The Bridge Across Islands



The last few decades saw most corporate software users rushing to integrate
the islands of information within a company. It was because of the awareness
created by enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors, and partly due to the
fact that jobs abroad were available in large numbers and people required the
necessary skills to implement ERP solutions. It was stretched further to include
supply chain management (SCM) and customer relationship management (CRM). Today
we find this wave ebbing, but a new wave is sweeping our shores, that is EAI or
enterprise application integration.

“Users are
searching for solutions that are cost-effective, scalable and use the latest
technologies. At the same time, they want to protect their IT investments” 

Atul Marathe

This is because most Indian companies do have computerized applications and
processes, though all may not be full-fledged ERP implementations. The EAI wave
looks more promising since it requires less investment up front and can be
incrementally implemented starting with a modest set of web-enabled
applications.

There have been several alternatives to achieve these objectives to a certain
extent in the past. We can consider technologies like EDI (electronic data
interchange) or data replication or FTP/mail attachments for transfer of data.
However, all these mechanisms fail to address all the issues, unless one has a
virtual network, over which all entities work and have a defined set of data,
transfer protocols. These solutions have been unaffordable to most companies and
web based solutions offer much cheaper option.

Web enabled ERPs are close to delivering most of these benefits but they
require higher investments and impose restrictions of standard packages to be
used at either end. Usually this is easier to implement at units of the same
organization but not across multiple business partners. Connecting multiple ERPs
with ERP connectors is a costly affair. Web based solutions with application
servers also do not address all these needs and in fact, address a different
problem.

For instance, e2eConnect, developed at Persistent eBusiness Solutions, is an
XML-based business integration platform for integrating information systems and
business processes across the functional and organizational boundaries of an
enterprise.

Middleware for EAI
The flow can be understood if we look at the functionality offered by the
XML Engine as detailed below: receive messages as HTTP post through a browser
gateway or a well-formed XML from an application gateway or a complete XML
message from an e-service to route to the stated destination; in each case, it
has the ability to connect users over a secure connection (using SSL) and/or
authenticate the user using digital certificates and/or a login-password ;
messages that are in XML format and contain routing information are passed on
the Request Dispatcher that is able to send the message to all the destinations
that are available on-line on the web. Messages are automatically queued for
those destinations that are off line and currently not accessible; the XML
engine keeps track of any e-service destination that gets connected later and
pushes all pending messages in queue to the service for action.

The XML engine can route the message to various destination types as —e-services
where application programs act on the message immediately, on-line users who
will view the message and reply to it, a web server that will accept posted
messages, a mobile device capable of accepting an SMS message, an email user who
expects e-mail messages in his/her mailbox, to another eE2eConnect XML engine
that will route it to its e-services, to an e-service database for storage.

All messages routed through the XML Engine are logged for audit purposes.
Logging is possible at multiple granularity levels and is optional. The XML
engine expects a reply to any message, if it is not queued.

The B2B market in India is rising by leaps and bounds. Users are searching
for solutions that are scalable, cost effective and use the latest technologies.
At the same time, they want to protect their IT investments. Products like
e2econenct offer an ideal migration path to such customers and help them
integrate their information systems that are not only within their enterprise
but go beyond.

The author is VP, e-commerce Persistent Systems

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