Connecting with .NET: BizTalk Server and XML Ease EAI Complexities

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 30, 2002 — Emery Forwarding, a global transportation services provider that is part of Menlo Worldwide, wanted to offer its customers real-time information about their shipments, which would lower costs by reducing the amount of inventory they would need to keep on hand. To develop such a system, Emery needed a way to combine its existing software applications with new XML Web services and other technologies. Emery turned to Microsoft for its enterprise application integration (EAI) solution.

Microsoft’s EAI solution is based on .NET-connected software like Microsoft BizTalk Server and Visual Studio .NET. Emery sees tremendous benefits in BizTalk Server’s native support of XML and SOAP, and the company is taking advantage of the product’s close integration with Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework to begin developing and using Web services in its business processes.

“We’re actually running ahead rather quickly with Web services,”
says Ron Berger, managing director of information systems for Emery at Menlo Worldwide Technologies.
“The integration with Visual Studio .NET and the opportunity to use the Microsoft Development Toolkit was one of the reasons we chose BizTalk Server and the Microsoft EAI solution. We wanted a tool that would allow us to use XML Web services to integrate across many platforms.”

Currently, Emery is using Visual Studio .NET to build an internally-developed product called Ovation (Order Visibility And Transit Information Online). Ovation will provide in-transit visibility of a customer’s order details, the kind of information that would typically appear on a purchase order, delivery order, or international commercial trade invoice.

“Using BizTalk Server and the XML Web services available with our EAI solution, we’ll be able to migrate the data into our customs brokerage application and begin pre-clearance for our customers, so we can have a lot of customs clearances completed before the goods arrive in the country of destination,”
Berger says.

Data Integration: Keeping things Simple

Such data integration issues are at the heart of a wide range of business problems faced by large organizations today. Their challenge is to bring together data spread out across dozens or even hundreds of disparate systems, systems often purchased at different times and from different vendors. With every new system a company purchases, it adds complexity and increases the number of places where data are stored or generated.

BizTalk Server addresses those integration problems by bringing together data across different platforms, applications and Web services. BizTalk Server was built from the ground up to support XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), both essential for widespread interoperability and modern B2B (business-to-business) communication.

Using XML, SOAP and other core Internet protocols, BizTalk Server unites EAI, B2B and business process management functionality in a single product. Companies can then orchestrate Web services and build dynamic business processes that span disparate applications, platforms and business networks.

David Kiker, general manager for e-business servers at Microsoft, says many vendors today have overlapping software capabilities, which are not interoperable with each other. As a result, every time a customer adds a new piece of software, they’re adding complexity to their system. The goal of Web services and XML is to allow customers to have interoperability across all of their software investments, so that all pieces of the puzzle work together.

“When you add software, it shouldn’t add to the complexity of a system, it should add to the solution,”
Kiker says.
“BizTalk Server is going to be a key enabler for that. We’re really focused on making sure we have the best support for Web services in the industry, across all of our products, and making sure our products work well together as well as interoperate with other vendors’ products.”

Developing at the Speed of Business

At London Drugs Limited., a leading retailer in Canada, customer satisfaction is the guiding principle for every business decision, whether it involves a single product display in one of the company’s 56 stores or new technology to streamline services to customers at all of its locations.

According to Nick Curalli, general manager of information technology for London Drugs, that’s why his company is so pleased with Microsoft’s enterprise application integration (EAI) solution.

“Every discussion at London Drugs begins and ends with whether the customer is going to have a positive experience from what we’re doing,”
Curalli says.
“Our competitive edge comes from bringing products to market and meeting customer needs faster and more effectively than our competitors. BizTalk Server and the kind of architecture we have in place allow us to achieve that goal.”

Curalli says London Drugs subscribes to the Web services vision, and is already using interfaces that were created using Visual Studio .NET, and views BizTalk Server as a central component of its current and future IT environment.

“Going forward, we could have multiple hubs in our store locations, so now all of those applications in the store could speak to that hub, which could then speak to the central hub,”
Curalli says.
“This provides huge scalability as we add stores. It doesn’t matter whether we have 56 stores or 550 stores, because we use the same technology. We can increase our store locations and our footprint without having to grow in terms of technology staff, yet still provide the same high level of service to all those locations.”

