CBH manages its grain supply chain with LANSA
We were looking for development environment that would allow us to create both rich Windows and web applications.
The CBH Group is Australia's largest grain co-operative with operations extending along the value chain from grain receival, storage, handling and transport, to marketing, shipping and processing. CBH's core grain handling and storage system IBIS includes web access by growers and other stakeholders and has been developed using LANSA. Integration with other systems, such as SAP Financials and CBH's port control systems, are largely based on web services, also developed with LANSA, and WebSphere MQ. LANSA partner Lateral WA played a major role in delivering these LANSA based systems.
Jezz Bennett, Team Leader Design & Application Support, CBH Group, says, "The LANSA-based systems are key to managing the supply chain process from receiving growers estimates, to delivery and storage of the grain, to selling, billing and shipping. It goes deep into our core business. These systems have been developed specifically for CBH and the way we do our work. Being able to develop, enhance and integrate those systems using LANSA has allowed us to move quickly on opportunities and has given us a competitive edge."
LANSA has allowed us to move quickly on opportunities.
- The Challenge
- The Solution
- From a Business Point of View
- From an ICT Point of View
- Company and System Information
The CBH Group is based in Western Australia (WA), the country's largest wheat producing state, and is owned and controlled by around 4,800 grower shareholders. CBH receives, handles, stores and outloads bulk grain at almost 200 receival sites throughout the state's 300,000 km2 grain belt. CBH's total storage capacity exceeds 19 million tonnes and on average, 10 million tonnes is received from WA's annual harvest.
Around May/June every year the grain growers carry out their sowing operations and provide CBH with their harvest forecast. These forecasts form the basis for CBH's logistical planning for its infrastructure and for calculating the required capacity for storing the various quantities of grain in the silos. At harvest time from September through to January, farmers deliver their grain to the receival points, where CBH looks after the storage and grain care. CBH assists in matching growers and marketers and also takes care of shipping the grain on behalf of the marketers and the organizations who buy and sell grain. Over 90 percent of the annual harvest is exported.
CBH initially used the Synon development tool for their in-house developed core grain management system, then called ICoMS (Integrated Commodity Management System). In 1999 this was complemented with a LANSA-based web self service solution to collect the harvest estimates from the growers.
CBH's business is dynamic and its systems need to be continuously enhanced. In that demanding environment, the Synon development tool started to fall short, as it was lacking in productivity and could only generate character based applications. "We were looking for an up-to-date development environment that was Windows-based and that would allow us to create both rich Windows and web applications," says Bennett. "Another requirement was that we wanted a quicker development life cycle."
LANSA, already used for giving growers web access, met CBH's requirements for Windows development and deployment, and was elevated to become the strategic choice for developing CBH's core grain handling system. LANSA's productivity through reuse of components in its Repository was also a major contributing factor in this strategic decision.
CBH decided to totally redevelop the existing grain handling system using LANSA, a decision justified with the merger in 2002 between Co-operative Bulk Handling with fellow grower-controlled grain marketing organization, the Grain Pool of Western Australia, now CBH Grain This began the transformation of the company into an integrated business focused on delivering growers a greater share of the grain value chain. Consequently CBH needed additional functionality and a more agile system to support its business.
We were looking for development environment that would allow us to create both rich Windows and web applications.
Using their own team of 6 analysts and assisted by LANSA business partner Lateral WA, CBH set out to redevelop their existing Synon-based grain handling system with LANSA, a large project that would take nearly three years with a team that fluctuated between 6 and 30 staff members and contractors.
The new system, called IBIS (Integrated Business Information System) was implemented in June 2005. It manages the grower information, harvest forecasting, intake of grain at the receival points, stock levels, quality control, grain care and transportation. IBIS has a rich-client user interface and is used by about 750 staff at CBH's corporate office and, through Citrix servers, at CBH's receival points. External parties have access through a LANSA-based web solution called LoadNet. IBIS and LoadNet both run on the IBM iSeries platform and integrate with many other systems, mostly through web services built with LANSA Integrator.
