CATEGORY: Data Integration

REVIEWER: Greg Reimann, group enterprise architect for TOWER Financial Services Group.

BACKGROUND: Over the past 10 years, TOWER Group has been one of the fastest growing financial services businesses in Australia. TOWER consists of a number of wholly owned subsidiaries that specialize in financial services in Australia and New Zealand, offering a comprehensive portfolio of products across financial services, risk insurance, savings and investment, asset management and trustee services.

PLATFORMS: TOWER's components are deployed on one HP-UX L-Class server with 3GB RAM and two 440 MHz CPUs.

PROBLEM SOLVED: With 18 product administration systems that generally do not communicate with each other, TOWER's management found it was impossible to electronically gather and consolidate business intelligence about operations in real time. TOWER ran reports on individual systems and then manually collated the results. Furthermore, redundant business processes were created due to the lack of integrated IT systems, creating huge inefficiencies. For example, each distributor received multiple statements and checks, one from each product administration system. The company needed a consolidated view of what each distributor was doing so that the processes around payment could be simplified. TOWER attempted to build a homegrown integration solution using Java, but the group ran into severe problems regarding translation, transformation, guaranteed delivery and basic maintenance of the integration solution. TOWER then decided to embark on an enterprise application integration (EAI) strategy with an off-the-shelf integration platform.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Oracle9i Application Server Integration (Oracle9iAS Integration) is the only complete and integrated platform that provides 360 degrees of integration ­ linking applications, data, services, users and partners. Based on the product's open industry standards, Oracle9iAS Integration can deliver support for third-party databases and packaged applications, and extensive capabilities to define and coordinate business processes that span packaged applications, Web services, new Java applications, legacy mainframes, heterogeneous databases and back-end systems. This technology enabled TOWER to integrate the company's PeopleSoft and product administration applications to streamline its business processes and improve customer service.

STRENGTHS: Oracle9iAS Integration has multiple strengths. The product's open architecture allowed us to integrate our existing IT systems including PeopleSoft, legacy applications and custom applications. Oracle9iAS Integration was less than half the cost of comparable solutions from major competitors, due in part to the ability to leverage TOWER's extensive use of Oracle databases. Additionally, using Oracle9iAS Integration, TOWER leveraged the Advanced Queuing features of its existing Oracle database for messaging. The technical support TOWER's integration team received enabled them to stay on schedule and complete Phase I of the integration project in 10 weeks. TOWER has many homegrown applications and needed to develop custom adapters for connectivity. The Oracle9iAS kit included good working examples that saved TOWER time and money. Oracle9iAS Integration met and exceeded TOWER's expectations.

WEAKNESSES: Though the evaluating team was impressed by Oracle's offering from a technical standpoint, the team was concerned about getting management approval on what was then a new and not well-known product. Also, Oracle's adapters work well; however, some adapters are easier to use than others.

SELECTION CRITERIA: TOWER selected Oracle9iAS Integration because of the product's total costs of ownership, integration capabilities, open architecture and its technical support features. TOWER's previous experiences with other Oracle products also played a role in the company's decision to select Oracle.

DELIVERABLES: Using Oracle9iAS Integration, TOWER is able to provide a single statement and payment for distributors, thus increasing customer service while also increasing the level of business knowledge through timely management reporting. This was achieved by integrating the new distributor management system with the PeopleSoft accounts payable module and staged integration with product administration systems.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Oracle offers 24x7 technical support – the OracleMetaLink Web site that contains tips, product patches and software downloads, and the Oracle Technology Network site that includes white papers, best practices and technical discussion forums. Paid support options include product upgrade, incident and premium support packages.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is good for standard functionality.

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