Words of wisdom on Web integration

When thinking about your extended enterprise projects, consider these words of advice from IT executives at business-to-business e-commerce pioneers Ford Motor Credit Co., Sigma-Aldrich Co. and Staples Inc.

1. Think like a customer. If you do that, you’ll wind up focusing on the applications, functions and services that result in commercial value, says Brad Johnson, director of e-business for Sigma-Aldrich in St. Louis. Staples likewise puts a premium on features that promote ease of use.

2. Don’t dictate integration requirements. Rather, support a number of options, including integrating with popular procurement systems, via the Web, electronic data interchange (EDI) or even fax, so customers can pick what works best for them. Sigma-Aldrich lets customers print out a Web-based order form and fax it in. Using an e-commerce application from Haht Software, the company can translate the fax image to XML and feed it directly to its SAP system for processing.

3. Think strategic, act tactical. Terry Bone, manager of frameworks and architecture at Ford Credit, in Dearborn, Mich., recommends companies have a strategic plan for implementing complex technologies such as Web services, but tackle it in practical, tactical chunks. Take the lessons learned from each experience and continually modify your strategy.

4. Set up Centres of Excellence. At Ford Credit, a Centre of Excellence group acts as a conduit between different application development teams, ensuring that best practices are communicated and technology is reused. Also take the time to research existing industry best practices and development patterns.

5. Build a flexible foundation. Staples years ago invested in building out a high-capacity network to its stores, without necessarily knowing how all the capacity would be used. Now the company can move quickly to offer additional services to its stores, such as kiosks that offer in-store access to all the features of Staples.com, says Mike Ragunas, vice-president of technology strategy and architecture at the Framingham, Mass., retailer. This includes the ability to arrange furniture deliveries and order items not carried in stores. (Staples.com carries some 45,000 items, whereas the typical store has about 7,000.)

6. Think about security early. Dealing with security schemes such as authorization and single sign-on is simpler when done early in the development process rather than when they are tacked on after the fact.