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Updating an International Retailer’s Electronic Data Interchange Platform

RETAIL | ENTERPRISE APPLICATIONS AND ANALYTICS

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A leading global retailer sought TEKsystems’ support upgrading their electronic data interchange (EDI) platform in anticipation of a drastic increase in the volume of data associated with future business growth. We also redesigned dozens of supply chain operation interfaces to help improve efficiency and minimize associated costs.

Our client is an international retailing group delivering goods and services through a host of business models, including supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, online food delivery services and specialty stores. TEKsystems has partnered with the client’s parent company since 2009.

IBM® Rational® Integration Tester, AG webMethods

In the past, companies largely relied on manual documentation processes and communication for managing critical business logistics, such as purchase orders, invoices and payment notifications. But today’s modern organizations leverage sophisticated electronic documenting systems to drive and track their business.

These electronic data interchange (EDI) systems process and record massive amounts of data on a daily basis, and they enhance a company’s ability to do much of their business electronically. Data exchanged in these systems help streamline orders and ensure the appropriate products and services are available to consumers when and where they’re needed—a critical step in maximizing inventory and generating revenue.

Timely and efficient logistics is particularly paramount within the food industry, as retail stores and supermarkets supplying food strive to keep the fresh food on the shelf for shorter periods of time.

Our client’s global retail business—comprised largely of various supermarket chains—was thriving. On a daily basis, its multiple businesses generated large volumes of data and documentation pertaining to the business (e.g., purchase orders, shipment records, inventory documents), all of which were funneled into the client’s EDI.

In the wake of recent success, one of the client’s supermarket companies planned to open two new shared fresh centers (i.e., large warehouses that house products prior to distribution to local stores). The new centers, located in Europe and scheduled to open in the upcoming month, were expected to increase data volumes processed in their EDI by up to 7 percent over the next five years—a load increase the client’s current system could not effectively handle given the version and existing architecture.

To keep pace with growth, the client needed to overhaul their internal infrastructure and applications. Their EDI platform—webMethods’ B2B integration platform—would first need to be upgraded to the newest version to boost overall data processing capabilities and ensure continued technical support was available from the platform manufacturer. The platform’s outdated architecture was also not scalable, so the architecture would need to be redesigned to make the system more resilient and capable of accommodating the impending influx of data.

Additionally, in advance of the shared fresh center openings, the client wanted to enhance their existing supply chain application to accommodate for expected growth. They wanted a scalable solution that would provide self-service capabilities to suppliers and could also be applied to all of the client’s multiple store brands.

These enhancements would help provide fresher products to customers by shortening the time between supplier production and delivery to the store. They would also transfer more of the warehouse stock management ownership to suppliers, ultimately helping streamline overall logistics.

As a long-standing partner providing system integration support across all of the client’s multiple businesses—and as their preferred provider for all webMethods initiatives—TEKsystems was engaged to execute both of the client’s strategic growth initiatives: 1. EDI platform upgrade, and 2. Opening of shared fresh centers (to improve supply chain operations).

We recommended first completing the EDI platform upgrade and then developing the integrated supply chain application solution.

EDI platform upgrade

In order to ensure better performance and stability, we would first upgrade the current EDI platform, webMethods version 8.0, to the newest version on the market, version 9.6. We would then redesign the current architecture, increasing its scalability so it is better able to respond to fluctuations in data volumes. A key component of the redesigned architecture would involve the decoupling of messages and scaling the system’s technology footprint to enhance functionality.

Previously, processing of incoming and outgoing documents within the system happened on a single server. We proposed changing the architecture and separating the processing and handling of the inbound and outbound documents into two layers supported by three servers. Decoupling the messages would help improve performance while increasing the speed of handling increased data loads.

To measure the effectiveness of our solution, we would use IBM’s Rational Performance Tester (RPT) to establish baseline performance metrics (i.e., load/processing times) of the existing processing setup. Once the new architecture was implemented, we would execute the test again to validate our solution and measure performance and speed improvements.

