ViaTech Publishing Solutions, headquartered in New York, is the authority in on-demand destination printing. Through its facilities and partners in the US, Europe and Asia, customers can create content locally and print globally. The process of uploading print files, customizing them and ordering copies to be delivered anywhere in the world is entirely automated. ViaTech's core IT system, Web portal and systems integration are all based on LANSA technology. The solution is developed and maintained by a small team of analyst developers, from both ViaTech's own IT department and LANSA business partner ML Info Design.
Mike Palma, Director of IT, says, "We realize substantial processing efficiencies as 90 percent of our orders are received electronically. Nowadays, the IT services around the printing process are a major selling point. The systems we have developed with LANSA are sophisticated, flexible and play a major role in getting new customers on board."
The systems we have developed with LANSA play a major role in getting new customers on board
ViaTech's publishing services are based on a combination of advanced JIT (Just-In-Time) manufacturing concepts and emerging print-on-demand technologies, allowing customers to eliminate inventory costs and reduce shipping expenses.
"We store the document file and print it when the customer needs it," explains Palma."That way the customer saves in costs associated with storing inventory and throwing away out-of-date materials. The other way we save customers money is by printing close to the end destination. For example, if a customer in New York wants print work delivered in California, we don’t print it in New York and ship to California, the way most traditional printers would. Our California facility will print that file locally and deliver locally. So with facilities across the States and a growing number of facilities and partners overseas, we can save our customers hundreds of thousands of dollars in shipping costs."
Viatech's on-demand business model requires a flexible and robust IT system that can communicate instantly and 24 hours a day with its global customers. "The current system, developed with LANSA, does the job very well," says Palma, "Prior to LANSA we had an RPG legacy system that couldn't meet our requirements anymore."
"Our biggest problem was database integrity. We could run two different order entry reports and get inconsistent results, even though both reports were supposed to run over the same database," says Palma.
Moreover, making a small change, such as adding a new field or creating a new file relationship, would take weeks."First you had to find out which programs would be affected and then recompile them all," explains Palma, who came from a PC background and didn't think that database changes should be such a big deal. "When I took over the IT department here, I was totally amazed with how long simple changes took. So I decided early on that we had to redevelop the whole RPG legacy system."
Palma, who after some research had already put LANSA on his short list of tools, then discussed his requirements with LANSA business partner ML Info Design, who helped with further evaluations of LANSA. "I learned that LANSA's central data definition Repository ensure database integrity and practically remove the need for recompiling programs after a database change. I also found that LANSA's Impact Analysis feature made it much easier to manage system modifications. The fact that LANSA offered not only development tools, but also integration tools was another big plus. So we made the decision to go with LANSA and reengineer the entire legacy system."
A major benefit of LANSA and its Repository is the ease of making changes
The initial system development was done with LANSA's RUOM, at that time (1999) LANSA's prime modeling and framework development tool for creating an Object-Action application style system. From initial requirement analysis to implementation took about one and a half man years.
"We cut over during a weekend and we were running with a brand new system that included the entire business logic of order entry, billing, inventory, purchasing and financials. Considering the size of the project and the small development team, we delivered the system really fast. LANSA's framework development tool certainly turned out to be a great investment," reflects Palma.
"The new system met our requirements, was easy to maintain and, most of all, provided a solid and well architected foundation on which we could build further. All procedures were setup according to Generally Accepted Principles and Practices (GAPP), plus there was a lot of new functionality that helped improve business processes. It was a big improvement over the old system."
Having an accurate object oriented core system in place, Palma then started looking at extending it to customers over the Web. "Web and eCommerce were still quite new and no one had any prior experience. Using LANSA's Web tools we started building our Web application from scratch. That project took just over a year and we delivered ViaTech Publishing Express (VPX), a very sophisticated Web solution, even by today's standards."
Using LANSA Integrator customers can upload PDF files. Once the files are on the server, thumbnail images are created that are then displayed on the Web site. This allows customers to look at their documents on-line and flip through the pages, so they can check the document to make absolutely sure it's the version they want before they order multiple prints.
Marc Leonard, analyst programmer and director of ML Info Design, explains, "Some PDF files are set up with input fields, for example, to customize a training course with date, location and instructor details. Using LANSA Integrator (JSM Direct) the Web site allows customers to click on the PDF and input the fields. When the customer presses the submit button the document is sent back to the IBM server, with the customizations."
Customers can combine multiple PDF files into a single document and re-sequence them to build the content they want. Next they can select from various finishing options, such as paper quality and cover print. They can insert blank pages and tabs and select from several folding and binding options. The thumbnail view of the document the customer is working on is continuously updated as they select options. Next they can chose from various packaging options and either add the finished document to their shopping cart or save it to a file drawer.
