As IBM Corp. hosts 6,000 customers, and partners at its fifth annual Impact SOA conference, some retailers say service oriented architecture has helped them get better use out of their IT systems.
Cars.com, a Web site operated by Classified Ventures LLC of Chicago and owned by five major media companies, lets people shop for cars online. The company is using IBM Corp.’s WebSphere Portal and WebSphere Process Server in its service-oriented architecture.
“We have chosen to completely replace our entire infrastructure within Cars.com from soup to nuts,” said Manny Montejano, Cars.com’s chief technology officer, during a panel discussion at Impact SOA held at the MGM Grand conference centre. “We are replacing the operating system, hardware, middleware, process server and portal.
Cars.com gets data from about 400 different sources, including dealers, advertisers and classified ads from the 175 newspapers operated by its owners. To operate effectively, Montejano said the company had to find some way to link its billing systems.
“Previously we had zero visibility into what we were doing.”
For example, the company was only able to send invoices 12 times a year.
“If we saw an error on an invoice in June would have to wait for July and then send two invoices,” he said.
Australian retailer Spotlight, which sells fabric, craft and home interior products, had a plethora of disconnected systems when Anne McDiarmid joined as chief information officer in August of 2006.
The company had about 500,000 different items in inventory, about a million sales transactions a day and a customer loyalty program but it had no way of tracking inventory effectively.
“We had every brand that you could think of (but) we had no idea what our inventory was, so we had some legacy systems issues that we needed to seriously address,” McDiarmid said. “I had middleware hanging out of my middleware. I call it my spaghetti.”
Spotlight is in the middle of an SAP implementation – scheduled for completion in July – and is using IBM’s WebSphere software to combine different applications and get one view of its disparate systems.
“The biggest benefit to us is it allowed us to reuse what we already had,” she said at Impact SOA. “We’ve got visibility of stock. We have accuracy of pricing.”
Entering pricing information was problematic for Longo’s Brothers Fruit Market Inc., a Canadian grocery that operates stores and an Internet commerce site, Grocerygateway.com.
In the past, if the price changed for a product, someone would have to enter it twice: once into the enterprise resource planning system and a second time into the Grocerygateway.com system, said John Charleson, Longo’s director of IT.
Charleson, who did not attend Impact SOA, used Microsoft Corp.’s BizTalk Server as the basis for its service-oriented architecture.
Longo’s already had an ERP system but it wasn’t perfect, partly because the company was using different point-of-sale (POS) systems in different stores.
“Our sales would talk to the ERP, our POS would talk to the ERP and there would be two-way communication back and forth between each of those,” Charleson said.
“A lot of them were batch-driven and didn’t work consistently so we spent a lot of time supporting those applications.”
He added in many cases, the batch processing system failed and the IT department wouldn’t even know about it.
“We would get a call from a user two weeks later saying the data’s wrong and it’s a matter of finding where that batch went and getting it moved through at a later date,” Charleson said. “We spent a lot of time in past supporting that movement back and forth between the different applications.”
Longo’s spent about $100,000 to implement SOA, and the investment is starting to pay off. While the IT workers used to spend 50 to 60 per cent of time supporting interfaces, now they only spend about 10 per cent of their time on this task.
“We essentially added an extra body to the development team that can work on proactive development instead of reactive support,” he said, adding SOA lets him program the system to send alerts to business managers when certain things happen, such as price changes or stock code changes.
He chose BizTalk server partly because IT workers tend to be familiar with Microsoft software.
Microsoft’s approach to SOA is to implement systems within six to nine months, said Chris Brakel, product manager for eBusiness at Microsoft Canada Co.
“The whole idea of around SOA is making organizations more agile,” he said. “Agility comes through the ability to make a rapid response to the market.”
IBM’s also emphasizes agility, according to Big Blue executives who spoke at Impact SOA.
“It lets you be more agile, more responsive to business change,” said Craig Hayman, IBM’s vice-president for WebSphere, who spoke to a crowd of IBM customers and partners Tuesday. “We have seen business changes becoming faster, more transformative in nature. My question to you is, are you going to be blown way by a more nimble competitor? Are you going to stand frozen while your customers change? Of course not.”
Impact SOA continues until Friday.