The Compliance Ropeway

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“So, let me get this straight,” Derrick said. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath while massaging his temples before letting out an exasperated sigh. “Not a single person… in this entire organization… is taking ANY responsibility for Ropeway? No one is even willing to admit that they knowanythingabout this application…?”

The Operations team had grown accustomed to their new director’s mannerisms and learned it’s just better to stay silent and let Derrick think out loud. Afterall, no one envied his job or his idealistic quest foractualcompliance. If had he been at the bank as long as his team had, Derrick would have learned that there’scompliance… and then there’s “compliance.”

“But we figured out that Ropewaysomehowautomatically transfers underwriting overrides from ISAC to AppPortal?” Derrick paused to collect his thoughts before a lightbulb went off. “Wait, wait. Those systems are both covered under our IBM Master Service Agreement, right? What did they say? Chris… did you reach out to our IBM liaison?”

“Well,” Chris silently thanked everything good that Ropeway wasn’t his problem. “IBM says that they have no idea. They said it’s not in the scope of the MSA or any SOW, but they’d be happy to come out and—”

“Ab-so-lute-ly not,” Derrick interrupted. He wasn’t IBM’s biggest fan, to put it mildly. “I’ve already eaten into next year’s budget on this SSL initiative, and there’s no way I’m gonna pay them just to tell me I have to pay them even more to fix what shouldn’t even by my problem!”

Derrick let out another sigh, rubbing his temples again. “All I want,” he grimaced, “is for Ropeway to use HTTPS instead of HTTP. That’s all! Fine… fine! Chris, let’s just move the whole damn Ropeway server behind the proxy.”

“Roger that,” Chris nodded, “We’ll start prepping things for next week’s maintenance window.”

There was a lot of risk to moving Ropeway. The Operations team knew how to keep it running – it was just a Windows Service application – but they had no way of knowing if the slightest change in the environment would break things. Moving the server behind the http-to-https proxy meant a new IP and a new subnet, and they had seen far too may “if (IP==10.10.22.30) production_env=true” traps to know they can’t just move things without a test plan.

But since no one on the business or Development side was willing to help, they were on their own and it’d be Derrick’s head if ISAC or AppPortal stopped working once that maintenance window was over. But for the sake of actual compliance – not “compliance” – these were the risks Derrick was willing to take: SSL was simply non-negotiable.

##

“You’ll never believe what I found on that Ropeway server,” Chris said while popping into to Derrick’s office. Actually, he knew that wasn’t true; Derrick had come to expect the unbelievable, but Chris liked to prep Derrick nonetheless. Derrick took a deep breath and moved his hand towards his forehead.

“I found this.” Chris plopped down a thick, tattered manila envelope that was covered in yellowed tape. “It was… um… taped to the server’s chassis.”

Derrick was legitimately surprised and started riffling through the contents as Chris explained things. “So apparently Ropeway was built by this guy,Jody Dorchester, at Roman, uh, wait.RoninSoftware or something.”

“And yeah,” Chris continued as Derrick’s eyes widened while he flipped through page-after-page-after page of documentation, “Jody apparently wrote all sorts of documentation… installation instructions, configuration instructions – and all the source code is on that enclosed CD-ROM.”

Derrick was speechless. “This,” he stuttered, “is dated… March …of2000.”

“Yup,” Chris jumped in nonchalantly, “but I took a shot in the dark here and sent Jody an email.”

“And…,” Chris said, smiling. He handed Derrick another document and said, “here’s his reply.”

Ropeway! Wow… that takes me back. I can’t believe that’s still around, and if you’re contacting me about it… you must be desperate 😉

I built that app in a past life… I don’t know how much this will help, but I’ll tell you what I remember.

There was a fellow at the bank, Eric (or maybe Edward?), and he was a Director of Technology and a VP of something. I met him at a local networking event, and he told me about some project he was working on that was going to reduce all sorts of mindless paperwork.