After the customer has entered shipping instructions, LANSA Integrator goes out to the UPS Web site to find out the expected shipping fee. It then displays the fee for the customer, who can either accept it or alter the shipping instructions. When the customer chooses to pay by credit card, LANSA Integrator connects to the credit card company to verify the credit card details and process the payment.
"We are using some other tools to create the thumbnail images and flip through them, but the rest is handled by the LANSA-based Web site, LANSA Integrator and our LANSA based backend system," explains Leonard.
Integration with Customer Systems
A growing number of ViaTech's customers have their own internal systems to manage print materials. For example, one of these customers, a global ERP vendor, has a very sophisticated learning management system that they use to set up dozens of training classes each day all over the world. It manages the location where the classes will be held, who the instructor will be, the names of the students, the training materials needed, and so on.
Naturally these customers do not want to do any double data entry and repeat their material orders on ViaTech's Web site. So Palma put a LANSA Integrator based solution in place that takes the XML order documents from the customer and parses them directly into the core IBM i system.
The customer may send their XML orders in real time or a couple of times a day. Upon arrival, the orders are automatically processed, for printing and delivery according to the customer's specifications.
Considering the size of the project and the small development team, we delivered the system really fast
"We now receive around 90 percent of our orders electronically," explains Palma. "Taking orders electronically has allowed us to streamline the entire ordering process, in ensuring that we are getting the correct information directly from the customer. Accuracy has tremendously improved. Plus we have been able to reduce overhead costs by eliminating most of the manual data entry. We have achieved substantial savings."
"All order methods are seamlessly integrated. So, whether an order comes in via LANSA Integrator, via LANSA Web self service or whether the order is entered by one of our customer service staff, the orders all go into the same database, on the same box and flow through the same billing and inventory processes."
Palma continues to explain that the IT services around the printing process are nowadays extremely important to the customer and a major selling point, "Customers don't just ask about our printing capability. Print quality remains of course important, but we find in our industry that the IT services around the printing process matter even more. You need to be able to offer your customers the complete technology solution, customized to their individual needs."
"Customers want to know about our IT capabilities. They ask how they can get their orders to us. How they can look at their documents online and how we can integrate our system with theirs. These are decision making processes that go along with the printing. Through LANSA we are able to provide all these services. The IT systems we have developed with LANSA are sophisticated and flexible, and play a major role in getting new customers on board.
"Using our IT systems, we can offer our customers total control over the coordination of their print materials. They can control the uploading, editing, ordering and tracking from any location."
Our customers can control the uploading, editing, ordering and tracking of their print materials from any location
Palma plans to continue using LANSA to enhance existing systems and to deliver new functionality. Recent project include a new lead management system and building XML/XSL based browser applications using LANSA Web Application Modules (WAM) technology, which will allow ViaTech to deliver content in multiple formats from a single WAM component.
"A major benefit of LANSA and its Repository is the ease of making changes, whether it’s adding a new field, customizing a Web service or modifying a screen. That is what first attracted us to LANSA and what we still see as its major benefit today," says Palma.
"The second benefit is the integrity of the data. Referential integrity and accuracy is something LANSA customers take for granted, but for a lot other organizations cannot claim the same. Last, but not least, I like the fact that LANSA keeps coming out with new and improved products, plus the fact that these new technologies integrate flawlessly with the existing core system."
Leonard concludes, "As a software consultant using LANSA I have been able to offer my clients Web site development, Business Process Integration and the designing and programming of their core applications. Many different areas that one person could not possibly master if it would involve learning Java and other tools."
Palma agrees, "With a small development team and using a single LANSA skill set we can develop and maintain our core IT system, Web portal and systems integration. Without LANSA we could never have a team that small.
Without LANSA we could never have a team that small
Company and System information
- ViaTech Publishing Solutions is a world leader in worldwide on-demand destination printing. ViaTech serves over 4,000 customers around the world in a variety of industries that include training, human resources, education, healthcare, airlines, financial services, hospitality, manufacturing and software. ViaTech is a private corporation with over 400 employees, and is headquartered in Bay Shore, New York.
- ViaTech systems run on an IBM Power 6, using Apache as the Web interface. The system supports 75 internal users and 4,000 customers.
- LANSA products use are Visual LANSA and LANSA Integrator (http services, JSM services). Plus LANSA Client for one-time report requests.
- For more information visit www.viatechpub.com
- ML Info Design is a LANSA partner in Haworth, New Jersey, with a proven track record of reengineering business systems across multiple industries. For more information visit www.mlinfodesign.com