Java Magic: Freight Forward

As an early adopter of Java
computing solutions, CSX Corp has proven it can dramatically improve customer service and
increase revenues while reducing operational costs. The company is the largest global
freight transporter in the US, with revenues over $10.5 billion. CSX’s operations include
more than 31,000 miles of railroad track, commercial ocean liner transport with ports in
more than 70 countries and the only coast-to-coast, full-service, intermodel shipping
service in the United States.

CSX Technology, a business
subsidiary of CSX, has attracted the enthusiastic attention of both internal users and
customers. With Java computing, CSX Technology improved business systems and drove down
the cost of desktop deployment and maintenance. CSX estimates its use of Java computing
will save as much as 70% of the cost of other alternatives.

CSX Technology mapped out and
piloted an advanced Java-based enterprise computing plan with Sun JavaStations in a
heterogeneous environment across CSX’s intranets and extranets. CSX empowered its user
base with one of the largest mission-critical applications ever written in Java.
"JavaStations are part of the enabling technology that will help us as a company, and
as an industry, revolutionize our customer service," remarks John Andrews, President
of CSX Technology.

As one of its guiding principles,
CSX has long recognized the importance of its relationships with customers. One way to
strengthen these ties is to give customers a better and faster way to place orders and
track shipments en route. To this end, CSX developed its original Transportation
Workstation (TWS) application, written in C for the OS/2 platform.

A Javatized version of TWS
With the emergence of web-based technologies and Java computing, CSX saw an opportunity to
revisit its business model to deploy a much more cost-effective solution for its diverse
users. "Java has become important for our business because our business model is
changing. We are becoming much more customer-centric, which has caused us to become much
more network-centric. Once you have the network in place, Java desktops are literally plug
and play," states Andrews.

In early 1996, the new computing
vision at CSX was only a concept that had to be proven. Andrews assembled his development
team with a singular, six-week mission: develop and deploy a javatized version of TWS for
the railroad side of the business, on an intranet, from the ground up. His reasoning was
simple: for the new Java-based computing model to meet the company’s needs, rapid
application development would be essential. CSX was looking for something beyond what it
already had, and it wanted proven, cross-platform technologies and the flexibility to
offer new services at the drop of a hat. "The transportation industry used to be an
asset-based service delivery process," Andrews explains. "Now it has to be an
information and service delivery process. In transportation, information has become the
difference between breaking away or falling behind."

The TWSNet solution
The new application, dubbed TWSNet, was a big success. Since its trial by fire, TWSNet has
been enhanced with a variety of services including rail car and tanker management, service
history and fleet management and even common desktop productivity tools like email and
contact databases. For customers, the service palette includes waybill entry, shipment
tracking and damage claims, with selective access to the company’s mainframe database.

It is now possible for CSX to
extend electronic links to more users than ever before. PC users can instantly deploy the
applications with a Java-enabled web browser. CSX is committed to the Java computing
strategy because of the low total cost of ownership, centralized administration, platform
independence and ability to be deployed incrementally. "Java came out on top,"
says Andrews of his rigorous evaluation of Java technologies. "It allowed us to get
our information product to market much more quickly and effectively."

DEPLOYMENT: TWSNet,
developed and deployed for less than $1 million, was rolled out just 90 days after the
project began. The first email release included shipment-status queries, email, access to
the corporate address book, customer account information and an interactive shipment
tracking map (access to tracking maps is not possible on 3,270 devices since they are
text-based). TWSNet now supports freight-car ordering, freight claims and bill of lading
submissions. The current release adds equipment pool management, performance monitoring
and pricing information.

Today, Java computing is being
favorably evaluated in 15 of CSX’s largest customer sites using Java-enabled browsers on
PCs. At CSX, JavaStations run the HotJava browser, and a dedicated Sun UltraSPARC server
sits behind the corporate firewall. Information is housed in an Oracle database on an
UltraSPARC, and regular updates come from the IBM Series 9000 mainframe.

Results and the future
"From CSX’s perspective, we believe that Java computing has saved us well over $5
million on an annual basis," approximates Andrews. And the advantage to CSX customers
has also been quite significant. With TWSNet, customers can address questions as they
arise and get immediate answers to pressing business issues. "The customer response
has been very positive," says Andrews.

TWSNet is proving so successful
that CSX is looking forward to worldwide deployment shortly. "We see very few
applications here at CSX where the JavaStation won’t be able to complement or replace our
PC deployments," states Andrews. CSX projects as many as tens of thousands of
JavaStation desktops could be deployed internally and at customer sites over the next two
years. The company is also planning to roll out an expanded version of TWSNet with oceanic
and inter-model shipping capabilities.

Java is creating previously
unforeseen opportunities in ecommerce. The company has been approached by other
transportation companies in the hope that CSX might consider marketing its modular
software solution to their shipping companies. "We see the Java-enabled future here
at CSX to be terrific," says Andrews. "The capabilities are much more expansive
than we thought."

Courtesy: Sun
Microsystems (India)

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