Parties that use LoadNet include growers; advisors who negotiate on behalf of the growers; and marketers who act as agents for the growers and sell the grain to end user companies such as breweries and cereal makers. Transporters use LoadNet to register their trucks for the transport of grain between sites and the ports.
Growers use LoadNet to provide harvest forecasts, register their vehicles and view their load details after delivery at a receival site. The receival sites are highly automated and have computerised weighing and sampling equipment connected to Linux based systems that update the load information in IBIS through WebSphere MQ.
Growers can transact through LoadNet, for example sell, transfer or contract their grain. Using web services, LoadNet integrates with a price discovery application called DailyGrain. Marketers enter the prices that they are willing to pay for certain grains in DailyGrain and growers can upload their deliveries from IBIS through LoadNet into DailyGrain. Through the LoadNet interface and based on certain parameters, the integrated solution will then suggest the best price offered by a marketer, which the grower can accept or reject.
The actual sales transaction occurs in IBIS where the load is nominated to that marketer. The change in ownership triggers billing procedures that are periodically processed into SAP. Growers can look at their payment details and invoices through LoadNet's interface with SAP, which is based on web services and SAP XI.
LoadNet also has links to other in-house applications for online contract writing (which allows growers and marketers to arrange contracts) and PayRite where contract information is stored and payments to growers are calculated. LoadNet and PayRite integrate via web services.
Mark Leigh, Business Alignment Analyst, CBH Group explains, "LoadNet started out as the web front-end for IBIS, but now it also integrates with several other systems, mostly via LANSA Integrator and web services. The grower needs only one interface, LoadNet, from which they can see information from multiple systems. The systems behind it are hidden from them."
A third party control system manages the movement of grain at the ports and at the MGC (Metro Grain Centre in Forrestfield). IBIS sends reference file information to the control systems such as grain grades and other master data information, and to the ports ship cargo details and owner information. Once the ship has been loaded, the control system passes the loading information back to the Shipping module within IBIS. Flow run data received into IBIS from the control system is also used to match loads in grower receivals. Data exchange is predominantly through WebSphere MQ and LANSA Integrator.
The grower needs only one interface, LoadNet, from which they can see information from multiple systems.
From a Business Point of View
A recent example of CBH being able to react swiftly on an opportunity was in 2007 when Australia's government decided to deregulate the grain market and remove the single desk policy for grain exports. CBH Group, its operations arm already being Australia's largest grain bulk handler, has since expanded its CBH Grain marketing arm to become Australia's largest grain exporter. CBH Group's ICT systems went through a major change to support the new business processes.
The systems have introduced some great efficiencies, according to Bennett, such as improved services to growers, marketers and other organizations, more transparent grain prices, more time for marketing decisions and simplified invoicing. In addition, better planning of logistics has resulted in overall efficiencies such as reduced costs and lower freight rates.
Carlie Lakeman, Manager of the Grower Service Centre, still remembers the old ICoMS system and says that the LANSA-based IBIS is a major improvement. "IBIS is a fresh new system that we all had input to during development. It has a productive graphical interface with graphs and maps in addition to the transactional information. The tabs and search facilities make it easy to navigate and you don't have to drill-down deeply to find what you are looking for. We hire casuals to help us during the busy harvest period. They always pick up how to use IBIS very quickly, which shows the system is intuitive, even for newcomers."
Based on comments from growers, Carlie believes the same ease of use is true for LoadNet. "The number of growers using LoadNet increases every year. We encourage their feedback regarding enhancements. Growers are really pleased that enhancements they suggested one season, have already been applied when they logon the next season." Examples of recent enhancements include improved display and search functions, contract validation tools, plus growers can export data from LoadNet to Microsoft Excel.
