Success Story: French Public Sector Pension Office

Deploying Axway API Gateway to enable Web Services in the pension ecosystem and govern the flow of data

  • Headquarters

    Paris, France
  • Industry

  • Challenge

    Establish secure communications via Web Services with its ecosystem of external partners, enable ESB-like functionality for its internal applications, and scale to handle a vast increase in data flows

  • Solution

  • Results

    • Modernize and optimize the IT architecture, ensuring maximum flexibility at minimum cost, with a rapid ROI
    • Enable the agility and flexibility needed to implement new functionality, including a range of ESB functions — at a fraction of the usual cost
    • Govern the flow of data for internal and external applications, providing system visibility, monitoring and statistics, and implementing the French security standard, InterOps
    • Combine reliability and stability with high capacity, excellent performance and the ability to scale as needed

“The pension world in France is constantly changing, which complicates matters enormously. For those of us in IT, the challenge is to keep up with these changes without incurring massive costs — and indeed reducing costs where possible. Axway API Gateway offers us multiple solutions to any one problem; it goes way beyond our expectations. We had a full return on investment within three months of implementing.”

Serving the Pension Needs of French Public Sector Employees

Civil servants, judges and members of the armed forces

In France, the Public Sector Pension Office¹ (SRE) is responsible for calculating and paying out pensions for civil servants, judges and members of the military. Under the jurisdiction of the nation’s Public Finance Department², part of the French Ministry of the Economy and Finance³, the SRE manages the pensions of 5 million people, including current retirees and those still active in the workforce.

Modernizing and Optimizing the IT Architecture

Ensuring maximum flexibility at minimum cost

In France, the regulations that govern pensions are evolving rapidly under the impetus of government reforms. To keep abreast of these changes, the SRE needs to ensure that its information systems have maximum flexibility at minimum cost. This means modernizing and optimizing its IT architecture through rigorous systems planning.4

The immediate challenge for the SRE was the need to communicate via Web Services with its partner, the National Pension Fund5 (CNAV), France’s largest pension scheme. The data flowing between the organizations had to be highly secure, complying with the French InterOps standard, which governs communications for the ecosystem of social protection organizations.

The SRE was also urgently seeking a solution for enabling communications among its internal applications, without incurring the prohibitive cost of deploying a full-scale enterprise service bus (ESB). The SRE has a complex, heterogeneous IT landscape composed of three virtually independent information systems, which were developed and deployed at different times during the 40-year history of SRE’s IT systems.

Finally, the SRE needed to handle a vast increase in the volume of data flows serving its two kinds of users: internal administrators of the program, and the pension plan’s beneficiaries.

Choosing the Axway Solution

A proven track record in the pension field

France has different pension plans for those who work in the public sector, the private sector and in agriculture. Since many workers move from one sector to another during their working lives, communication between the various plans is essential to calculate the worker’s pension at end of career.

Traditionally, pension information was exchanged between the SRE and the CNAV by file transfer. In 2008, in compliance with government directive, the SRE was seeking a solution for communicating with the CNAV via Web Services, while implementing the rigorous InterOps standard.

"We asked other pension plans what they were doing," said Jérôme Melleard, Systems Architect responsible for systems planning at the SRE. "We needed a solution that could handle the security functions. Basically, we found out we had two choices: build it ourselves or deploy Axway’s solution — nobody else had the capabilities. It was too costly and complex for us to build. So we chose Axway API Gateway — the solution used by the CNAV — which had a proven track record."

"We initially invested in Axway API Gateway to secure our Web Service communications. But we rapidly found that we could use it to do a great deal more."

Implementing New Functionality

Using Axway for an “ESB-light” and a Web Services directory

As Melleard explained, "We initially invested in Axway API Gateway to secure our Web Service communications with the CNAV. But we rapidly found that we could use it to do a great deal more."

Starting in 2010, the SRE deployed Axway API Gateway to provide additional functions that include:

  • Web Services directory: “We had over 100 Web Services, a situation that was complicated and costly to manage,” said Melleard. To simplify operations and reduce cost, SRE put all their back-end management functions in Axway API Gateway and established a Web Services directory.
  • ESB-light: The SRE faced high costs and complexity for its internal Web Services. “At the time, all of our internal links were direct: they were hardcoded,” said Melleard. Any change in business processes therefore required new coding. “We deployed the Axway solution to provide a logical layer that could retrieve information on the fly, doing the necessary processing and transformation as required.”

In production since 2008, Axway API Gateway today handles 20 million messages per month for the SRE, an average of 10 messages per second. These figures are set to double with the expansion of existing services, and then increase ten-fold with the launch of a new website for 5 million pensioners and contributors to the pension fund.

In production, we use Axway API Gateway to smooth the load, protecting our servers while ensuring that all requests are processed in virtually real time.

