In-Depth

Web services keep Bekins Co. moving

Application Development Trends'
2002 Innovator Awards
Middleware/Application Integration
Honorable Mention

The Bekins Company is known to the public largely for its fleet of moving vans. What the public may not realize is that people, by and large, move in the summer. That brings unique complexity to Bekins' business.

The company has to maintain a robust moving fleet for peak times, but it has the capacity to broker-out for other uses on other occasions. And, when peak times really do peak, and capacity is full, it might be most prudent to source out jobs to others in the moving segment.

The Bekins Company had a variety of homegrown methods that made for a brokering system. EDI, green screens, fax machines and the old dispatcher's standby, the telephone, were all part of the mix.

Bekins, however, was ready to look at something more modern.

Having gained considerable familiarity with the Java environment and IBM's WebSphere application server during the 1990s, developers at Bekins decided in 2001 to build a new brokering system using the latest technology: Java, UDDI, WSDL, XML and the related SOAP. The system connects partners with Bekins for the purpose of brokering jobs.

It is known as the Tonnage Broadcast Exchange (TBE) Web Services System, and it is an admirable example of innovation in the cause of commerce. So far, the annual financial benefits of the system are said to exceed $76 million.

"This was a progression," said Randy Mowen, director, data management and e-business architecture, Bekins, San Clemente, Calif. "We progressed from Java to a Web service offering."

The group mitigated its risk somewhat by building progressive versions of the system. "We built an application as a standard [Java] app first, and then converted to a Web service. We used a WSDL translator to move to an XML-compatible format," said Mowen. Seven business partners acted as beta test sites.

The Bekins team used the Rational Rose Unified Process, UML modeling and CA Erwin data design software to create a basic development methodology. The TBE is a J2EE-compliant system that uses JavaBeans and XML methods to send data to and from the client or server.

Mowen worked as the lead solution architect on a seven-person team that, among many other innovative functions, created a SOAP servlet to communicate between Bekins' and its business partners' servers. Business partners are delighted with the amount of personalization the solution offers, and now shipment tenders do not even appear to the business partner unless the partner is qualified for the job.

Bekins continues to rely on IMS and DB2 databases residing on a System/390 running MVS. The core Web Services application was developed using VisualAge for Java to create servlets and EJBs. It runs under the WebSphere Application Server environment on a Windows NT server at Bekins.

The team included one XML lead, a senior and a junior Java developer, a lead solution architect who was DB2 and WebSphere certified, and two COBOL programmers. Despite the newness of SOAP, the Bekins crew accomplished the job without time for added formal SOAP training.


Application profile:

Tools and Technologies:
WebSphere Application Server 4.0, VisualAge for Java 4.0, Rational Rose and Erwin modeling tools, DB2 database, IBM System/390 MVS OS/390 enterprise server, Windows NT 4.0 Web application server

Development Team:
Randy Mowen, Dennis Dassoff, Marc Southard, Scott Marema, Mike Muckerhide, Dan Michaels and Kim Warren

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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