Lakeman also finds the integration with other systems very helpful. "Within 15 minutes of the grower delivering grain to a receival site, the load data appears in IBIS. By the time the grower arrives home and calls our Grower Centre, we can answer load-related questions. The growers can of course also lookup load information via LoadNet."
The system is intuitive, even for newcomers.
From an IT Point of View
CBH reviews its IT architecture every five years and the decision in 2002 to redevelop its core systems with LANSA was not taken lightly, neither was the decision in 2007 to continue using LANSA.
Did LANSA keep its promises? Bennett and Leigh certainly believe so. When asked for some examples of why LANSA is working well for CBH, they mention the following reasons:
"The systems are robust. There have been only two unplanned outages since June 2005. Of course that 's not only thanks to LANSA, it also has a lot to do with the stability of the IBM iSeries platform," says Bennett.
"Another reason is the fact that LANSA covers multiple technological paradigms and works across multiple hardware platforms. This allows CBH to use LANSA for rich-client and rich internet applications, and the ability to access multiple database formats on IBM iSeries, Windows and Linux servers. CBH uses LANSA Integrator in a variety of integration scenarios: web services over HTTP or WebSphere MQ, FTP services and EDI," continues Bennett.
"LANSA has proven its productivity claims. It has a short learning curve. Plus its repository of reusable components saves time as well," according to Leigh.
Leigh notes that the LANSA Repository is also important for the quality and consistency of the applications you build with LANSA, "Consistent reuse of code, business rules and other components is of extreme importance, especially in large applications environments like CBH. Not only from a productivity point of view, but also for quality and consistency where large teams of developers work together at project peak times."
"Last but not least LANSA's development environment is flexible. IBIS and LoadNet are totally developed in LANSA. There was never a reason to have to revert to another tool or language," concludes Leigh.
LANSA covers multiple technological paradigms and works across multiple hardware platforms.
"IBIS is now nearly six years old," says Bennett. "We are looking at its use both in the medium to longer term. So far IBIS has done extremely well and it has provided us with a system and environment where we are quickly able to react to the ever changing market conditions. At the end of the day it's going to be a business decision whether we will continue with a bespoke solution that can be easily and readily enhanced to give us a competitive edge, or to go with a packaged solution."
CBH has one senior business and two senior systems analysts looking after IBIS and LoadNet and relies on LANSA business partner Lateral WA for development and additional analysis resources. "Lateral has been involved from day one, starting from the first LANSA-based web application for growers in 1999. Lateral has a core group of six people who are totally familiar with our systems and in peak times they can allocate extra staff. Lateral does most of the IBIS and LoadNet development, including the interfaces to other systems. We have a very good business relationship with them," concludes Bennett.
So far IBIS has done extremely well, allowing us react quickly to the ever changing market conditions.
Company and System Information
- The CBH Group is one of Australia's leading grain organizations, a co-operative with operations extending along the value chain from grain storage, handling and transport to marketing, shipping and processing. For more information visit www.cbh.com.au
- Some of the statistics for IBIS and LoadNet include: 1,284 physical files, 2,375 logical files, 512 trigger functions, 2,293 server type functions, 2,015 Windows forms, 2,429 reusable parts in the LANSA Repository, 1.2 million lines of Visual LANSA code, 850,000 lines of traditional LANSA RDML code.
- CBH production environment runs on an iSeries M50 plus a development machine - Model 520. • Main integration points between the LANSA-based and other systems are:
- RADAR, 196 Linux based systems for weighing and sampling at the receival points.
- SAP on Windows Virtual Machines for Financials, Asset Management, HR and Payroll.
- GrainSmart, a grain marketing solution.
- PayRite, a UNIX-based solution for Grower's contracts and payments.
- Control Systems at 4 ports and at the MGC, all Windows based.
- CBH uses Aldon's change management tool to move objects through the various partitions as they progress from Development to Production.
- Lateral WA, a LANSA partner located in Perth, Western Australia, delivers a flexible, creative and cost-effective range of Information Technology and business skills. For more information visit www.lateral.com.au