Author Archives: Jim OLeary

Podcast: Replacing Legacy EDI Systems (Run time: 14:45)

I recently sat down to interview Nahid Jilovec on the subject of her recent white paper, “Replacing Legacy EDI Systems“. In this brief (less than 15 minute) podcast, Nahid reviews the business drivers and technical advances that are motivating companies to extend or replace their aging EDI infrastructures. She also identifies the main implementation strategies available, summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of legacy replacement, and makes a strong case for strategic consideration of future business integration needs.

If you haven’t yet read Nahid’s paper, or are looking for a condensed overview of this topic that you can send to a colleague, click here to listen, or right-click on the link to download this informative interview to your MP3 player.

And if you’d like to suggest a business integration topic for a future EXTOL podcast, just reply to this post or drop us a line at info@extol.com.

Achieving Business Invisibility

Business visibility has become one of the pillars of modern business management.  After all, in order to manage something, you first need to measure it.  An entire industry has emerged around business intelligence and analytics solutions that aim to make business information more accessible and “actionable”.

Business visibility is important at many organization and decision levels, and can take multiple forms.  Most companies are awash in data that can be used for management and decision-making.  Business integration middleware like the EXTOL Business Integrator makes it easier than ever to consolidate internal and external data (from databases, files, spreadsheets, EDI transactions, web services, and other sources) and automate data extraction, transformation,  enrichment, validation, synchronization, and syndication to internal and external destinations, in forms appropriate for either human or automated consumption.  Scheduling or triggering such data integration activities based on events can help make business decisions more timely and accurate. Continue reading

How EDI is Leading Us to the Cloud

Last week, I was interviewed by Alex Woodie of IT Jungle, for his Four Hundred Stuff column.  The primary focus of Alex’s column was on the trajectory of Cloud computing adoption and the challenges that companies face as they add Cloud integration to existing EDI, application, and data integration practices.  I encourage you to click through and read Alex’s article, but in this post, I want to focus on the evolutionary path that is taking us from traditional EDI to Cloud integration.

For most companies, EDI remains the single most important B2B integration requirement.  And new characteristics that reflect the way “EDI” is practiced today make it more relevant and important than ever. Fifteen years ago, EDI was almost exclusively batch-oriented, enabled by VANs, and focused on translation between flat files and X12 or EDIFACT standard EDI documents.  Since then, EDI has changed in several important ways: Continue reading

Revisiting the Golden Rule

You’ve probably heard some version of the “golden rule” of business (not the one we grew up with) – “S/he who owns the gold makes the rules.”  In the world of business-to-business (B2B) integration, it’s easy to see the golden rule at work.  In general, it’s the payer – the customer in a B2B relationship – that sets the rules for partner interactions, including implementation details like document types, versions, and syntaxes, document size and content constraints, communication and security protocols, and quality of service requirements.

The term “channel master” has long been used to describe the role of a dominant company in a value chain, exemplified by mega-retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, or Sears.  Companies that supply products and services to such channel masters understand that compliance with their integration requirements is a price of doing business. Continue reading

What is “Smart Mapping”?

In my two previous posts on the subject of automated mapping, I examined the importance of automation as a way to reduce design-time integration costs and delivery time, and the challenges of applying automation to the mapping process, in particular.

If you’ve used or seen a demo of our original EDI Integrator product for System i, you know that EXTOL has a long history of innovation in this area.  In 1994, we introduced an automated source-target matching feature called “Automapping”, and three years later, the “Advanced Automapping” feature debuted, giving customers the ability to generate large portions of new maps, based on previous mapping examples.

Two years ago, we renewed our research into automated mapping methods, with the goal of delivering a new automated mapping implementation for EXTOL Business Integrator, the modern, cross-platform integration broker we introduced in 2003.  But instead of simply replicating the Automapping and Advanced Automapping features, we set out to push the boundaries of state-of-the-art mapping automation, by targeting a much more stringent set of requirements:

  • Mapping must be applicable to any mapping situation, including both familiar and unfamiliar document types and source-target combinations
  • Both aspects of mapping – source-target element matching and generation of data transformations – should be supported by the automated mapping mechanism
  • The automated mapping feature should be able to “learn” from and adapt past decisions to future mapping situations, incorporating best practices that evolve, over time
  • Automated mapping should integrate unobtrusively in the UI, allowing a blending of human and automated mapping actions and results
  • Users must retain control over the application of results generated by the automated mapping feature, with the ability to selectively apply generated matches and transformations
  • The behavior of the automated mapping feature must be configurable to suit different business circumstances and user preferences

These requirements went far beyond the capabilities of available automated mapping implementations, and called for the invention of a new mapping architecture and new automated mapping methods.

The resulting implementation, “Smart Mapping”, was introduced in EXTOL Business Integrator v2.5, in October of 2010.  Smart Mapping is an automated mapping implementation that integrates with the EXTOL Integration Studio Ruleset Editor, the drag-and-drop, rule-based mapping tool introduced originally in 2003.  It consists of multiple automated matching and rule generation methods that are combined through a user-weighted fuzzy logic layer, and can generate mapping results at the element, structure, and document root levels.

What makes Smart Mapping stand out from past attempts to automate mapping is the ease with which powerful mapping methods can be brought to bear on virtually any B2B, data, or application mapping situation, without imposing new skill requirements or intruding on the user interaction model.

We believe that Smart Mapping is not only a boon for companies that need to deliver sophisticated integrations faster and more cost-effectively, but is also interesting and important technology, in its own right.  Over the coming weeks, we will be posting additional insights into the Smart Mapping approach and the technology that underlies it.  Stay tuned.