For a business that lives off demand for printed documents, the paper industry has spent a lot of time trying to banish paper documents from its own processes.
For a business that lives off demand for printed documents, the paper industry has spent a lot of time trying to banish paper documents from its own processes. Vendors have long relied on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) over expensive value-added networks (VANs) to swap information, especially with larger customers. As in most supply chains, much paper is still shuffled, with smaller companies especially relying on phone, faxes and mail.
To save transmission costs and improve efficiency and ease of use, the industry began several years ago to investigate Extensible Markup Language (XML) alternatives. The result was papiNet 1.0, a standard for exchanging documents among trading partners.
PapiNet might not exist without the efforts of technical lead Stora Enso North America (SENA; Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.), a company formed in 2000 when Finnish forest-products company Stora Enso Oyj acquired Consolidated Papers Inc., a major supplier of magazine stock. When the beta standard was released in December 2000, SENA quickly set out with New York-based Time Inc. (now part of AOL Time Warner Inc.), one of its largest customers, to demonstrate papiNet's feasibility.
Since June 2001, the two have been exchanging papiNet documents in what they claim is the first implementation in North America. They hoped it would be a model for broader adoption worldwide and have seen that vision gradually become reality this year, as several large customers, not to mention competitors and third-party software and e-commerce providers, began adding papiNet support. The two companies' experiences seem also to be a model for how business partners and standards committees can collaborate effectively.
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Looks Good on Paper
SENA's involvement pre-dated papiNet by nearly two years, when the Graphics Communications Association (since renamed the International Digital Enterprise Alliance), the standards body for North America, first began exploring XML. To help the GCA establish proof of concept, SENA and Time initially focused on the shipping manifest, the industry's most common EDI document.
The main task facing SENA XML Project Leader Kevin Shibilski and his four-person team would be to convert back-end data into XML. After reviewing middleware from the likes of IPNet Solutions Inc. and webMethods Inc., they arrived at Data Junction Corp.'s Data Junction as the most affordable tool for mapping manifest data into the corresponding papiNet XML data type definition (DTD). They decided, however, to forego the workflow features in those tools, instead having users manually access and manipulate documents.
Needing a temporary transport mechanism, they settled on e-mail. In addition, documents would have to be tracked. After considering object databases, Shibilski says he realized an Oracle database would be more familiar to his staff and adequate for storing document links.
After Time successfully received a Stora Enso manifest and moved the data into its back-end systems, the companies were confident they could proceed to production. Around the same time, Shibilski recalls, it became evident to the b-to-b committee that to truly replace EDI it would need data type definitions for other document types. By mid-2000, the committee was coordinating its development work with a parallel effort of the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI). The result was papiNet 1.0, developed with Stora Enso serving as European technical lead. It identified five core document types: purchase orders, order confirmations, "call-offs" (delivery schedules), delivery messages (manifests) and invoices. The documents are built, Lego-like, from reusable data constructs.
CEPI, recognizing the need for a secure communication mechanism, chose German software vendor Ponton Consulting to develop a version of its Messenger, agreeing to bankroll and share the software freely among members and customers. But when CEPI asked Ponton to select an XML mapping tool, it bypassed Data Junction for the less-expensive Business Integration Suite from Seeburger AG in Germany. The Seeburger product also met Shibilski's criteria: It could run independently, was Java-based (like SENA's in-house apps), and had a decent graphical user interface.
CEPI left the choice of workflow software up to individual members. Time, which had learned how to write service programs called "daemons" (Java with C++ wrappers), helped SENA develop several daemons to continuously monitor and log inbound and outbound XML documents, and send e-mail alerts when documents fail to complete required steps. Much of the implementation work involved making sure enterprise data tables were preserved in the XML mappings, according to Shibilski.
Seeburger consultants spent three days integrating Business Integration Suite XML documents with tables in JD Edwards OneWorld and SENA's enterprise resource planning (ERP) package, and tweaking the performance. Securing the involvement of SENA people familiar with OneWorld tables, more than any technical solution, was what allowed the quick turnaround. "It all comes down to how good are the team players," says Thomas Bruggner, vice president of Seeburger's Atlanta subsidiary.
Shibilski's team also found flaws in papiNet mappings and sent change requests to the standard's working group that he says were quickly adopted. Ponton quickly fixed a glitch that made Messenger occasionally fail to acknowledge documents.
SENA and Time then ran extensive tests of the new XML system and the related back-end applications. To test it under real-world volumes, SENA asked Time to send a month's worth of orders in XML in parallel with the EDI versions.
