CATEGORY: Portals

REVIEWER: Sheila Simpson, Web development manager for Southwire.

BACKGROUND: Southwire is the largest cable and wire manufacturer in North America with annual sales of more than $1.7 billion. It is the only wire and cable manufacturer in North America to sell products online.

PLATFORMS: Dell 4450 Web servers run Sybase Enterprise Portal (EP) executing Java and Java Server Page (JSP) Web pages. The portal ties into a back-end Unisys A18 mainframe.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Built with Sybase Enterprise Portal (EP), Southwire.com melds the company's e-commerce Web site, corporate Internet and employee intranet into one comprehensive e-business portal. In March 2002, this portal went live to 1,000 customers, hundreds of vendors and 5,000 employees worldwide. With Sybase EP, customers no longer need to re-key online orders in their own order-entry systems. Instead, users download XML or EDI (850) files and import orders electronically. Additionally, the new Southwire.com streamlines ordering, collects and connects enterprise data, distributes information securely and integrates smoothly with legacy systems.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Sybase EP makes our "collect and connect" dream a reality by providing a single electronic doorway to Southwire for customers, partners and employees. Our portal delivers a personalized user experience based on defined roles and unique logins, and the single sign-on feature dramatically improves productivity and security. Using Sybase EP, we were able to develop an innovative system that allows our customers to remotely manage and set security preferences for their employees. This allowed our customers to have greater control over their business processes and translated into a sizeable cost savings for Southwire by lifting the burden off of our own IT staff.

STRENGTHS: Since first deploying Sybase EP, Southwire.com has become a powerful sales tool. For example, wire and cable can be ordered in a variety of packaged quantities. When the customer enters the order quantity, the order module can round the quantity to the nearest package quantity automatically, semi-automatically or not at all, depending on a personalization option selected by the customer. Our customers can also add a module to their home page that displays the current price for the top five products, plus any number of items they choose. Sybase EP's wide array of adapters and integration servers compressed our development cycle tremendously and allowed us to maximize the value of existing IT investments by leveraging our embedded systems, databases and applications to deploy the solution quickly. Sybase EP's role-based security creates layers of controls that let us aggregate content on a single Web site. Additionally, this portal allows us to protect sensitive data by defining internal and external roles and permissions. EP's interfaces make it easy to assign roles inside and outside the company. Because Sybase EP is flexible, we've been able to expand and modify our portal a number of times.

WEAKNESSES: Sybase EP's strength can also be its weakness. The technology is so robust that one cannot become a Sybase EP authority in two weeks. Fortunately, Sybase's customer service and support group uses this technology in their own implementation, making their support engineers experts.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We looked into building a portal in house, but after much consideration realized it would be more cost effective for us to purchase a ready-made solution from an outside vendor. We chose Sybase's portal over competing offerings as it offered an open architecture and the strongest commitment to industry technology standards. This enabled us to leverage our proprietary e-commerce technology and offered a big cost, performance and time advantage when linking legacy systems.

DELIVERABLES: Tasks that previously took hours to complete – such as processing customer service requests, reviewing product catalogs, obtaining price quotes, and checking inventory, order status and packaging detail – are now easily accessible and magnitudes faster. Sybase EP brings information to the Web and connects various applications to exchange information seamlessly. Back-end integration melds disparate systems. Customers and employees transact business without knowing how Southwire is organized. The portal corrals sensitive information and doesn't flood people with facts they neither want nor need.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Sybase's onsite training helped compress development time. Their experts really know portals. We learned a great deal from the Sybase educators, and we will continue to build upon this knowledge base with their help.

DOCUMENTATION: EP documentation is excellent – the writing clear and straightforward. Publications are available in print and online.

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