Bekins Van Lines



Development Team:
Tatiana Bocean, Dale Muir, Joe Bass, Randy Valentino, Tim Webster (front), Todd Borro (not pictured), Paul Caswell (not pictured)
Bekins Van Lines motors online

In an effort to retain customers, Bekins Van Lines, Hillside, Ill., embarked on a project in April 1999 to provide its customers with a way to track shipments. At that time, the only way for customers to track shipments was to call or fax Bekins and then wait for someone to get back to them — a process that could take up to 24 hours, depending on the number of requests received.

Two customers were also threatening to take their business elsewhere if Bekins did not provide an easier way to track shipments by July. The organization met that challenge and had its Web-based Shipping & Tracking System (STS) up and running in three months. "Now it's a matter of seconds" to track information, said Tim Webster, application development manager at Bekins.

APPLICATION
PROFILE

Project: Web-based Shipping & Tracking System (STS) designed for external customers

Purpose: To allow customers to check shipment status, hauling history and delivery schedules over the Web.

Benefits: Increased revenue, reduced operating expenses, improved customer service and satisfaction, IT development savings, and the ability to use DB2 across multiple operating systems.

Platforms: IBM S/390 MVS and Windows NT

STS is based on a multitier architecture in which each archi- tectural layer has clearly defined responsibilities, with minimal dependencies between layers. For example, each component has been implemented with minimum development dependencies. As a result, modifications and improvements at the component level can be made easily without impacting the rest of the system. The presentation layer has been built independently of the database and contains no complex business logic. And a mapping layer between legacy data types of column names was also created. This enables the existing mainframe tables to change without affecting every e-business user.

Another challenge was the learning curve associated with the development kit. The development team included three full-time and two part-time Java developers. Team members had prior object-oriented development and Java experience, but no training in VisualAge for Java, which was used to create STS. The team completed the STS project without any additional technology training, but was supported by IBM development consultants.

The project was broken down into four phases — prototyping with live data, architecture modeling, database design and code implementation — that served as checkpoints. A schedule was established for each checkpoint and the team had weekly meetings to review their progress. Each project phase required sign-off by users and business analysts before the next phase could begin.

The team's greatest technical challenge was designing STS's architecture. Requirements included: leveraging existing DB2 data from Bekins' IBM S/390 enterprise system; supporting multiple users from firms/agents who partner with Bekins; and controlling external access to data and limiting which parts of the system were available to each user based on authorization level.

Consultants from ISA Services, a Chicago consulting firm, helped design a flexible, multitier architecture that featured a clear separation of enterprise and presentation logic. As a result, presentation layers can be changed or extended without impacting the enterprise-level software. New presen-tation layers, such as GUI applications or Web browser apps, can also be built reusing the enterprise logic.

TOOLS

IBM Application Framework for e-business: VisualAge for Java (Enterprise Edition), WebSphere Application Server, DB2 and Rational Rose

In order to meet Bekins' tight deadline, the development team leveraged existing resources wherever possible. The Enterprise Edition of VisualAge for Java was used because of its ability to integrate with elements of the existing IT environment, including DB2. The WebSphere Application Server was used as a robust, scalable foundation to support the use of servlets.

"We couldn't have made it without this toolset," said Webster, referring to VisualAge for Ja-va and WebSphere. VisualAge for Java includes a servlet builder that builds servlets automatically. "The servlet builder saved us a lot of time. We didn't have to do that manually," noted Webster.

The development team used DB2, Bekins' database of choice, for the entire enterprise architecture, which allowed the team to leverage legacy data. They used MVS to leverage Bekins' existing S/390 data and business logic, and chose Windows NT because it complements S/390 as an app server.

To shorten the development cycle, the team focused on the front-end architecture, where they had the greatest expertise in-house, while ISA Services helped develop the back-end architecture. STS has three core layers: a presentation layer, enterprise logic and enterprise data. In the presentation layer, Java servlets — supported by IBM's WebSphere Application Server — can be accessed by any client with a standard Web browser. The use of servlets removes the need for client deployment, reducing the cost of deployment and allowing for almost instantaneous deployment of bug fixes and enhancements.

Enterprise logic is split between Bekins' S/390 enterprise system and Windows NT Server, while enterprise data resides on DB2 databases on the S/390 MVS system and Windows NT Server.

The development team looked for tools and technologies that would support iterative development to allow user input, and productivity features that would help the team meet deadlines. Other important characteristics were multiplatform support and scalability; support for a flexible, multitier architecture; and robust, reliable performance.

The development team structured STS so that it customizes Web pages according to each user's authorization level. Icons such as hauling history or schedules do not appear unless a user is authorized to access the information behind them.

The company's Web-based functionality is also responsible for new accounts. In fact, Bekins is projecting increased revenue of more than $10 million annually. Because information is provided on the Web rather than through staff, Bekins is realizing reduced operating expenses of $250,000 annually. In addition, the company is saving $125,000 in IT development through the use of advanced e-business tools and technologies, and developers can now respond more quickly to customer requests for new functionality.

If Bekins had this project to do over again, said Webster, it would not change a thing. The company credits much of STS' success to customer involvement throughout the project. Users from business units and marketing were involved in designing the architecture, while customers were involved in developing the look and feel and functionality of the user interfaces.

Bekins used a prototype to sell the concept of STS to its customers and management. As the project evolved, the development team relied on user feedback to assess user issues and quality concerns. In addition, two of Bekins' customers served as beta test sites with live data. The test sites allowed the development team to capture problems and track their resolution. Bekins intends to put even more effort into prototyping in the future.

One adjustment Bekins would make is to go further into tapping the functionality of the tools and methodologies it used in building STS. Going forward, Bekins hopes to use IBM Application Framework and Rational Rose to find new ways to improve its developer productivity and to reduce its time to market in bringing future e-business applications online.
— Lana Gates

KEANE REPORT

In the world of e-business, most companies throw the tried and tested project management principles out the window with the excuse of "Internet time implementation." Bekins Van Lines demonstrates how a mission-critical e-business project can be implemented successfully in record time using a proper project management methodology and measurement metrics.

Bekins Van Lines' Shipping & Tracking System was selected as a winner because:

  • This was a large-scale and high-visibility application produced in a short period of time, with good user acceptance.
  • The project clearly defined business goals, ROI and cost savings.
  • The team selected technologies and methodologies prudently, and implemented an architecture that will be scalable in the future.
  • The architecture integrates new (Java, NT, WebSphere) and legacy (OS/390) technologies, demonstrating that new and legacy technologies can be combined to achieve business goals.

Team Leader: Joseph Kirpes, senior national enterprise architect Team Members: Vincent D'Amico, solution development practice manager; Shirish Jamthe, account manager and chairman of the Architecture Review Board; Naia Kirkpatrick, security architect; and John Varga, principal consultant

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