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September 2001

Rich Tehrani Wildlife And Legacy Systems


[ Go Right To: Extending The Enterprise ]

The neighborhood in which I live is a well-established suburb in one of the most densely populated states in the U.S. Yet, I have a small river (rather an overgrown creek) running through the back of the property and my neighborhood is fairly thick with trees; and so, as various animals have adapted over the years to the changes in their original habitat, sightings of deer, raccoons, Canada geese, hawks and even the occasional wild turkey are not remarkable events. However, on a recent Saturday afternoon, imagine my surprise when I saw a huge white bird, perched atop long legs a model would die for, standing stark-still beside the riverbank in my back yard. It was the kind of bird you'd expect to see in Florida, but not in my back yard. I rushed inside and grabbed my new video camera (for no one would believe me without photographic evidence) and breathlessly dashed back to film this magnificent creature that had somehow wandered into my back yard. I showed the film to my fianc, but neither one of us had any idea what kind of bird it was.

Back at work the next Monday, I casually mentioned this in an editorial meeting, which led to speculation as to what species this bird was.

Here at TMC, many of our editors can be referred to as legacy systems, ones who have been around here a long time, none the worse for wear, with huge databases and operating systems that go back to the days of manual typewriters and punchcard-fed computers. They also have the benefit of spending many hours in libraries; if they don't know an answer off the top of their heads, they know where and how to find it. So one of these TMC legacy systems went home that night, looked in his Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, found a bird he felt fit my rather sketchy description (in less time, he reported, than it would have taken him to log onto the Internet and call up a search engine and have it download on his dial-up modem [a story for another day is the appalling lack of universal broadband access in the U.S.]), scanned the photograph and the description and sent them to me as e-mail attachments. I opened the file, and there before me was my bird, Casmerodius albus, or the great egret.

This tale, I believe, illustrates the state of most businesses today. So many legacy systems are still chugging away, day after day, year after year, flawlessly performing their tasks, a fact that so many of us in this industry (and, I think in our culture in general) tend to forget as we salivate over the newest, sexiest and latest technology (proven or not). The only major difference between legacy systems and the TMC editors is that legacy systems don't easily adapt to the newest systems we have installed, while editors acquire new skills, with the added benefit of using their past experiences to gather information from various sources and media types to combine them into a coherent whole.

As implementing CRM solutions is a business transformation process that affects the entire enterprise, and not a matter of simply installing off-the-shelf software, a huge problem, and the cause of many less-than-stellar reports on the benefits of CRM, is the fact that unless a company has just sprung up, the legacy systems already in place in various departments, built in the days before open standards, perform their applications in splendid isolation, islands unto themselves. Perhaps the hardest hit in the rush to CRM are call centers, which are often mired in the past, locked into expensive, proprietary systems that, while they perform their specific tasks with the single-mined determination of an iron automaton who, with brute force and tunnel vision, operates ignorant of and uncaring about the rest of the world; the left hand not only doesn't know what the right hand is doing, the left hand doesn't even know there is a right hand. Thus, the call center's vast collection of customer data is walled off from other departments, each system unable to unite with its neighbor or with new systems to form a collective whole, mightier than the sum of its parts.

Adding to the data and channel isolation is the entrenched green-screen world of many call centers, a world in which agents must log in and out of several systems to perform more than one task. This not only adds time to doing simple tasks (time that could be best spent else wise), it can lead to transcription errors and it adds costs for agent training, uses precious IT resources and adheres to its own rules, not business rules. The time and expense to learn, build, customize and implement these new interfaces is time and money that could be used to build new application functionality and help the business be more competitive.

To address the application interface integration problem, Jacada Inc. has designed its Interface Server, which provides a universal interface layer for both new and existing applications and allows an engineer to design the user interface once and generate it in whatever language and standard the business demands. The Interface Server also provides for the selective re-engineering of legacy applications to collect the re-usable logic and allow it to co-exist with the remains of legacy systems. With the Interface Server, legacy applications can be Web-enabled, legacy and new business logic can be exposed as XML transactions, and there will be a unified interface for integration with packaged applications and enterprise portals.

