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9/7/2006
06:30 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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International Truck Embraces SOA--Warts And All

The IT team knew some standards and commercial products wouldn't meet their needs. But they knew it was the right strategic direction.

When is an IT standard solid enough to run a business on?

International Truck wanted more timely data from an array of legacy systems so it could spot assembly-plant problems sooner. Art Data, VP of IT, had to decide if the standards and technology around service-oriented architecture were mature enough to stick his neck out on such a critical initiative.

And they weren't--at least not for everything the company wanted. But International's IT team forged ahead with an SOA framework, knowing they'd be able to buy standards-based software for parts of the project and would have to write custom code for others. "You can wait till all the standards are perfect, and you'll never dip your toe in the water," Data says.

This wasn't just playing with some emerging tech in an IT sandbox. The Common Vehicle Tracking system was a real project with a deadline and a goal of saving at least $3 million a year. That added pressure actually made it easier to go with SOA, Data says. "It's not so much embracing a framework," he says. "It's 'Do you have a need?'"

International's early experience has Data standing firm on SOA

International's early experience has Data standing firm on SOA

Photo by Bob Stefko
The focus on a solving a vital business problem is common for companies that have made SOA part of their infrastructure. Many of the companies using it well--and that's still a small number--have pushed it as the answer to important data-sharing initiatives.

International needed to track truck production in near real time, flagging anything that goes wrong--data points such as defects and returns, shortfalls in parts production, and finished inventory. "We weren't doing it very well," Data concedes. That information was in various legacy systems, from computer-aided machinery on the factory floor to a custom-coded order management system and commercial ERP software. It had been tracked using one-off interfaces and flat-file data extracts that limited who could have the information and how timely it was.

The senior IT architects told Data this would be a hybrid project of off-the-shelf products and custom coding. For example, they use an off-the-shelf integration tool from SSA to expose data in International's Baan ERP system, and a custom-built interface for the in-house order management system. The Common Vehicle Tracking system uses Java 2 Enterprise Edition standards to see both software systems, so when the order management system eventually is replaced, it will be a simple matter to connect it to the tracking system.

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