As CIO for Burris Logistics, a logistics provider of temperature controlled foods along the East Coast, my role is to solve problems for the business. I usually do that with technology. Problems can originate from anywhere across the business, often because of changes in the business.
As the business infrastructure has grown in support of company growth, both by acquisitions and addition of new applications through at the business, we've been faced with the challenges of how to integrate and evolve applications. Gone are the days of rip-and-replace. We are constantly looking for ways to bridge those applications and the interfaces from existing legacy apps to the newer applications. Our search for application integration started with looking for a replacement and an upgrade to the way we mapped and built enterprise data integration services over the last number of years. Gone are the predictions that EDI is going to go away; in fact, it's taken on many new challenges.
EDI and mapping took on many different forms, as we had many different applications to map. In the logistics business, companies interface with tremendous number of partners in a single real-time transaction, in batch mode. Those all presented challenges for us, particularly as we have had to integrate both new applications and existing ones.
Acquisitions are a challenge to every IT organization, and it's certainly the same in our shop. As we've made these acquisitions, we've been able to get the business application to do the integration, but often the existing partners already have their own tried-and-true interface and/or best practice that they need or want to continue to execute.
As mentioned, one of our bigger challenges in integrating new partners and applications is not necessarily the mapping of the data, but rather the change to the business process. In the past, the partner may have acted one way, the systems another way; the culture allows and promotes operations, but in fact, we have to change that partner's method of doing business in such a way that the mapping of the data is no longer the hard part.
We've got to convince the customer that the new business process is appropriate. We have to become like the customer and get inside his/her brain. Our challenge to find a solution to solve these problems is more than just mapping data and timing.
In fact, our two businesses have to align so that we find ourselves in synchronization for a single transaction, a batch transaction, a moment in time, a week or a period of time. Those add up to be more than just a data mapping/interfacing requirement for the new solutions.
We're all faced with:
- Diminishing and changing skill sets,
- The expense and cost of resources,
- The time allotted to get ready for new partnerships and businesses coming on as acquisitions take place in shorter timeframes than ever before.
While all of that is happening, the technology stack change causes us to look differently for new tools, new skill sets and how we are going to put those together in a solution that delivers results quickly.
I don't believe our shop at Burris is much different from any other shop across corporate America or the world. The challenge that we have today inside of IT is to stay mean and lean, yet provide capabilities, resources and partnerships throughout the enterprise and between enterprises. However, in this era of technology stack changes, we've got to be nimble. We've got to have a vision. We've got to be looking forward.
Our job is to deliver solutions that interface to that legacy code in the back room where there are diminishing resources. Probably the biggest area of dealing with legacy is the challenge that we have in integrating and taking advantage of the exception handling with respect to legacy systems interfacing to new applications.
We need to be able to address the exception handling in an environment where we're not fully in a relational model, where steward procedures and triggers are not the operative mode or normal mode for applications. The need to handle exceptions in a fully automated workflow environment has been a challenge for many organizations.
As we've grown from a small organization where we've communicated in batch to our customers and partners, we've had to recognize that we need to manage by exception. We need to manage in that infamous real-time transactional environment. So if we're able to take advantage of alerts and messages that add to that workflow where we're communicating in this automated fashion without the need for a plug-and-play of valuable human resources, we've solved a lot of problems very quickly and allowed ourselves to operate the business and only monitor, watching for those exceptions in the business process.
Activity monitoring is another area for which we've had to find a solution. One of the challenges that we've faced on the back end (not necessarily between partners) is to monitor events taking place by exception or a defined scope and purpose event, where we're looking for a particular event to happen. That then triggers another event (business process) to happen.
We've been looking for a bridge between internal business applications to span systems and business processes between our partners and ourselves. We've been looking for a multiplatform environment in which we operate. We've got all the operating systems represented within our enterprise and, again, all of these parts need to play together.
They need to do it in a timely fashion (basically in real time), to make those bridges appropriate, and where necessary, to fix those bridges in place so that we're appropriate with our timing. The business processes between customers and between our applications across platforms requires a special solution.
We didn't go out and make a quick response to something we found in the marketplace; in fact, we looked for many years. In the case of one solution, the EXTOL Business Integrator, it was approaching 10 years that it took to find a business integration product that allowed us to pull together partner and application requirements in house, and to do it seamlessly. It allowed us to migrate to a new product and a new solution.
Having a vision many years ago allowed us to look for the best solution in the marketplace and make use of it in our organization. The primary successful objective that we've attained to date is the fact that with our lean and mean IT staff, the EXTOL solution has literally empowered them to do more with less.
The next question that we must answer is how do we continue the strategy? Where does the vision lead next? Certainly with the EXTOL solution, we're no longer in reactive mode 24 hours a day; instead, we find ourselves addressing problems in a proactive mode. Now is the time get with key partners and customers; to ask the question, how can we help solve your business problems, in addition to continuing to solve those business problems back at Burris and the enterprise?
And we need to do this simultaneously with a lean and mean staff, where skill sets continue to change and resources become more expensive on a daily basis. To this point, we've been able to keep our development processes and intellectual property in house. We've not been forced to outsource and offshore. Keeping our intellectual property in house allows us to use the experience for those business processes and maintain the Burris mindset that we're going to think like the customer.
Our measure of success is customer satisfaction. More specifically, our success factors are met when the customer whether a trading partner or in-house user of a critical application for their part of the business says they are satisfied with the integrity of the data into their applications or operations.
We've been able to do all that, and we are looking forward to continuing down that road, move the strategy along, set a new vision and move forward. This is not something that can be accomplished without strong business integration technology.
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