Business processes that include multiple data formats and platforms can be complex and convoluted. Trying to streamline and automate these processes may require the skill set of more than one person, making the project more time consuming and expensive than needed. As each person stays within the boundaries of their expertise and platform, the resulting 'integration solution' is often far from integrated, with numerous temporary files and multiple points of potential failure.
Macmillan Publishers Australia recognized this issue and is now using LANSA Composer to handle its business process integration projects. By centralizing the transformation and transportation of data and the orchestration of the involved processes, projects can now be realized by a single IT team member. This has shortened the average project by a factor of six and made the delivered solutions simpler with less opportunity for failure.
Macmillan Publishers Australia is part of the global Macmillan Group, one of the largest international publishing houses in the world, well known for its high quality academic and professional, educational, fiction and non-fiction publications. Macmillan Education, Nature, Palgrave Macmillan, Pan and Picador are powerful brands, established in over 70 countries. In Australia, Macmillan's Macquarie Dictionary brand is of iconic status.
Macmillan Publishers Australia (referred to as Macmillan hereafter) employs 300 staff at its head office and main warehouse in Melbourne and at its sales offices across the region. Macmillan's main focus is to publish local material and distribute overseas publications to the Australian and New Zealand markets.
Macmillan's core distribution system is a customized version of IBS Bookmaster, an IBM i-based ERP solution for the publishing industry. In addition Macmillan offers a number of services that are in-house developed and Windows-based, such as its Web order sites to schools, universities, bookstores and consumers.
Angela Scully, Application Software Manager at Macmillan, explains, "Bookmaster is our core system. All sales transactions have to go through it in order for books to be picked at the warehouse, dispatched to the customer (digitally or physically), invoiced, paid and so on. So, the central activity of this business from an IT perspective is to get an order into Bookmaster."
Macmillan offers individual Web sites for each of its brands/customer groups, through which a growing number of orders arrive. Book stores use a mixture of EDI, Web orders, fax, phone and email, while sales reps may still collect some paper orders, especially when they visit schools.
EDI orders go straight to Macmillan's IBM i, but Web orders are captured on Windows servers. Macmillan faced the same issue as many other companies, which is: How to find efficient, automated, streamlined ways to get data from one source or platform into another?
Before Macmillan implemented LANSA Composer, the company's Windows programmer would need to develop a program to extract orders in XML format from a specific Web site and store them on an FTP server. Another Windows program would pick up the XML orders and transfer them to a text file format. Then those text files would be copied to the IBM i, where the RPG programmer had to create a program to convert them to an EDI format that Bookmaster can handle.
"It was semi-automated and a quite convoluted multi step way of transferring data," says Scully. "Also, it was an expensive way of transferring data, because two resources needed to get involved, collaborate on functional and technical issues and schedule project time next to their daily tasks. This made projects far more time consuming then they should have been."
"Our Windows guy is primarily a Web developer, with little interest in IBM i database and distribution systems, so he should not need to get involved all the time. I was looking for a way to up-skill our IBM i developer and provide her with the tools to automate the process of transforming data to-and-from various Windows servers."
Macmillan briefly explored enterprise service bus (ESB) solutions, but found them heavy duty and too complex and expensive for a company of their size. Just around that time, Scully was invited by LANSA to a Business Process Integration workshop, which she decided to attend. "I was impressed by how many different integration problems, data manipulations and point-to-point file transfers LANSA Composer could handle. I also liked the fact that you don't need programming skills to use it. The investment was very reasonable and we went ahead with the purchase fairly quickly," Scully said.
Previously we had a semi-automated and expensive way of transferring data
Macmillan's RPG programmer, who didn't have any experience beyond developing green screen style applications, was able after a short training course in LANSA Composer to put together a streamlined and automated solution to collect XML orders from the Windows FTP site, map and transform the orders to EDI files, kick off an RPG program to make some refinements and process the orders into the IBM i core system Bookmaster.
"This was her first LANSA Composer project and it took her one month in elapsed time, next to her normal day-to-day tasks," says Scully. "Several similar projects followed, as we have a number of Web order sites. Those projects only took a few days."
A second project was to automate the data entry and processing of the monthly sales reports that Amazon.com and other eBook resellers send. These resellers supply their sales reports in different spreadsheet formats, each of them now having their own automated transformation process. Previously the spreadsheets of sales data were manually rekeyed. This process took customer service at least two days each month, with often a third day for double checking the results and making corrections.