The system went live on June 13, 2001 and has been up ever since.
It's a Wrap
Looking back, Shibilski says the biggest hurdle was educating SENA users, technical staff and customers to the virtues of XML. Their main concern was that they would waste time reinventing EDI. Shibilski distributed background documentation and held meetings to demonstrate cost savings from moving traffic off VANs, and the efficiencies of a standard user interface—that "we had developed a standard for all of the industry to use." Other promised benefits have come to pass. The more open system speeds up order processing by making it easier to manage transactions, something that was difficult with EDI's more black-box approach, Shibilski says. "The resolution of issues seems to be much quicker because they can see what's being traded," he observes. "They can physically look at the data."
SENA is on track toward its goal to convert up to 80 percent of its EDI traffic in the next few months, and Stora Enso's European division is rolling out papiNet to its customers. Large customers including Brown Printing Company (Waseca, Minn.), Quad/Graphics (Pewaukee, Wis.), Quebcor Inc. (Montreal, Quebec,) and R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co. (Chicago, Ill.) are expected to go into production with SENA by the fourth quarter, according to Shibilski. Separately, in April, Time had announced a successful papiNET integration with International Paper (Stamford, Conn.), which claims to be the world's largest paper company. All told, 30 companies announced 2002 implementations, according to the papiNet Web site (www.papinet.org).
The free client software greases the skids: Customers can quickly install it to start exchanging XML documents from any PC with Internet access. The much bigger commitment of integrating XML into back-end systems is another matter, and Shibilski says SENA is collaborating with customers on that task. "We are starting to see movement in the industry," Shibilski says, though he admits adoption has been slow.
That's also the assessment offered by John Goetzman, director of standards for Atlanta-based ForestExpress LLC, a transaction-processing network that in March announced a partnership to add papiNet to an industry-specific integration platform from webMethods Inc. (Fairfax, Va.). "I think paper companies move at the speed of trees," Goetzman jokes.
On Sept. 6, papiNet released version 2.0, which added six new document types related to procurement, demand and usage, bringing the overall total to 16. SENA hasn't yet incorporated the new messages, and in September Shibilski reported the company was testing a previously available goods-receipt document. He also expresses interest in a proposed document that will let customers report back on paper quality.
Despite the slow adoption rate, Seeburger president Sean Brophy agrees with Shibilski that papiNet's potential is huge. "It's a $750 billion supply chain, and 25 percent of that supply chain will be transacted on the Internet by 2004," he predicts, once customers see the cost savings compared to VANs and the tighter, real-time processing compared to unreliable faxing. "Someone might have been getting up in the morning worrying about those transactions," says Brophy. "Now they happen automatically."
Details: Stora Enso XML Document Processing System
Organization: Stora Enso North America (SENA), a large paper company
Goal: Implement the paper industry's papiNet XML standard to streamline exchange of shipping manifests, invoices and other key documents.
Team Leader: Kevin Shibilski, XML Project Leader
Partners: AOL Time Warner Inc., Ponton Consulting, Seeburger Inc.
Location: Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
Web Site: www.storaenso.com
Scope: The company fired up a papiNet connection with publishing giant Time Inc. (now part of AOL Time Warner) in June 2001 and soon expects to add large printing companies, converting up to 80 percent of its EDI traffic within the next year.
Equipment/Platform: SENA migrated from Windows NT/95/98 to Windows 2000 in 2002. EDI over expensive value-added networks was the primary means of sharing business documents flowing in and out of JD Edwards OneWorld ERP software and homemade legacy systems.
Solution: Convert EDI documents to papiNet XML for cheaper, more efficient transmission over the Internet and a more standardized, intuitive user interface. Seeburger's Business Integration Suite performs the XML mappings, while Windows NT "daemons" co-developed with Time monitor workflow. Ponton's Messenger provides secure Web channels. Documents are stored and searched with an Oracle repository.
Product: Business Integration Suite from Seeburger Inc. in Atlanta, Ga.
Future Challenges: Convincing large customers to scrap substantial investments in EDI, and smaller customers to fully implement XML throughout their front- and back-end systems. While he admits adoption has been slow, Shibilski says customers are coming to appreciate the potential cost savings.
Lessons Learned: Despite the benefits of "cure-all" technologies such as XML, "most of your IT issues will remain—that is, data integrity, audits and controls," says Shibilski. "The IT issues haven't gone away just because you've moved from one platform to another."