IBM has been firmly pushing its AS/400 mid range server as the platform for e-business over the last few years, and with that in mind, software companies are moving fast to develop products that will make this server the most suitable for electronic commerce.
An increasing number of companies are opening up their businesses to employees, customers, and business partners, via the internet and intranets, making information which has traditionally been buried within legacy systems accessible to a whole new range of users via web based browsers.
'Today, most people are looking to present applications with a flexible user-friendly interface, whether for internal or external use,' says Andy Wooles, UK head of software specialists FutureSoft. 'Increasingly, the delivery of the application is web based or thin client.'
Offering such user-friendly access to the information on the AS/400 and underlying legacy systems, is allowing businesses to push forward with an e-business solution without making expensive changes to their existing IT infrastructure.
'Web-enabling our applications enables our customers to provide access to their business information and systems to anyone who has access to the web,' says Pete Varden, XA European product manager at Mapics.
Varden states that this browser based trend provides information to employees working at another location who do not have direct access to the system - such as remote offices, those at home or travelling, or select business partners who need access to specific business information.
He claims that security is also addressed, with web-enablement of the base system allowing all security controls to remain active. Security can also be utilised to control the different levels of access provided to those people accessing via the web.
Jeremy Sharp, UK country manager for software developers Seagull, says the company has seen a trend towards self-service e-business, with customers using browser based access on a 24-hour, seven days a week basis, instead of relying on paper based transactions during business hours.
Below we take a look at some of the web-enabling products currently available for the AS/400.
FutureSoft offers DynaComm Connectivity Series 8 (DCS8) Web Server Edition, a web server based technology that facilitates the development and implementation of secure web front-ends to host based character applications.
Integrating with FrontPage and Visual InterDev development technologies, all execution occurs on the web server, with no software installation or download required on individual desktops.
DCS8 runs on a Windows based web server, which requires no installation on the AS/400 or the client device. Prices are dependent upon number of concurrent users, but FutureSoft is aiming it at any corporate AS/400 user.
'There are a number of clients currently using the technology to integrate existing applications into a web based environment,' says Wooles. 'As new development technology, these projects are still in the development phase, going live later this year.'
IBM bundles Futuresoft's emulation products with its thin client/Windows based terminal devices.
ECS (Electronic Commerce Solutions) Europe
Electronic Commerce Solutions has produced ECS/integrated e-mail, designed to extract data and convert it into a format that is more familiar to everyone, not just AS/400 users.
This software focuses on electronic-enabling AS/400 ERP business applications, supplying solutions that e-mail-enable legacy applications. ECS says most of its clients use this product to e-mail bulk business transactions, such as purchase orders and acknowledgements, as HTML, PDF, or Text attachments.
This integration can be direct using API's, or indirect via spool files. ECS claims this method improves visibility, and the distribution of information with automated web publishing to company intranet or internet sites.
ECS is currently developing an integrated XML translator to fully support B2B application integration.
WRQ claims its Reflection for the web product provides users - inside and outside the firewall - with secure, web based terminal emulation to IBM, HP, Unix, and OpenVMS host applications. It is installed on any web server, and downloaded on demand to the browser.
Reflection for the web has been tested and certified in IBM's Netfinity Server Proven programme. WRQ claims it is easy to install, deploy, and manage, allowing businesses to web-enable their platforms quickly, without the expense of consultants or re-engineering.
This software is deployed from a web server and written in Java. It is designed to be platform independent, and can be deployed to any web server that supports http 1.1. This includes: AS/400, NT, and Unix.
JD Edwards UK
Software developer JD Edwards offers two products in the web-enabling arena, under the umbrella of its OneWorld product.
According to Stewart Plain, pre-sales technical manager at JD Edwards, OneWorld Xe enables customers to conduct collaborative commerce, adopting open technologies that allow communication among vendors, suppliers and customers across the supply chain.
OneWorld is certified to run on all the latest models of the AS/400, and is suitable for medium to large installations.
OneWorld eXtended Process Integration (XPI) is the interoperability engine for JD Edwards' collaborative commerce, which the company claims allows rapid integration of disparate or heterogeneous systems, and simplifies future version upgrades.
Mapics offers XA, a new gateway enabling users to link, bridge, and integrate XA with any technology or application through multiple channels, such as internet browsers. Specific products aimed at medium-sized AS/400 installations include a Java User Interface, which provides access to all ERP functions via web browsers, specific functionality for product catalogues, product configuration and order enquiries and taking via the web.
XA product manager Pete Varden claims additional features include design, development, and utilisation of web Portals, the ability to handle XML transactions, collaborative product lifecycle management, and access to financial reports.
Current developments include further extension of the XML capabilities, as well as extensive expansion of the capabilities of the user interface, which is provided for users of the system who are accessing it via the web.
Developer Solutions has produced HiT Software, part of the IBM Application Tools Network, which develops SQL and XML middleware to web-enable AS/400 servers. For SQL middleware, HiT offers ODBC, Ole DB, and JDBC middleware that support all major development environments for both Windows and Java.
HiT Allora enables developers to access AS/400 data as XML-formatted data for maximum portability within networked applications. This product is also set to offer the mapping of relational database tables to XML schemas.
HiT Java products run on all iSeries and AS/400s supporting the Java JVM 1.1.8 and later.
Developer Solutions claims many of its HiT software customers web-enable their iSeries and AS/400s by using Microsoft IIS on Windows 2000 or NT Servers with Active Server Pages.
Seagull claims its Transidiom software integrates XML, Com and Java-compliant e-business with mainframe and iSeries applications. It can be used to integrate front-office applications, such as customer relationship management, supply chain, storefront, employee intranet, with core business processes running on back office systems, like order processing, inventory, and claims processing.
The company's TigerRay product offers a direct link between host applications and existing web infrastructure using HTML. It is designed to create self-service web access to business functions in mainframe or mid range applications, such as cheque account information, update addresses, schedule, and cheque order status.
WinJa and J Walk offer web-to-host/host-to-web GUI connectivity for enterprise applications, and deploy to any mix of Java, browser, or Windows thin clients. These products are typically used with extranets and intranets.
Sims Portex - Case study
Kent based Sims Portex designs and manufactures sterile medical devices for use in operating theatres and intensive care units.
With manufacturing and sales facilities based throughout the world, the company decided it needed to develop an online presence and provide its customers and distributors with both an online directory of products and other services.
The organisation chose to implement IBM's Net.Commerce storefront, fully integrated with JD Edwards' WorldSoftware running on an AS/400 platform. It was already using WorldSoftware, and decided to opt for a solution based upon its existing IT infrastructure.
Bob Summers, computer service manager Sims Portex, claims web-enabling the AS/400 platform within the company has allowed the firm to establish an online channel, while maintaining existing customer relationships.
'The solution has been implemented to provide our distributors with an online storefront giving trading access to all our products,' says Summers. 'This enables them to select the item they require, when they wish to receive it, and in what quantity.'
This data is then automatically fed into WorldSoftware, which provides distributors with details of how the order can be fulfilled. Sims Portex can gather orders directly from distributors, which it claims has improved relationships, stock control, and manufacturing efficiencies.
Sims Portex ran a beta version of the solution with one of its suppliers prior to full roll out. It has now opted for 20 implementations at worldwide distributors within 12 months.
With many businesses having already built internet and intranet capabilities within their IT infrastructures, web-enabling their existing AS/400 platform for a future in electronic commerce is proving to be both a quick and inexpensive way of opening up information that is traditionally inaccessible to customers and suppliers via user-friendly web browsers.