The heart or mind of the Jacada package is the Jacada KnowledgeBase, a rules-based engine that acts as a global repository for an organization's interface standards. By using the Jacada KnowledgeBase to automatically enforce user interface standards, all applications automatically provide a unified front to users. Additionally, the Jacada KnowledgeBase will tell what screens or pages will be affected and then make the change. It can also be tuned to conform to popular packaged application interfaces.

The Jacada Interface Server addresses both legacy and contemporary application architectures through support of TN3270 and TN5250 Interface Drivers for legacy mainframe and AS/400 applications, and Java, COBOL and RPG Interface Drivers for new or re-engineered applications. The next releases of the Interface Server are scheduled support J2EE, .NET and Web services. The Interface Server can be deployed on NT, AS/400, iSeries, S/390, zSeries and Solaris servers and supports dynamic load balancing, even across multiple server types.

For companies that produce large amounts of information, such as publishing companies, distributors, electronics and PC manufacturers and catalogers, a major headache of new channels of customer interaction is providing information that is current as well as uniform across those channels. How many times have you seen an item in a catalog, gone to the Web site and then to the company's store and found different prices, versions or availability in all three places? Or perhaps you have called the customer service center of an electronics company and been given totally different information about a product, such as the piece you just bought was the new Series B of that product and the agent only has information about Series A of that product, so it will be several days before they can help you solve your problem. Even just keeping policy or procedure manuals current across a large organization can be a major headache.

To meet the ever-changing demands of the multiple media information world, Arbortext, Inc. has produced its Epic software, which is designed to capture, create and publish product documentation and reference materials automatically from a single source to multiple media: Web, print, CD-ROM and wireless devices.

Arbortext has designed Epic to work with content and document management systems to create XML directly through the Epic Editor, convert word processing and desktop publishing formats to XML with the Epic E-Content Engine, manage content through integration with systems from leading CMS vendors, extract content to match individual profiles by merging in relational or tabular data where necessary and publish from a single XML source to multiple media.

Out of the box, Epic Editor works with file systems and Documentum 4i. An optional adapter integrates Epic Editor with the Oracle 8iFS repository. Also available from Arbortext's partners are integrations with repositories from Chrystal, Empolis and XyEnterprise.

To sum up, I would just say there is a lot of valuable knowledge locked away in your legacy systems, so tap into them and share the wealth.


Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher
Group Editor-in-Chief

[ Return To The September 2001 Table Of Contents ]

Extending The Enterprise

Mobile business, so far, seems not to have lived up to its name and spread across the globe to a great extent: Until recently, wireless-enabled applications have languished at the consumer level, emphasizing the delivery of relatively nonspecific information -- weather forecasts, sports scores, stock figures and psychic insights. But now, we're beginning to see applications that would create a kind of extended enterprise, as well as services that would allow mobile workers to tap into corporate resources, culling information relevant to specific tasks. Early examples include mobile versions of sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM).

The benefits for corporations are fairly clear. Corporations may enhance the value of existing applications by making them accessible to mobile workers. And mobile workers who are granted access to corporate resources may become more productive, participating in corporate information and transaction processes in real-time (or in quasi-real-time, in the case with store-and-forward exchanges). Over the next two to three years, many corporations -- nearly half, according to the META Group -- will wireless-enable applications.

Here at TMC, we noticed there was no forum where developer and implementer can come together and exchange ideas on the latest advances in personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile business, and so launched Planet PDA - The Global Summit on Handheld Productivity Solutions, which will be held December 4-6, 2001 at the Venetian/Sands Convention and Expo Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Planet PDA will provide a first-class learning forum for anyone involved in implementing handheld devices. The editors of TMC's leading publications have developed a very informative conference program that will virtually assure you of knowing how you can use cost-saving handheld technology products and services to improve profitability in your business and make you more efficient.

Sessions will educate attendees about how to select applications, maintain security, develop wireless connectivity solutions, develop customized applications and integrate network solutions. You'll also hear case studies of how companies have successfully implemented handheld devices into their enterprise.

For complete conference information, visit www.tmcnet.com/planetpda/.

[ Return To The September 2001 Table Of Contents ]

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