How do you take six companies and effectively merge them into a single entity? That is what the Israeli Shlomo Group has done – thanks to Service-Orientated Architecture (SOA) methodology and InterSystems Ensemble® rapid integration platform.
It is often said that “success breeds success.” This is undoubtedly true; however, it is also inevitable that success creates new challenges of its own.
This was certainly the case with the Shlomo Group which, over the past twenty years, has grown to become one of the pillars of Israel’s vehicle sector. The group’s transportation arms, Shlomo Sixt and New Kopel Sixt together offer a wide range of vehicle services, including rentals, sales, leasing, garages for maintenance and repairs and even roadside assistance.
Certainly this is a tale of success. But in computing terms, it is also an all-too familiar tale of increasing IT diversity with each company in the group being effectively supported by entirely discrete back end systems. And that, says Donna Davis, the IT manager of the rental company, presented a major problem for the business.
“What we wanted to do was present a single view of the Shlomo Group to the online world,” she says. “In our business, if we can provide customers and partners with a single, integrated Web interface to all of our back end systems, then we can greatly improve the quality of service that we give them.”
“Technically, the challenge we set ourselves was two-fold. Firstly, we needed to find a non-destructive way of merging information from discrete Oracle databases into a single data set. This was a straight forward replication exercise and was important for guaranteeing the security and integrity of the production systems.”
“The next task was to create a holistic front end, transparently merging services from multiple back end systems, to create a function-rich Web portal to the entire capabilities of the Shlomo Group. What’s more, having made the decision to create a single interface, we wanted to see it in action as fast as possible.”
As well as providing an integrated customer centric service, they did not want the discontinuity, costs and risks of ripping and replacing the existing computing systems and processes.
To achieve this, Donna and Eyal Shirazi, Head of Internet for Shlomo Group, decided to implement a Service Oriented Architecture based upon InterSystems Ensemble, and provided by the system integrator, Matrix.
Ensemble is specifically designed to enable companies such as the Shlomo Group to create new applications very rapidly by connecting services from different backend systems. These can then be further enriched by adding a browser-based user interface to provide an attractive easy to use tool for both staff and customers. Adaptable workflows and business processes allow the business to define their own procedures in a clearly documented and adaptable manner. Messaging and executive dashboards enable everyone to make informed real-time decisions.
Its architecturally consistent design combines integration, data, application, and portal server technologies into a single seamless environment. The integration components are already integrated with each other, saving valuable time and costs whilst delivering breakthrough time-to-results.
“The development of the Ensemble solution was, compared to other application development projects I have worked on, extremely easy,” says Donna. “But above all it was impressively fast. The site went live just six months after we started developing.”
The Shlomo Group’s implementation integrates a range of services. Car rental and purchase information, private and business leasing activity, road services information, and other relevant agent and customer information have all been included in this project. What’s more, through the Ensemble platform, partners can access the data either via SOAP and Web services, in addition to other connectivity options such as Java and pure .NET.
Meeting the challenges of success
Donna believes one of the most important benefits of the Ensemble solution has been the ease with which new service enhancements can be developed and rolled out via the system.
To illustrate this point, she talks about the development of the rental side of the business. “One of the first things we did was make it possiblefor third-party rental agents to use our sites tophysically make an order against a particular car.Straight away that translated into incrementalbusiness without additional overheads.”
“But then we developed things further, and soon by working with a partner called WorldSpan we made it possible for people to do this internationally. Then we thought we’d provide this tremendously powerful functionality as a value added API for other channel partners, such as travel agents. It means that they get all of this functionality embedded into their own Web sites.”
“All of this has been very easy to do with Ensemble. Yes, we have found the help we received from InterSystems invaluable but, none the less, I would say that with Ensemble it is much easier to develop functionality than with any other integration platform I have ever experienced. Thanks to its SOA architecture, what you’re in effect doing is creating new business processes, rather than coding new functionality. This makes doing complicated things relatively simple. After all, you don’t have to change any of the underlying systems in any way – you simply implement new logic.”
“The results,” says Donna, “are clear for all to see. Ensemble has enabled us to keep our investment in back end databases and processes – some of which have been evolved steadily over decades – completely intact. But now they have become merged in such a way that we can do things with the underlying processes and services which were impossible to even contemplate before. It also provides us with a platform for managing change and meeting our customers needs on an ongoing basis.”
“And because we now effectively operate as a single company, customers and partners are presented with a ‘whole’ Shlomo Group that is truly greater than the sum of the parts.”