SOA by the book with RFID, CRM and event handling

Book buyers' special orders are tracked with a service-oriented architecture implementation orchestrating RFID, complex event management, inventory and customer services applications into one process.

How frustrating is this? You go to a bookstore in search of a book you really, really want. At a kiosk in the store you do a quick search and find that the book you desire is in the store waiting on the shelf, but when you get to that shelf it isn't there. Another customer has apparently put the book back on the wrong shelf and now you will have to prowl the stacks searching for the title and if you blink you may walk right by it.

We have a bundle of services applications and they act now as one process together in routing information to our customers.
Jan Vink
CIOBoekhandels Groep Nederland

This is just one of the customer problems solved by the "SmartStore" service-oriented architecture system developed by Boekhandels Groep Nederland (BGN), a Dutch book retailer. Bringing together RFID-based order tracking and complex event processing (CEP) with more traditional inventory and customer relationship management applications, SmartStore aims to take some of the frustration out of hunting for that elusive tome at the bookstore.

SmartStore can quickly solve a mystery of "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" being lost in the shelves marked travel stories. With item level RFID tagging a quick sweep of the store by an employee with scanner will discover the great detective stories and automatically generate an event message when it is found, directing the customer from the kiosk where the search began to its exact location, even if it is in the home improvement section.

If the book is not in the store, the same technology will place an order directly with the book supplier and follow it through until it is in the customer's hands, explains Jan Vink, CIO of BGN, which operates with more than 40 stores Netherlands and sells up to 40,000 books per day.

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"If a customer orders a book from a kiosk because it's not available in the store, the order is passed off to our logistical supplier who adds the RFID tag to that specific customer order," he explained. "But the book in that order is part of a box containing more books. The system will check all the relevant tags in the box without opening it. It will identify that specific book for that specific customer. It will trigger an event, 'inform the customer,' that the book has arrived and is ready to be picked up."

When the customer comes in to pick up the order, a clerk in the store finds and retrieves it based on the RFID tag even if it is in the bottom of one of several boxes of special orders. The SmartStore system tells the clerk which box the book is in, thus saving time that used to be spent manually opening boxes and hunting through their contents, Vink said.

The backbone of the SOA implementation is the Sonic enterprise service bus (ESB) from Progress Software Corp. SmartStore also uses other Progress products including the Apama Event Processing Platform, CEP technology that reports on individual book locations based on RFID tracking. Web services tie all the applications together and provide one view of the process to the customer at the kiosk, Vink explained.

"We have a bundle of services applications and they act now as one process together in routing information to our customers," he said.

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