SOA and BPM speed messages for industrial distributor

Using visual orchestration tool for BPM in heterogeneous Java/.NET SOA environment industrial distribution company speeds inventory tracking for 2,100 stores.

Implementation of business process management and service-oriented architecture to replace legacy batch processing

is helping speed inventory data to sales representatives at Fastenal, a distribution company for industrial fasteners and related products.

Our goal is transparency and timeliness.
Adam Swift
integration developer for the BPM order tracking systemFastenal

The Fastenal project uses Active Endpoint's ActiveVOS visual orchestration tool to link Web services and set up the business processes.

"Once you understand the principles of service-oriented architecture, it's easy to use ActiveVOS to deploy new services," said Adam Swift, integration developer for the BPM order tracking system at Fastenal. "Business process can be created with drag-and-drop."

However, coding is still needed to create the Web services that are being orchestrated.

"A lot of what the business processes do is provide a flow for invoking Web services," the developer explained. "So in the business process itself, we set the input of the Web service, XML usually, and then we receive the output and act on that. But the actual Web service does have a lot of code in it."

The coding for the Web services is done in either C# or Java "depending on what fits the bill more." Fastenal is the typical case of a heterogeneous environment with Java and .NET.

A separate development team working on Windows-based mobile interfaces has extended the BPM application for inventory tracking by sales representatives working in the field, Swift said.

The SOA-based BPM implementation, which has been in production for a year, is still "a work in progress," the developer said. The next step is bringing transparency to customer order tracking.

"We're always looking for the next legacy application we can bring into the 21st Century with business process management and service-oriented architecture as opposed to file-based transfer," Swift explained. "Our goal is transparency and timeliness."

With the legacy system that relied on a file polling system to transfer information on orders and inventory it could take up to an hour for messages to reach one of the Winona, MN-based company's 12 distribution centers or 2,100 stores, he said.

Doing business in a world where people routinely expect to place and track orders in real-time, waiting an hour for batch update was not acceptable.

"We've improved our timeliness with Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ)," Swift explained. "It's XML messaging to all our branches so when we want to get messages back and forth from our branches we invoke a service in our business process that calls to MSMQ that says 'send a message to this store' and they get it in a fraction of a second."

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"Going forward we're planning to increase transparency for the customers so that in the future they will be able to track their order," Swift said. "The business process will keep track of where the order is and continually update our database. Business processing management is central to that goal."

Alex Neihaus, vice president of marketing at Active Endpoints said his company continues to see demand for SOA tools at companies such as Fastenal despite the budget pressures of the recession.

"SOA adoption continues unabated, even in these challenging economic times," Neihaus said. "But our experience points to one important change: customers who implement SOA now are insisting on real value for money along with true investment protection."

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