IP400 Keeps Fluid Solutions Flowing

While the creation of an Internet e-business presence is certainly not a task to be taken lightly, integrating a Web front-end with existing back-end systems is one way to keep down the cost and complexity of such a project.

IP400 Inc. (Encino, Calif.) designed its Web.Merchant application specifically for AS/400 shops to realize their Internet e-commerce initiatives while maintaining the functions of their back-end accounting and order-fulfillment systems.

As part of the Web.Merchant package, IP400 builds the customer’s interface, installs the router and the HTTP server, does the connection to the back-end server and supplies the necessary hardware and solutions, according to Guido Simeto, CEO of IP400. "When we leave, the solution is done, and [the customers] only have to call one person," he says.

Web.Merchant requires V3R7 or later, and can scale from a single processor Model 150 to 12-way AS/400 server configurations, according to Simeto. The basic components of the Web.Merchant package consist of an AS/400 server (typically, but not exclusively, a Model 170), routers and a firewall for the AS/400.

"The 170 is a good price-performer," Simeto explains. "The [Model] S10, for example is very limited in its upgradability. You can only put limited DASD on it. The 170 has five processors the customer can use." If a larger processor is required, IP400 will implement its solution on a Model S20.

At this point, Web.Merchant – which has been available since September – works with the payment server offered by I/Net Inc. (Kalamazoo, Mich.). When IBM’s payment server becomes available, IP400 will make that server available to its Web.Merchant customers as well, according to Simeto

With customers typically in the distribution and manufacturing fields, IP400 can set up Web.Merchant to work with an Internet, intranet or extranet solution. IP400 also provides the necessary documentation for the local network administrator. "The only thing we don’t encourage people to do is modify their firewall," Simeto adds.

One such customer is Ryan Herco Products Corp., a Burbank, Calif.-based wholesale distributor of fluid flow solutions, including pumps, fittings, PVC filters, etc. Ryan Herco is currently in beta with IP400’s Web.Merchant. "The nice thing about [Web.Merchant] is that it works with our existing data and files," says Nestor Sosa, MIS manager for Ryan Herco. There’s no "pre-filling of information."

Ryan Herco’s IT environment is anchored by two AS/400s running V3R7: a Model S40 Internet server running TCP/IP and a Model 510 running SNA. These two AS/400s serve about 350 users spread across 23 locations, all using 5250 emulation to access enterprise data, according to Sosa.

"We were looking to put an order entry system together, but we wanted to keep the total cost of ownership down. [IP400’s] solution would work right off our existing files and write to our existing files," Sosa says. "We didn’t want to have another person have to maintain an electronic commerce system."

IP400 is currently developing a turn-key front-end for the Ryan Herco’s solution, which would enable Sosa’s three-person IS staff to use the Web to make any necessary changes to the system. According to Sosa, the key to the IP400 solution is the capability to use the Internet to enhance Ryan Herco’s external processes. "We’re very efficient with our internal processes, but this is going to be a channel to let the outside get into our data, place an order or view order status," he says.

The Web interface is expected to provide Ryan Herco users and customers with the ability to use the system 24x7. The pieces are in place, according to Sosa, but the Internet can be "tricky because you have to serve users who are and aren’t familiar with your products." While some customers already know the product numbers, other users might browse Ryan Herco’s site looking for a particular product and then decide to place an order.

Designed to be a flexible solution, Web.Merchant works with secure server protocols as well as the Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) protocol developed by Visa International and MasterCard International in February 1996, in conjunction with a number of financial and technology institutions worldwide.

IP400 is looking to add business intelligence features to the Web.Merchant package. "Business intelligence in the sense that Web.Merchant can retrieve a profile of a specific user, created either by pulling historical data or asking a customer questions when they register," Simeto says. "The goal is to expedite the shopping process."

Other future enhancements are expected to include workflow features and push technology, which will enable Web.Merchant customers to push information such as pricing and special offerings to their end users via e-mail or log-on, according to Simeto.