Movers and Shakers: How Bekins built a Web services-based Broadcast Exchange system
Everyone is talking about Web services, but take it from Randy Mowen, lead
solutions architect for an award-winning, cost-saving application of the new
technology, it takes careful planning to do it right.
Mowen and his team designed and completed a Web services app for The Bekins
Company, a San Clemente, Calif.-based moving business, in five months. More
than two of those months were focused on planning and learning to use the tools,
as well as on how to apply them to the Web services model.
'I think what we learned,' he said, is that 'it's very important
that you work as a team; you [need to] have a good plan and a good model for
how you are going to create your objects.'
The app, called Tonnage Broadcast Exchange (TBE) -- which won an honorable
mention in ADT's Innovator
Awards (see 'Web services
keep Bekins Co. moving
,' April 2002) -- was designed to reduce duplication of effort.
The online brokerage available to Bekins' business partners as a Web service
replaced a system based on phone and fax technology.
However, Mowen, who is director of data management and e-business architecture
at Bekins, said it was crucial that his development team avoid the pitfall of
creating a Web service that mimicked rather than solved the problem.
'You can put yourself in the same situation you're trying to get out of,'
he explained. 'That's duplicating objects, work, methods and calls, and
[then] disseminating the information again.'
To avoid this, the seven-member team spent the initial phase of the project
planning, architecting and studying how to use the new XML technologies to link
data from a legacy IBM OS/390 mainframe system to the new Web services app.
'The first couple of months were [spent on] architecture and getting everybody
comfortable with the components and building a foundation,' Mowen said.
'Before we could build anything tangible, we had to understand how all
the components worked, how to parse the XML, how the different methods were
going to call and talk to each other, [and] how the SOAP agent was going to
The project's schedule allowed two months for learning to work with the XML
technologies. This included some programming so the development team could learn
the ins and outs of the platform and tools, which included IBM WebSphere Application
Server 4.0, as well as VisualAge for Java 4.0, Rational Rose and ERwin. This
stage was followed by four weeks of planning. The final two months were spent
on programming and testing.
Mowen said front-loading the project with time to learn, plan and model paid
off in the short coding time. 'The app came together in the six-week window
we had planned for it once [the team was] comfortable with the new IDE and the
whole way of deploying Web services,' he said.
The programming stage was also more productive because the business objects
had been defined in the prior phases of the project; where the team found existing
objects -- there were only a few, according to Mowen -- they were used in the
new project. Modeling, data mapping, data conversion and then creating the objects
were key to the application's success, he said. With the objects defined and
reusable, the duplication of data and effort from the old system was eliminated.
Mowen offered the example of an order, which in the past might have come to
Bekins as a fax and then been entered into systems in various ways that could
be time-consuming to process or look up.
'It used to be that it wasn't really an object, it was an order,'
he said. 'And an order was made up of specific data elements. Now it truly
is an object as defined in Java. When an order comes in, we know that to submit
it we call this object, send the data that comes in to this object, or we call
this object if we want to look up an order.'
Building on this project's success, Mowen is focusing on employing his team's
Web services expertise on integrating internal systems.
'We're going to start using the Web services model as an integration tool
for the next six months to help us integrate all the segregated platforms and
apps we currently run in-house,' he said. 'There are a lot of things
that don't talk to each other right now -- they give us different data types
when we run queries, prepare reports or do our daily business.'
Using Java and Web services, Mowen plans to standardize methods for inputs
and outputs, consolidating them across Bekins' apps. 'When we need to extract
or input data, it [will] all come through the same funnel, so our programmers
will all be operating on the same page,' he said. 'We'll have a standardized
set of input parameters that are well defined so we can quickly integrate with
our vendors, customers, clients and agents.'
Bekins estimates that the productivity gains from working with this object
model are resulting in an 'annual financial benefit' of $76 million.
'We put a great deal of focus on this project,' Mowen concluded,
'and we are starting to reap the rewards from it.'
Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.