Smoothing the Load

Passing the stress test with flying colors

"To put the system through its paces," said Melleard, "we had API Gateway call Web Services on remote machines to run stress tests. When we increased the load, our servers crashed, but Axway API Gateway was still up and running, easily managing the surge in volume.

"In production, we use Axway API Gateway to smooth the load, protecting our servers while ensuring that all requests are processed. We just set appropriate parameters on API Gateway. For example, if we send 5,000 requests per second to API Gateway — knowing that our servers can only handle 2,000 — API Gateway will send the first 2,000 requests, wait until it receives responses, send the next 2,000, wait again for the responses, and then send the final 1,000. This ensures that our servers can handle the load and that all requests are processed in virtually real time.

"In this way, Axway API Gateway gives us tremendous flexibility — and acts as our shield."

Detecting and Solving Problems

Real-time monitoring and supervision

"Before we had Axway API Gateway," said Melleard, "we had absolutely no oversight, no supervision of our Web Services. Things were so complex that we couldn’t set up any monitoring tools. However, as soon as we started using API Gateway for our Web Services calls, we found that we automatically had access to monitoring and supervisory capabilities. By centralizing all our calls on API Gateway, which is equipped with these tools, we have all the functions we need."

The SRE uses Axway API Gateway to generate real-time statistics on throughput. Moreover, using API Gateway’s supervisory functions, the SRE has set up a generic service call to detect 10 different kinds of problems (for instance, a server down, or a database not working). When a problem is detected, an email is automatically sent to alert the relevant department.

Axway API Gateway gives us tremendous flexibility — and acts as our shield.

Encapsulating Complexity

Governing the flow of data

For all external Web Services, Axway API Gateway performs the security functions mandated by InterOps. Based on internationally recognized standards, InterOps is designed to:

  1. Ensure interoperability among organizations in the public sector
  2. Standardize, secure and ensure the traceability of data flows among those organizations
  3. Enhance agility in the implementation of new data flows and partnerships

InterOps implements SAML for authentication and authorization and ensures end-to-end traceability. At SRE, these functions are all carried out by Axway API Gateway. "For us, API Gateway ‘encapsulates complexity,’ intervening before and after the data flow to perform critical functions," said Melleard.

The Benefits of Successful Systems Planning

Bringing agility and flexibility to SRE systems

By enabling rigorous systems planning, the Axway solution provides a host of benefits for the SRE environment:

  • ƒƒAgility and flexibility: “Axway API Gateway brings us enormous flexibility, enabling us to spread out the development process,” said Melleard. “Our systems remain fully operational while we gradually implement new government policies.”
  • ESB-light functionality: Axway API Gateway covers about 80% of the functions of a full ESB, at a small fraction of the cost. “We placed all our internal Web Services on API Gateway and then implemented ESB functions on some of the data flows,” said Melleard.
  • ƒƒReliability and stability: “The reason we centralized all our services on Axway API Gateway — placing enormous trust in it — is because we know it is totally reliable,” said Melleard.
  • Rapid ROI: “We had a full return on investment within three months of implementing the InterOps function,” said Melleard. “Everything else is a return above and beyond the initial investment.”
  • High capacity and excellent performance: In addition to scaling as needed to handle increased volumes, Axway API Gateway acts as an interpreter, communicating with SRE’s three different information systems, each of which implements different technologies and uses different languages.
  • Governing the flow of data for internal and external applications, implementing InterOps for external flows, and encapsulating complexity on behalf of the SRE.

The reason we centralized all our services on Axway API Gateway — placing enormous trust in it — is because we know it is totally reliable.

Next Steps

A user website for 5 million beneficiaries

The SRE is planning to deploy Axway API Gateway for an array of new functions. The priority is a new external user website designed for SRE’s 5 million beneficiaries, including current retirees and those still active in the workforce. The site, which is to go live in June 2015, will allow users to calculate their pension benefits based on their work history.

"For the new site, we plan to reuse all our internal Web Services and retrieve all our data. Nothing will be duplicated. We want the site to be a presentation layer only," said Melleard. "We’ll use Axway API Gateway to retrieve the data and handle the processing through calls to the back office."

Looking ahead, Melleard said, "The pension world in France is constantly changing, which complicates matters enormously. For those of us in IT, the challenge is to keep up with these changes without incurring massive costs — and indeed reducing costs where possible. This requires rigorous systems planning to achieve maximum flexibility and agility.

"Axway API Gateway offers us multiple solutions to any one problem; it goes way beyond our expectations."

1 Service des Retraites de l'Etat (SRE)
2 Direction Generale des Finances Publiques
3 Ministere de l'economie et des finances
4 In French, "urbanisation"
5 Caisse National d'Assurance Vieillesse (CNAV)

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