For this phase of the project, we would provide an on-site/off-shore team of seven system integration consultants and infrastructure, development and testing specialists. Our team would maintain a RAID (risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies) log to track and plan project details. They would also stay in constant communication with client teams and key stakeholders, holding daily status meetings and generating weekly status reports to share progress updates.

Given that the EDI upgrade would impact almost every facet of the client’s multiple businesses, it would be critical that we work tangentially with numerous third-party partners within the client’s environment delivering IT projects and support. This would help ensure seamless integration and minimize risks associated with business or technological disruptions.

Opening share fresh centers

For this phase of the engagement, we would also provide a split off-shore/on-site team to execute work. TEKsystems’ team created interfaces in webMethods which integrated the client’s supply chain applications to facilitate the introduction of the new shared fresh warehouses. Our enhancements and redesign of dozens of system interfaces would improve efficiency in the supply chain operations and therefore minimize associated costs.

Restocking would be much more efficient by physically grouping articles per store assortment group, which would ultimately streamline the overall fulfillment process. These changes would also transfer more of the direct oversight away from the client and to the suppliers, making suppliers more responsible for sufficiency of warehouse stock (i.e., vendor-managed inventory).

Our solution would also be developed with generic interfacing so it could be scaled and implemented within the client’s multiple brands and companies.

TEKsystems successfully upgraded the client’s webMethods EDI platform from version 8.0 to 9.6 and modified its architecture to provide improved performance, speed and overall scalability. The new system and architecture was adapted to handle increased data loads of up to seven times the current volume.

We leveraged IBM’s RPT to measure performance improvements against the benchmarks previously gathered from the original architecture setup. Prior to decoupling messages and implementing additional servers to streamline data processing, each document processing time took approximately one minute. Through our changes to the architecture and 55 different interfaces within the platform, we created an 80 percent increase in EDI performance, reducing data processing times to an average of 15 seconds.

By increasing the pace at which data could be processed, we simultaneously increased throughput as the system now had the capacity to process more messages in a given time. To improve security, the file transfers for the interfaces were made secure from the existing non-secure ones.

We also successfully modified the client’s supply chain application, redesigning and implementing 61 webMethods interfaces.

Over the course of this engagement, we were involved in gap analysis, defining a migration strategy, delivering code enhancements, deployment and post-production support. Over the life of our partnership with the client, to date we have offered product expertise to adopt new features for more than 900 simple to highly complex interfaces, totaling more than 2,500 hours of work.

PREFERRED PROVIDER

Our client leverages webMethods exclusively as their main strategic platform to connect their businesses, customers and suppliers. For more than a decade, we have supported clients seeking to bridge the gaps between organizational technologies and applications in order to improve processes and drive efficiency. We have a deep understanding of webMethods’ suite of products, the challenges associated with implementations and how to effectively deliver optimal solutions best suited for each client’s needs. Based on our extensive experience supporting webMethods solutions, and as the client’s sole provider of webMethods support, TEKsystems was viewed as a strategic and essential partner for this engagement.

ONGOING PARTNERSHIP

As a further testament to our trusted partnership, TEKsystems has been asked to form a core integration team—a collection of architects tasked to make decisions about ongoing integration projects. Serving in this role, we will be instrumental in helping our client decide how webMethods projects need to be implemented and subsequently available to support these initiatives.

OFF-SHORE DELIVERY

After gaining an understanding of the client’s specific project goals, we were able to tailor our solution to leverage expertise within our off-shore Hyderabad Solution Center, located in Bangalore, India. With more than 1,000 highly skilled employees specializing in application management and development, data management, and quality assurance and software testing, the center’s capabilities perfectly aligned with the client’s needs and ultimately helped us to successfully execute this project.

My thanks to you and your team for all the hard work and effort, well done! Needless to say this project is of extreme importance in facilitating business growth and in creating a more stable, better performing environment … Thanks again, and my compliments for this smooth implementation.” - Senior director infrastructure and service delivery