Miami Supply Opens up for E-Business

When Miami Computer Supply Corp. (MCSC, www.mcsinet.com ), a provider of computer supplies and projection presentation products, determined to implement an e-commerce solution for its growing business, it looked to leverage its existing strengths and resources as much as possible. Consequently, MCSC determined to implement an IBM e-business solution based on Net.Commerce from IBM Corp. and Domino from Lotus Development Corp. – both running on the very same AS/400 machines that have traditionally constituted MCSC’s information technology backbone for years.

According to Lori Gianattasio, a consultant with systems integration firm Information Engineering Corp. (www.infoengineering.com ) – the outsourcing company which planned and managed all phases of MCSC’s e-business implementation – MCSC needed to develop an e-commerce infrastructure that would enable it to transform its static Web site environment and at the same time reach a larger customer base by offering its catalog of more than 3,000 products online.

Moreover, MCSC’s e-business initiative would comprise two online catalog environments, one located at www.mcinet.com and positioned for MCSC’s traditional bread-and-butter corporate customers, the other an expansion site at www.buysupply.com, positioned for the burgeoning small office/home office (SOHO) marketplace. "There’s two different markets and two different online catalogues that [MCSC is] offering," Gianattasio acknowledges. "There’s the Web site at www.mcsinet.com, and that catalog is really targeted towards their existing customers, while the catalog at www.buysupply.com is an initiative for the SOHO marketplace."

In addition to the creation and management of the e-commerce site, Information Engineering’s job was to make the new e-business solution – based on Lotus’ Domino and IBM’s Net.Commerce Internet commerce platforms – play nicely with MCSC’s existing base of S/20 2161 AS/400 machines running OS/400 V4R2. MCSC wanted to continue to leverage its investment in the AS/400 going forward primarily because the robustness and scalability of the AS/400 are proven commodities.

"They had a skill set already on the AS/400 platform, and they already had their internal systems operating on the AS/400," she comments. "And the reliability and scalability of the AS/400 were important considerations as well."

At the heart of MCSC’s e-business initiative is its Web site, maintained on a Lotus Domino Web server. According to Information Engineering’s Gianattasio, Domino is a big plus for any electronic commerce infrastructure, as it offers groupware capabilities over and beyond the capabilities of a traditional Web server.

"The advantage that I see that this offers is that the Web sites are integrated with Domino, and so we’re also running Lotus Domino on the 400, so the entire site is dynamic in nature and this is completely integrated with the two technologies," she observes. "Things like current news and events and hot buys -- which are monthly sale times -- are all tied into a single system, so the ease of integration is definitely a key factor."

While Lotus’ Domino platform handles the messaging and Web serving duties, Information Engineering used IBM’s Net.Commerce product to develop MCSC’s online catalogs, which allow customers to browse MCSC’s product offerings and order merchandise online.

The result, Gianattasio says, is that MCSC’s new-fangled e-business solution is completely integrated with its existing AS/400 base, to the point where orders placed on the Web site can be processed by MCSC’s existing inventory systems. "It’s completely integrated with their backend inventory system," Gianattasio explains. "Basically, when someone places an order via the Web site, it is processed seamlessly through their back-end system, which is AS/400 based, so there really weren’t any interoperability problems in the implementation."

MCSC’s two e-commerce Web sites are among the first such solutions to integrate both IBM’s Net.Commerce product and Lotus Domino on the AS/400 platform. According to Gianattasio, they might not be the last, given the popularity of the AS/400 in mid- to large-size companies – and success stories such as the MCSC e-business implementation.

"There’s a very large amount of mid-size companies out there that are running all of their business on the AS/400 platform," she says. "They’re looking for ways to integrate groupware and commerce technologies into that platform to make their internal systems available to customer and suppliers, and an IBM e-business solution does just that."