One department over there was apparently printing out a bunch of records from their system and then faxing all that paper to a different department, who would then manually re-enter all those records into a different system. They had a bunch of data entry people, but the bigger problem was that it was slow, and there were a lot of mistakes, and it was costing a lot of money.

It sounded like a huge, complicated automation project – but actually, your guy had it mostly figured out. The one system could spit-out CSV files to some network share, and the other could import XML files via some web interface. He asked if I could help with that, and I said sure… why not? It just seemed like a really simple Windows service application.

It took a bit longer to wrangle those two formats together than I hoped, but I showed it off and he seemed absolutely thrilled. However, I’ll never forget the look on his face when I told him the cost. It was something like 16 hours at $50/hr (my rate back then). I thought he was upset that I took so long, and billed $800 for something that seemed so simple.

Not even close. He said that IBM quoted over $100k to do the exact same thing – but there was just no way he could sell that he got this massive integration project accomplished for only $800. He said I needed to bill more… a lot more.

So, I made that little importer app as robust and configurable as what, VB4 would allow? Then I spent, like, a week writing that documentation you guys found, taped to the server. You know, I actually bought that server and did all the installation myself? Well after all that, he was satisfied with my new bill.

Anyways, I can’t remember anything about the application, but there’s probably a whole section of the docs dedicated to configuring it. Hopefully you guys can figure it out… good luck!

Jody was right. On page 16, there was, in fact, a section dedicated to the Web API configuration. To change use SSL, one would just have to open the service control tool, check off the “use secure connection,” and then Ropeway would construct the Service URL using HTTPS instead of HTTP. That was it, apparently.

“I just… I can’t believe it,” Derrick paused, and shook his head before massaging his forehead – this time more in surprise that his usual temple massage. “No way. It can’t bethatsimple. Nothing here is that simple!”

Chris shrugged his shoulders and said, “Checking that box does seem a bit simpler than moving—”

“Look,” Derrick interrupted, “even if we change the setting, and that setting works,someoneneeds to own Ropeway, and take responsibility for it going forward. This is like rule number one ofactualcompliance!”

Chris nodded, and just let Derrick build up to what would certainly be yet another compliance rant.

“Come on,” Derrick said enthusiastically, “Ropeway is so absurdly documented… look at this! Surely someone in Core Dev, Biz Apps, Vendor Apps, or heck, even Apps Integration will adopt this thing!? I mean… you realize what will happen if AppPortal craps out because the Ropeway integration breaks some day?”

Obviously, Chris knew exactly how bad it would be, but he let Derrick tell him anyways.

“I can’t even imaginae it,” Derrick took a breath. “The crap storm that all of those groups would face… this might even make the shareholder meeting! We gotta do something. How about we go to the ISAC team lead and say… here’s Ropeway. It’s your baby now. Congrats! Here’s the docs, it’s really easy to use, just–“

“Look,” Chris cut in, soberly. “If you want me to go deliver that message — in the middle of their whole Agile ScrumOps whatever war with Biz Apps – I will. But I’m pretty sure they’re gonna go straight to the execs and push to expand the MSA with IBM to cover the App Portal integration…”

Chris paused for a few moments to let Derrick realize exactly who’s budget an MSA expansion might come from. Derrick’s eyes widened as he took another deep breath.

“Oooor”, Chris continued, “this envelope still, umm, has a quite a bit of tape attached to it. Maybe… just maaaaybe…we never found the envelope in the first place? And perhaps, I don’t know, Ropeway just… uhhh… happens to check that box itself one day? I don’t know? It’s an old app… old apps do weird things. Who knows? I don’t… do you? Wait… I’ve already forgotten, what’s Ropeway?”

Derrick slowly shook his head and started massaging the bridge of his nose with his index fingers. He let out a completely different sigh, defeated sigh, then uncharacteristically mumbled, “…better get some more tape…”

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