BAT, which has a £9.2bn annual turnover and spends hundreds of millions of pounds on IT each year, hopes to save up to 75% of the costs of integration projects which use middleware from major software suppliers.
Integration software is now very powerful, but specialist expertise is often required to build bespoke links between business systems.
Later this month the tobacco giant will begin a trial of the application router from US start-up firm Cast Iron Systems.
The hardware device can be configured to move data between different sources using simple business rules. It supports databases such as Oracle, IBMDB/2 and Microsoft SQL Server, protocols such as XML and Soap (web services) and applications from the likes of SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and Siebel.
BAT plans to use the Application Router to consolidate sales data from 180 countries and support a centralised weekly buying process. This will involve transferring data between point-of-sale, Oracle databases, Siebel CRM and SAP ERP systems.
For a company of BAT's size, a typical integration project would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, but the simplicity of the technology, which costs £40,000 per router, should reduce this, said Kevin Poulter, application technology manager at BAT.
"After doing a number of pilots with Cast Iron in October 2003, we saw the opportunity to deliver significant cost savings on integration," he said.
"We did a business case for our South African market and discovered that Cast Iron was 25% of the cost of the alternative. It is less expensive up-front and easier to roll out than the existing offerings."
Poulter said integration technology offered by the mainstream suppliers was too complex for most of BAT's needs. In addition, the need for consultants to implement EAI technology added to project costs, he said.
The Application Router is cheap to install and operate, Poulter said.
Mainstream middleware often needs IT experts on site to manage it. However, Cast Iron said its appliance could be configured and managed remotely using Windows-based tools for mapping how data is moved between various applications and databases.
The technology is easy to learn, according to Poulter. "We make sure the people that understand the business system in question are the ones who train up on Cast Iron, and it normally takes no more than a couple of days," he said.
Tony Hart, managing analyst at research firm Datamonitor, said application router technology could prove attractive for users considering low-cost integration across distributed markets.
The Application Router will be trialled in BAT's key global markets, starting in South Africa before moving to Canada, Hungary and Latin America.