Our system architect fulfilled this task and subsequently created a plan for building a new system in accordance with the new domain model.
With all the business-related process optimization questions answered and the consolidation strategy defined, BlackHawk Network needed to solve the problem of multiple eCommerce platforms running on software solutions different from their own. Some platforms were planned to be integrated and transformed, while others were to be removed entirely. Those platforms that were merging had their own unique data models and adjusting them to one another could take a lot of time and investment. That’s why it was crucial to develop a new data model that would unify all the systems involved. Basically, a new dedicated system for data management was needed.
Developing a new system that would be combined with services that use modern data management technologies created one more problem: some of the current BHN’s systems would instantly become outdated. BHN’s business processes could not be impacted during the development, so relinquishing all their legacy systems was not an option — they needed to be gradually integrated with the new system.
The project’s main goal was to develop a master platform (Master 2.0) that would seamlessly integrate all the existing and legacy applications involved, provide a unified architecture for them, and allow the client to update statistics and financial reports across these applications. The platform was also planned to include a business management console (Hawk Eye) that would provide a unified UI/UX for these systems.
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The new domain model of the client’s business required consolidating dozens of applications and system modules to bring the system’s architecture vision to life. To achieve this, we decided to create several project teams. Each of these teams took over some specific aspect of the solution’s development. The three key teams – MD Platform, MD Product 1, and MD Product 2 were created during the development process and tackled the development of the system’s core functionality.
The three Master Data teams — MD Platform, MD Product 1, and MD Product 2 — were created during the development process. Each of the teams worked on an ecosystem that comprised more than 30 microservices, each of these being represented by a couple of business entities and part of the UI.
“Every business entity is not just a set of forms or data, but a hierarchy, structured in accordance with certain rules. Entities sometimes require very complicated validation. You can’t just add something to the system, an entity has to be governed by some specific requirements. Starting from simple — the number of symbols in the form, to more sophisticated ones — only certain values are acceptable in one form when we have some specific combinations of values in the other forms. In addition, each entity has its own business logic. This logic could be beyond Master Data 2.0’s scope, in this case, MD2.0 only manages it, while the other systems develop a logic that can use data from either entity.”
– Volodymyr Bilous, Software Architect, former Team Lead of the Platform Team
Master Data integrated all the systems, consolidated them into one platform, and became the client’s central business management console. The Master Data teams created the system’s architecture. Although the domain model was modified multiple times during the implementation process, our project teams largely followed its main initial concept. They identified the critical data, prioritized the migration tasks, and provided timing and performance assumptions.
More specifically, the Master Data teams were involved in a spectrum of data-related tasks This included the development of five ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) microservices, intended for obtaining data from the client’s systems, including legacy ones, and transforming this data for the new model. All of those microservices became the central storage point of information from all systems Besides, our experts also developed four microservices for the monitoring of changes and updating of data across all the ecosystems.
“We built most of the core services entirely from scratch by using the Domain-Driven Design approach and multi-service architecture. Some technical goals posed a real challenge for us due to the scope and complexity we had never faced before. Every iteration of the development process would put my team out of their comfort zone because we had to come up with some original ways to solve specific problems in order to develop unique and custom-tailored software. I can’t say we had a problem with repetitive and routine tasks, not at all! My team is in the process of constant growth in this project, and now new challenges are what define the Platform Team. We expect our mission to be both challenging and fascinating.”
– Volodymyr Bilous, Software Architect, former Team Lead of the Platform Team
The CSP team was responsible for the Settlement functionality. They worked on a number of microservices for financial reporting, that were a part of BlackHawk Network’s billing system. This system collects client account data and makes it available for business management purposes in Hawk Eye console.
The Galaxy team has created functionality that has allowed one to present information from across the entire system in the form of easy-to-understand business reports. These reports included the overall progress, sales, and new clients.
The HawkCommerce team worked mostly on the maintenance of the legacy platform, supporting the remaining functions.
The AMP team focused on the addition of new clients to the B2B system. To streamline and facilitate the client’s global customer management, they created from scratch the Original Content platform. This platform offers a wide range of functionality for the swift onboarding of account-managed clients. It provides the full cycle of transaction decisioning and decline management, settlements, fraud control, and reporting. Furthermore, the Original Content platform also provides self-service portals for the onboarding of SMBs, administration, and end consumer showcasing and engagement. As of the time of the writing, the AMP team has already launched three clients from the US, Canada, and the UK.
The CashStar team was created for integrating the CashStar platform with Master Data 2.0. The Technology Stack of the project included the following and some other technologies:
- 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 has reached a new level of business management and financial control due to the consolidation of their data implementation of advanced reporting, and use of cutting-edge UI/UX approaches. Thanks to our project teams’ efforts, we have been able to build a high-scaled, enterprise-grade Consolidated Enterprise Platform for BlackHawk Network.
Currently, up to 100 connected services are running and can be managed through the HawkEye console. We designed and integrated an advanced and flexible reporting BI system that provides 40+MM records per day and supports more than a hundred report types. This system constantly generates valuable information for data-driven insights.
The consolidation of the client’s business processes and assets resulted in the reduction of the operational costs and capital expenses due to the optimization of the infrastructure and maintenance costs. Restructuring the business systems was completed without any disruptions to the client’s critical business processes. Our experts have also managed to migrate data of any level of complexity from the client’s platforms owing to the use of our own data migration and reconciliation tools. A number of the client’s legacy platforms have been shut down, creating operational savings of $200K per month (these funds were previously spent on the servers, databases, and tech support staff).
We continue to help ensure the efficiency and quality of BHN’s core business operations even after the completion of their platform’s consolidation, as we remain their strategic software development partner.
To get high efficiency in the coordination of distributed teams, our company uses a set of different tools. Metucat is one of the tools that allow our distributed teams to work on different parts of the product independently. This product is an Integrated Framework for developing, maintaining, and evolving data-centric applications. Metucat drives and controls application development using visual metadata, where the architecture becomes an organic part of the system.
Our architects, developers, and business analysts used Metucat on different projects and were able to save up to 50% of the time, spent on planning, analysis, and design. Ultimately, it provides better functionality, performance, and speed of development within the limits of the same budget.
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