Two Ways To Deal With SOA's Data Integration Challenge - InformationWeek

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Two Ways To Deal With SOA's Data Integration Challenge

Service-oriented architecture blurs distinctions between data and apps; integrating the results is what matters.

It's one thing to integrate data across applications in an IT infrastructure. The methods and practices are tried and true. But implementing data integration across a service-oriented architecture poses new challenges.

"SOA starts to blur the difference between data and applications," says Ron Schmelzer of ZapThink, an SOA market research firm. When a set of applications performs some function, isolated as an independent service, the results can look a lot like data as they're passed off to another application. Likewise, a query to a service that triggers a stored procedure in the database yields results that look a lot like an outcome of application logic. In services, data ceases to exist as something distinct from the application logic.

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What matters is whether these results can be integrated with the next action. That integration can take place in different ways. The approach that has grown out of conventional enterprise application integration is based on products offered by iWay, Software AG, and other vendors. For instance, iWay has a library of 300 adapters. The adapters connect applications to applications or applications to data sources. Adapters are combined with iWay's Service Manager, which links data across services by figuring out how to transform the data en route to its destination.

Coty, the fragrance and personal care products company, found the iWay approach was just what it needed to integrate Unilever's cosmetics business, which it acquired in late 2005, in just six months.

No more lost orders for Coty's Gallant -- Photo by Sacha Lecca

No more lost orders for Coty's Gallant

Photo by Sacha Lecca
Coty CFO Michael Fishoff told CIO Dave Berry to get the two companies' customer-facing data integrated so they looked like one company by June 30, 2006, the end of Coty's fiscal year. Failure to meet that goal would delay the benefits to customers of dealing with one company and product line, and would force Coty to maintain two sales forces, supply chains, and software infrastructures.

Soon after the acquisition, Berry heard complaints from big customers such as Federated Department Stores that its buyers had to talk to two sales reps after the acquisition or deal with three systems to push one order through.

Orders of Unilever's Chloe or Calvin Klein fragrances had to be sent through a JD Edwards system in Lille, France. Coty's hot-selling Celine Dion or Jennifer Lopez fragrances had to be ordered through its homegrown warehouse management system in Kassel, Germany. Orders for other products went through Oracle Cash-to-Order systems in Coty's North Carolina distribution center. "There was no way we were ever going to make a six-month integration effort work if we started writing code," Berry says.

But connecting JD Edwards to Oracle applications or Oracle apps to SAP is what iWay connectors and adapters do. Berry realized he needed to identify the processes that led to the customer getting, for example, two invoices from Coty, and force them into a single process.

Coty's Accenture business process consultants took on the task. They got iWay's Service Manager to understand the differences between Coty's order entry systems and perform the data transformations between them once a business analyst drew process flow lines on Service Manager's graphical map of the JD Edwards and SAP systems. The Coty order entry system worked in tandem with the Unilever order entry system until their results could be combined to yield one invoice.

Gary Gallant, now VP of information management for the Americas at Coty and a former top Unilever IT manager, led the integration effort, which had its rough spots. Gallant discovered at one point that a day's orders, sent into the iWay system, never emerged at the distribution center. The orders had been improperly formatted so they couldn't be translated into the right destination format, but iWay neglected to inform anyone of the hang-up.

"It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We needed to improve the visibility into the system," Gallant says. He found a way to get the system to send a message to administrators when orders were hung up in a "retry" queue.

Berry used this approach to identify customer-facing services, isolate them, and use iWay to translate between them. The result was what appeared to customers to be a fully integrated Unilever/Coty by the six-month deadline.

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