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Getting on the Same Page

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2005-06-10 Print this article Print

Danielle Savoie could not get 200 applications to talk to each other, making it hard to keep on top of a rapidly expanding series of traveling dance and acrobatics shows.

Getting on the Same Page

To give employees access to data and tools from more than 200 applications running on multiple operating systems, Savoie embarked on a year-long project to install IBM's WebSphere Business Integration Server Express Plus software to connect her disparate systems.

The goal: Organize all the application environments onto a single, standardized platform for access and development.

"We wanted to [streamline] our in-house applications with the financial data we have with our SAP applications to create one vision of all our information," Savoie says. "We needed a common language for all our applications."

The IBM WBI Express software was implemented on IBM eServer xSeries 245 and 355 systems. The project took just over a year from start to finish and cost roughly $175,000.

Savoie and her team, along with IBM consultants, broke up the project into four separate pieces.

The first phase took place during 18 weeks in which Cirque du Soleil's information-technology staff and IBM consultants deployed the methodology of the project. They essentially determined what functions and applications they wanted to integrate into the SAP planning system as well as how they wanted to collect, disseminate and access information from the various applications.

"This is the most important part of any integration software implementation," says Yefim Natis, an analyst at Gartner who tracks IBM WebSphere implementations. "You don't just plug this in. You have to think through all the processes and get all the people involved in the same room to discuss what they want and how they want to do it."

Savoie says this part of the project was fairly straightforward. For example, they didn't want to reconstruct existing connections between applications used in the field by production managers. They merely wanted to be able to gather all the inventory, sales and performer data into one field and have it accessible to everyone from either a PC or a handheld device.

Next, Cirque du Soleil spent four months building the Web interface to the planning system so that information could be accessed, edited and analyzed from the corporate intranet. The project was completed in May.

Under the five-month-long third phase, financial information was consolidated. Data on ticket sales, procurement, merchandising and other financial matters that had been stored separately on either the Windows operating system or the SAP system was now connected so that executives could get a snapshot view of the entire company.

Finally, the developers spent the last 2 1/2 months integrating the Cirque du Soleil intranet with its online help-desk system so performers, managers and other staff could resolve problems quicker instead of exchanging phone calls about scheduling deliveries or other issues.

Now that everyone had access to the same information regardless of the application or operating system from which it had originated, Cirque du Soleil could begin to make strategic business decisions with a global vision.

For example, when a key performer was unavailable to work because of illness or injury, the staff could sift through the database of all performers with that particular expertise from any computer in the organization. Then they could find a replacement who was available and closest to the production in need. At the same time, they could pull up the performer's work history, measurements and biography to aid the costume designers in making alterations, and the marketing staff who create the programs and advertising materials.

All sales conducted at the fixed and mobile sites—T-shirts and the like—are now automatically downloaded to the system and available to executives in real time, rather than an unpredictable and often delayed collection of manual documents from far-flung locations. When new products are needed to stock the show in Sydney or Seattle, Cirque du Soleil now knows exactly how many T-shirts it needs by size and style, and can order them in bulk for delivery the next day.

"The operational efficiencies are important, but the flexibility our developers now have is just as important," Savoie says. "Now, when we install another best-of-breed application or develop one of our own, we don't have to worry about what works with which system. We know that it all can be adapted to one common language."

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
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