Case Study: Distributed Systems Unification and Integration Solution
for BlackHawk Network
Headquarter is located in Pleasanton, California, USA
2017 â€“ Ongoing
Gift and Prepaid cards, Payments, and Financial Services
78 Software Developers, Business Analysts, Quality Assurance Engineers
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. In 2016 the company wanted to increase its online gift card market share by acquiring smaller companies working in this field.
For over 10 years we were helping NimbleCommerce â€“ leading e-commerce solution, which allows creating marketplaces for selling coupons & gift cards, with Product development, Dedicated team scaling, and Custom Software Engineering, and when BlackHawk Network acquired NimbleCommerce in 2016, we continue our partnership as a digital integration partner, providing unification\consolidation solutions.
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.
High operational costs due to platform support and the development of the new features
Different UI/UX and architecture resulted in different user experiences, which caused a lot of confusion
Insufficient or lack of integration between solutions
High operational costs due to platform support and the development of the new features
Time-consuming data processing due to different formats, Multiple DBs
Lack of strategic and consolidated knowledge, financial control
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 didnâ€™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.
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.
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. Thatâ€™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 â€” 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 a 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 â€” MD Platform, MD Product 1, and MD Product 2 â€” 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 canâ€™t just add something to the system, an entity had to have particular requirements. Starting from simple â€” the number of symbols in the form, to more sophisticated â€” 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.
We built most of the core services entirely from 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 canâ€™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
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;
The CSP team
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 supported 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 decisions 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 Great Britain.
The CashStar team
Was formed with our experts to integrate the CashStar platform with Master Data 2.0.
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 teamsâ€™ efforts, SPD Group was 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 SPD Group was introduced; the system provides 40+MM records a day and supports over a hundred of 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).
SPD Group is committed to ensuring the quality of core BHNâ€™s business operations long after the completion of the platform consolidation, as the company remains a partner in support and development.
Connected services are running and could be managed through the HawkEye console
records are processed daily, over a hundred of report types are supported
of additional, business-critical resources in monthly operational savings