ASAP Software Integrates E-Commerce Front End to Its HP e3000 Business Systems
Based on company growth and the need for greater extensibility and user friendliness, ASAP Software needed to replace a homegrown package to keep pace with a growing e-commerce business. HP Partner, Fioravanti-Redwood International had a solution.
ASAP Software, established in 1984, is one of the world’s largest software resellers. The vendor sells and supports more than 40,000 PC software and add-on hardware products targeted primarily at large and mid-size organizations in business and government. In 1999, ASAP’s Vice President of Systems, Bob Lewandowski, faced a real challenge.
Several years before, ASAP had developed a homegrown ordering package that allowed customers to place orders for software and services. In the interim, ASAP’s business continued to grow – the firm regularly achieves a compound annual growth rate of 35 percent – and it needed a system with more scalability and user friendliness. It was time to replace the ordering package.
Lewandowski faced a number of issues. The homegrown package, written in C, ran on a front-end Windows NT system that interfaced with HP e3000s on the back end. The back-end applications – ERP and customer service modules – were written in COBOL. Lewandowski wanted, if possible, to select new software for the front end that would integrate with the COBOL applications on the HP e3000s. That meant avoiding software that had to be laboriously retrofitted to operate compatibly with the e3000s. Lewandowski also didn’t want a "vanilla" solution that had to be reworked to synchronize with ASAP’s primary business functions. As if all that weren’t enough, the vice president had business relationships to consider. Microsoft is one of the company’s largest vendors, and Lewandowski felt that he had to consider a Microsoft solution.
Lewandowski had known Mark Redwood, President of Fioravanti-Redwood International (FRI), for several years. Both had served in administrative capacities in the Chicago Regional User Group (CRUG). Lewandowski was ready to listen when Redwood told him about an e-commerce solution that FRI had purchased in July of 1998 and tailored to integrate with the HP e3000. Called OrderChannel, the solution is designed to support online order and customer service functions. FRI had beefed up the software after the purchase, continuing to add business-to-business capabilities.
"Scalability and usability are the two biggest issues most companies face when it comes to e-commerce," Redwood says. "When I spoke to Bob, I explained that OrderChannel is an ideal package to help companies like ASAP Web-enable their sales and supply chain and would be a good fit for them. Then I added that FRI also has the experience to do the integration with a COBOL application or the latest Microsoft suite."
"I knew Mark was familiar with the HP e3000, and that knowledge was something we needed," Lewandowski says. "I was well aware that there are a lot of e-commerce companies out there that can build Web sites and storefronts. But we were not new to e-commerce and I did not want to duplicate business knowledge on a new platform."
Redwood used a product demonstration to convince Lewandowski and ASAP’s senior management that OrderChannel would fit their short-term and strategic needs. FRI would provide a solution with OrderChannel running on Windows NT servers on the front end integrated with HP e3000s on the back end. Early on, the two companies agreed that all changes made in the COBOL on the HP e3000 side needed to be automatically reflected on the Internet, or NT, side.
The project took six months to complete and went into full production in May of 1999. The solution consists of a cluster of HP NetServers running the OrderChannel package. The databases are built using Microsoft’s SQL Server. At the back end are HP e3000 servers running distribution management systems, including both ERP and customer service modules. The data resides on multiple TurboIMAGE databases.
An OrderChannel API links the NT servers to the HP e3000s through an online integration broker. Carry-forward shadow files speed processing on the NT cluster platforms while ensuring that all mission-critical information is centrally retained on the HP e3000s. These shadow files and database are automatically updated from the source databases in the event of a system failure. The same APIs allow programmatic changes to the COBOL programs in the back end to be carried forward to the NT boxes and reflected on the Web site.
"You would be amazed at how many e-commerce pages in use today have a total disconnect requiring the front-end orders to be collected and rekeyed into a separate back system system," Redwood says. "The ASAP system is integrated both in terms of data coming in from the Web agent and from the HP e3000 business backbone."
ASAP has branded OrderChannel to its customers as "E-Way." The package provides extranet connectivity so that business and government users can order, manage and track technology, including software licenses, shrink-wrap, add-on hardware and technical services from the application.
OrderChannel allows ASAP’s customers to access contract pricing, as well as track their orders. The newest features of the application enable it to automate numerous management and administration features, including setting user purchasing limits and order approval routing. This allows companies to authorize spending limits throughout the organization, instead of requiring every single order to go through central purchasing. For maximum ease in order processing, customers have numerous searching and ordering options.
ASAP considers OrderChannel a resounding success. In the application’s first year of operation, ASAP’s online orders increased 340 percent. The size of orders also increased, as did the amount of online orders as a percentage of the total.
Visit ASAP Software’s Web site at www.asapsoftware. com, or FRI’s Web site at www.frinc.com.
- Bill wants to hear about your adventures, victories, advice, gripes and grievances surrounding the Hpe3000. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.