Bekins Van Lines
Van Lines motors online
Tatiana Bocean, Dale Muir, Joe Bass, Randy Valentino, Tim Webster (front), Todd Borro (not pictured), Paul Caswell (not pictured)
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.
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.
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
Benefits: Increased revenue, reduced
operating expenses, improved customer service and satisfaction,
IT development savings, and the ability to use DB2 across multiple
Platforms: IBM S/390 MVS and Windows
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
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.
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.
IBM Application Framework for e-business:
VisualAge for Java (Enterprise Edition), WebSphere Application Server,
DB2 and Rational Rose
"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
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
— Lana Gates
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
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