Biztalk Server 2004 simplifies business process integration

Jersey Post showed how it expects to reduce document management costs by 75% at this week's UK launch of the latest version of...

Jersey Post showed how it expects to reduce document management costs by 75% at this week's UK launch of the latest version of Biztalk, Microsoft's XML integration tool.

Biztalk Server 2004 promises to simplify the linking of business processes that unite separate applications. Microsoft said the software would allow users to connect diverse applications and then to construct and modify business processes graphically.

New features include a mechanism for specifying business rules, improved application management and monitoring, and single sign-on.

Jersey Post is one of the first public users of Biztalk 2004 and is implementing the software along with Microsoft's .net framework within an XML-based data hub. When complete, the hub will translate financial data from a Great Plains ERP system, customer data and transactional data from the post office point of sales system into XML. Once in XML the data can be printed, sent as SMS or presented as an electronic bill.

The system being implemented using Biztalk will allow printed documents such as statements and billing information to be shared with customers electronically. Once complete, Jersey Post estimates that it will save 75% on document management.

Michael Boarer, head of business at Jersey Post, said, "Our first step is to present bills automatically and send them out to customers."

Before the end of the month Boarer hopes to upgrade the retail system to connect into the data hub. The roll-out has so far taken two and a half months. The implementation is being carried out by IT services company Unilog. Boarer expects the majority of services based on Biztalk to be up and running this week.

Prior to implementing Biztalk, data integration between the various IT systems was achieved using bespoke middleware, which was difficult to scale. To tackle the inefficiency in the middleware, Unilog recommended that Jersey Post adopt a data hub to manage integration.

Michael Prager principal consultant at Unilog, said, "Jersey Post had a large number of business processes that would benefit from a hub approach."

With the hub, data is gathered in a single place, which provides a single point of integration. This is more efficient than creating custom data integration links between applications.

Biztalk software adapters convert application data into XML so it can be read by any application that understands XML. As part of its Biztalk implementation Jersey Post has installed an off-the-shelf adapter to convert XML into PDF files or postscript in order to display data in Acrobat or print it.

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