London Drugs first used BizTalk Server and Microsoft’s EAI solution to enhance its supply-chain operation, enabling real-time inventory decisions and making it easier to identify and resolve problems by increasing the visibility of its supply-chain processes. The company then extended its use of EAI to link seven best-of-breed applications that handle everything from human resources to payroll. Finally, London Drugs saw a 10 percent growth in store locations — from 50 to 56 — and used BizTalk Server and the EAI solution to extend services to all of those new locations — all without adding IT staff.

“From an efficiency standpoint, we are using the same product, the same hub, and simply adding more applications to expand its use across the organization,”
says Curalli,
“BizTalk’s scalability allows us to improve total cost of ownership (TCO). Our goal is to grow to 100 stores over the next nine years, and it is our strong belief that the BizTalk environment we’ve set up will allow us to do that without adding significantly to our infrastructure.”

EDI: Linking up Supply Chains

Having already extended its use of BizTalk Server beyond its supply chain applications to human resources, staff scheduling, payroll, etc., Curalli says London Drugs is seeing other ways to use BizTalk Server to further improve its efficiency.

“Traditionally, EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) has been a very monolithic process,”
Curalli says.
“Given the established ability of BizTalk Server at London Drugs, we’re now looking at BizTalk Server as the catalyst for EDI within our organization. That will allow us to eliminate another legacy platform and position us for more standards-based integration.”

In its ongoing effort to make BizTalk Server even more efficient and cost-effective, Microsoft is taking steps to address the complexity of EAI.

Packaged adapters are an important part of integration solutions because they allow developers to connect easily with applications such as ERP or CRM systems, as well as databases and legacy systems. With more than 300 adapters available today, including those from Siebel Systems Inc., SAP AG, MQSeries and PeopleSoft Inc., BizTalk Server has one of the most comprehensive adapter libraries in the industry.

SEED allows for the automated set-up and deployment of BizTalk Server to a company’s trading partners, providing a wizard to help them set up their BizTalk Server connection. As an example, Microsoft has 20,000 suppliers. The company found it took between seven and nine business days to make an electronic connection with a trading partner.

“When we rolled out the SEED technology internally, we connected to 80 trading partners in a single day,”
Kiker says.
“It was a dramatic difference. That’s the kind of functionality we’re using to reduce complexity, improve efficiency and lower costs.”

Curalli says his organization appreciates those efforts:
“When we make IT decisions, we try to think of those costs in real terms, like how many tubes of toothpaste we’ll have to sell to pay for what we’re trying to do. London Drugs is a high-volume, low-margin business, so productivity gains that result in cost savings are extremely important to us.”

According to Berger, when Emery started its project to help customers compress their supply chains and achieve real-time visibility of their shipments, the company’s IT staff assumed they would have to build their own system to get proactive notification functionality that could tie together all of their data from various applications.

“Not many people build large, complex freight-forwarding transportation systems, so typically you end up building them yourself,”
Berger says.
“That said, BizTalk Server already had a lot of the functionality we were looking at building, so after a thorough evaluation we decided that purchasing BizTalk Server would be significantly cheaper and more efficient than trying to do it ourselves.”

BizTalk Server gave Emery a 109 percent Return on Investment (ROI), calculated by comparing the buy versus build options. Emery was able to implement BizTalk Server at a lower cost and much faster than the build process.

Emery has rolled out the first phase of its three-phase project. Phase one involves notifying customers of
“positive events,”
which means that Emery has picked up or delivered a shipment. Using Windows Powered Pocket PCs, Emery drivers send in shipment information, and BizTalk Server then uses a Web service to enable real-time notification of customers via email, telephone or another format they have chosen.

“The Pocket PC has both LAN and WAN capabilities, so we’re about as real-time as you can get,”
Berger says.
“We can trigger notification at the point of pick up or delivery, which is a tremendous benefit for our customers.”

Phase 2 of the project will add
“exception events,”
known events that cause delays, such as an aircraft being delayed due to weather or a mechanical problem, or a shipment being held up in Customs while agents perform an agricultural inspection. Phase 3 involves
“proactive notification.”
The system will be able to predict that a shipment may have a service failure, based on various built-in milestones and using the BizTalk Server orchestration features to measure against those milestones. Alerts are triggered when milestones are missed.

Berger credits Microsoft, particularly Microsoft Consulting Services, with helping to make the project a success.
“On this project, they helped us tremendously. Certainly through knowledge sharing and getting our internal staff up to speed, but also by providing support and technical advice, because this was a new product and new concept for our shop. We’ve had great success across the board with Microsoft.”

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