BAT Looks to Web Services

 
 
By Debra Donston  |  Posted 2003-08-18
 
 
 

When executives at British American Tobacco plc. needed a way to tap into and make sense of data in a variety of databases and enterprise applications, the IT department tapped into Web services.

BAT, the second-largest publicly listed tobacco company in the world, employs about 90,000 people in 180 countries. The company has a widespread business systems landscape based on a number of common solutions, including applications from SAP AG, Siebel Systems Inc., PeopleSoft Corp. and i2 Technologies Inc., said Kevin Poulter, application technology manager at BAT, in London.

At the beginning of last year, Poulter and his team decided to base their integration architecture on Web services. "We took, as the basis, what we were already doing with [IBMs] MQSeries, our experience in the team around CORBA and [Component Object Model] and what we observed in the marketplace and devised a conceptual architecture based around Web services technology," said Poulter. "Weve spent the last nine months elaborating on that architecture from a blueprint perspective in terms of standards and products."

When senior management expressed interest in a method for providing increased, more meaningful feedback on how the business was performing, Poulter considered using a data warehousing strategy but determined that it would be too costly and time- consuming to set up. Instead, the decision was made to leverage and extend the Web services work already being done and implement CXO System 3.0, from CXO Systems Inc.

An executive dashboard that provides a real-time view of information, the Web- services-based CXO System 3.0 pulls and integrates data from operational and analytical systems.

CXO Systems worked with BAT to configure the system to the companys needs, said Poulter. "We worked with CXO to implement a dashboard application that shows metrics such as average lead time on orders, forecast accuracy and a collection of other metrics that show how manufacturing capability is meeting the demands of different sales operations around the globe," he said. "The dashboard shows metrics derived from information in SAP R/3 and the i2 supply planning and collaboration modules."

Poulter declined to say how much CXO System cost to implement. "Lets just say it was significantly more cost-effective than traditional approaches we might have looked at," he said.

CXO Systems officials said the applications price starts at $75,000.

A Speedy Implementation

poulter said it took only about eight weeks to get CXO System up and running at BAT, an impressive timeframe given the complexity of the integration being performed. "The general feedback is that people are amazed at how fast weve gotten things up and running because of the complexity of extracting and combining those data sets and presenting them as the appropriate metrics using traditional technology," he said.

The biggest challenge, according to Poulter, was dealing with an older version of one of the back-end applications being accessed. "The SAP application being used was quite an old one," he said. "Therefore, the integration wasnt as rapid as it might have been, but it was still quick."

Poulter said the application, SAPs R/3 Version 3.6, provides a restricted capability to browse its interfaces, therefore requiring more access to SAP specialists within the business than would be required with later versions of the application.

CXO is a Microsoft Corp. .Net-based application, but for the BAT project, products based on Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition were used to enable integration with back-end business systems: Librados Inc.s Enterprise Integration Component Server deployed in BEA Systems Inc.s WebLogic Application Server and Infravio Inc.s Web Services Management System.

"Librados has enabled us to create interfaces to SAP and i2 within the Java environment," Poulter said. "We then used Infravio to convert those into Web services, which are then invoked from within the CXO platform."

Currently, about 20 to 30 people are using CXO System at BAT. The company plans to extend the use of CXO System toward the end of the year to users in different parts of the business. Once that happens, Poulter plans to overlay AmberPoint Inc.s Web services Management system to make CXO System more operationally robust. AmberPoint, said Poulter, will provide service-level management of the underlying services and failover capabilities, as well as the ability to deal with exceptions.

Poulter said the security built into CXO System is sufficient for the moment. CXO System provides log-in security and LDAP capabilities and can interface with Microsofts Active Directory.

If increased use of the product eventually warrants more stringent security, said Poulter, the plan is to use AmberPoint or work with an XML security vendor such as Vordel Ltd. to make Web services traffic more secure.

Executive Editor Debra Donston is at debra_donston@ziffdavis.com.

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