"Now it's done in under an hour. The process is straightforward and the data gets uploaded 100% error free all of the time," says Scully. "Our financial director is happy, because the sales data gets into the system before the financial month cut off. This was a good project with immediate payback."
In both projects, data was mapped to existing file formats, so nothing had to be changed in the core Bookmaster system. Nothing had to be changed at the data source either. "We are just collecting data in the original format, transforming it and giving it to Bookmaster in a format it already knows about. We’re not re-inventing processes, we're just automating them and making them more efficient," says Scully.
Composer was also put to use to automate the processing of email orders generated by MacMillan’s Education and Academic Web sites prepaid with a credit card. The generated email orders, previously entered manually, are in a prescriptive format, so transformation was easy.
In addition to automating inbound data flows, Scully also used Composer for outbound data automation, such as supplying ONIX data. ONIX is an industry standard for storing and sharing title information between publishers, distributors and booksellers. It contains bibliographic, pricing and other product information, and needs to be supplied in XML format. The data is collected and published by Title Page, a service run by the Australian Publishers Association.
Previously Macmillan's IBM i generated title information from Bookmaster in a text file format, which was FTP-ed to a Windows server. Next a Windows process took over to transform the data to XML format and to transmit the XML files. Scully has eliminated the Windows bridge and changed the process to create and transmit the XML data directly on the IBM i.
Now it's straightforward and 100% error free all of the time
"Our RPG developer has always been highly professional and productive, but she just didn't have the tools or skills to work with Windows processes and files," says Scully. "LANSA Composer has harnessed that productivity and has expanded it outside the IBM i. It has empowered her to handle integration projects that include multiple platforms and database formats, on her own."
Scully feels that one of the major productivity gains is due to the fact that LANSA Composer requires business analysis skills, rather than developer skills. "That level of expertise really shortens the communication leg and makes it a very productive environment," she says.
Previously integration projects used to take two developers several months, according to Scully. "Now our RPG developer can produce a working model for a brand new integration project in a matters of weeks or even days. Transformations that are similar in nature to a previous project take less than a day. Once you've got the basic recipe, it is easy to replicate and tweak. All you’re doing is data mapping, adding some business logic and setting up some process orchestration."
Macmillan has a very small IT department and wants to keep it that way. "LANSA Composer has enabled us to maximize and extend the capabilities of our small team. It's almost like having an extra resource," Scully says.
It is not just Composer's productivity that Scully values, it is also the quality and simplicity of the integration solutions it has helped to create. "We have essentially eliminated the Windows platform as a sandpit, eliminated the need for Windows-based interim data storage and eliminated multiple points of failure. We have shortened the end-to-end process and made it simpler, with less opportunity for failure."
Scully continues. "From a single point of control we can now monitor the entire process. In the past, it was hard to track down where things had gone wrong. Again, it would require the attention of both our RPG and Windows developer. Two resources were needed to solve a single process problem."
LANSA Composer has enabled us to maximize and extend the capabilities of our small team
"LANSA Composer has been a worthwhile investment. It has given us the capability to create efficiencies in processes that were previously too hard or expensive to streamline," says Scully. "It has been very enabling. I can comfortably say that we had our return on investment well within the first year."
"It's hard to put a true dollar value on the fact that projects that used to take six months, now only take one month. Previously we often had to disappoint our users, asking them to come back in six months. It’s a whole different proposition now, because we can turn around and deliver solutions quickly. I can already notice a raised level of expectation," concludes Scully.
"Now I'm looking for more integration opportunities in the business and I can see plenty. Where ever we have manual data entry or other time consuming manual activity, or where ever we have an IBM i related data collection process that runs needlessly on Windows, I see a potential LANSA Composer project."
I can comfortably say that we had our return on investment well within the first year
Company and System Information
- Macmillan Publishers Australia is part of the global Macmillan Group, one of the largest international publishing houses in the world. For more information visit: www.macmillan.com.au
- At Macmillan LANSA Composer integrates with IBS Bookmaster, a fully-integrated ERP system for traditional and digital publishers. For more information visit www.ibs.net/solutions/platforms-products/erp-for-publishing/
- Macmillan's Web sites and office applications are Windows-based