SOA: At the Forefront of Integrating Applications

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2006-07-13 Print this article Print

Companies are integrating applications and processes across their enterprises to better interact with customers, suppliers and partners—and fuel what can be significant cost savings.

Companies big and small are integrating applications and processes across their enterprises to better interact with customers, suppliers and partners—and fuel what can be significant cost savings.

In the late 1990s, most technology managers hadn't heard about service-oriented architecture or other buzzwords tied to what is now known as business integration: software platforms that help tie together existing resources to improve business processes.

For some, integration can shine a light on how technology can transform a business. Take Cleveland-based Kichler Lighting, a family-owned maker of custom light fixtures. In 2002, a PeopleSoft enterprise resource planning system was the only information technology that supported the company's business processes—and it only covered internal activities like manufacturing. Most sales and interactions with suppliers and customers were transacted on paper, in person or over the phone, according to Susan T. Rzyczycki, then a consultant and now Kichler's director of applications development.

In 2003, the company's new chief information officer, John Schindler, spurred a project to make everything from order forms to inventory records available electronically to customers, suppliers and partners.

The company wanted a Web portal to provide access to customers, but Rzyczycki says Kichler also hoped to use the information already maintained by the PeopleSoft system. The answer was to build a service-oriented architecture that would tie the front-end portal to the back-end system. Kichler chose BEA's WebLogic Portal, hooked into PeopleSoft, to provide a gateway that lets customers place orders as well as check order status and product availability.

Rzyczycki and her team launched the portal in January 2005 and released an upgrade six months later. They saw some illuminating results: In half a year, customer calls to Kichler's sales line dropped by 6,800 calls per month, while electronic orders shot from 2% to 28% of the total, Rzyczycki says.

That helped cut the costs to process each order, she says, since it's more efficient to receive an online order than take one over the phone. Kichler was also able shorten the credit-approval process for customers from two to three weeks to 24 hours.

"We all kind of joined hands and learned together," says Rzyczycki, speaking about the approach her team and customers took to the new project. "And we've seen some great results."

Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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