Freight Carrier Gets Real-Time with iSeries Shipping App
by Tom Warburton
AIT Worldwide Logistics has
specialized in heavy-cargo transportation logistics since it was founded, in 1979. The Itasca, Illinois,
company operates 37 offices nationally and contracts with hundreds of independent agents to ensure that
more than 13,000 customers receive their shipments in a timely and cost-effective manner. While its
OS/400 shipping application was powerful enough to handle the tremendous daily volume of transactions,
AIT realized that its green-screen interface was becoming a hindrance, and found it was difficult to
integrate with, too.
In the name of competitive advantage, AIT dedicates itself to a high level of customer service within the
logistics services industry. To support this mandate, the company long ago realized the necessity of
maintaining a cutting-edge IT infrastructure.
"As with most industries today, shipping logistics is highly competitive," says Miguel Carvalho, AIT's
director of technical business development. "As an organization, we need to constantly enhance our IT
operational practices to stay ahead of our competition. Our customers are always looking for ways to
improve the bottom line, and, as a services provider, we understand the importance of helping them achieve
their financial goals."
AIT uses an iSeries server to process the enormous volume of transactional data that occurs on a daily
basis. Moving heavy freight from one location to another is a complex process that usually requires the
involvement of multiple transport agents. To keep track of shipments, AIT used SYNON tools (now
supported by Computer Associates) to develop a core
transportation system, a customized RPG application that processes all aspects of operational accounting.
Creating the Shipment
To provide self-service functionality to the customer, AIT allowed its clients to dial in to the iSeries
application over dedicated lines, to create shipments, to view billing details, and even to generate bills of
lading for their own internal accounting. However, AIT viewed these benefits as minimal and envisioned a
more comprehensive Internet application that would not only provide enhanced capabilities to the customer
but also reduce operational costs internally.
"The green-screen deployment was training-intensive for both our customers and our own internal hires,"
Carvalho says. "Also, despite this deployment, there was still an enormous amount of paper in the supply
chain, and, as a result, the flow of data was very slow. We knew that our competitors were working toward
integrated Web solutions, so we felt that it was imperative to improve our IT operational processes."
To this end, AIT developed a Web site that allowed customers to track the progress of shipments as they
made their way toward their destinations. This site was periodically updated by the iSeries application. To
get real-time status, however, AIT had to wait for partners or agents to either fax or phone in status
information, which was then input directly into the legacy application by data entry personnel.
With the movement of large pieces of freight, invariably there are unforeseen issues. Because of the lack of
an integrated solution, AIT didn't know about these issues as they happened, and, as a result, customers
didn't receive real-time status updates. This lack of communication caused a significant amount of pain for
both AIT and its client organizations, as deliveries often sat idle until AIT or the customer decided how to
respond. As a result, AIT and its customers were often forced to pay premium shipping rates in an attempt
to stay on schedule.
AIT first attempted to remedy the situation by enhancing the functionality of the Internet tracking site.
Carvalho and his team wanted agents to be able to enter in shipment updates into the application so that the
customers could then view the shipment status in real time. They started writing HTML to provide this
functionality, but soon realized they were simply rewriting existing iSeries business logic. Also, they saw
that this would be a very closed solution with minimal opportunity for integration. Lastly, there would be
entirely too much data movement between the Web application and the iSeries system.
Carvalho and his team decided that they needed a rapidly deployable solution that would extend core
functionality directly from the iSeries application, provide an open and flexible environment for future
initiatives, and allow them to continue to use existing legacy programming talent in maintaining the new
Internet application. To accomplish this task, they brought in Jacada, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
"We did a significant amount of research to find a solution that was compatible with our infrastructure
needs," Carvalho says. "The Jacada Interface Server was a solution that we felt could answer our immediate
tactical needs, but also supply us with a strategic vision as we move forward in the coming years."
Carvalho and his team first employed the Jacada Interface Server to generate a Java thin-client application,
dubbed the Agent Service Center. They viewed this initial deployment as a quasi-pilot project, from which
they could learn more about the capabilities of the Jacada tool. Presently deployed to 200 agents, the ASC
is very similar in flow to the green-screen application, but it also allows agents to view shipments that are
due to arrive and then update the status of that shipment directly into the legacy application.
Building on the knowledge gained from development of the ASC, Carvalho and his team began work on
the highly functional application Electronic Advantage Internet Shipping, or eaNetShip. "Our goal was to
build a value-add customer self-service system that ensured a standardized way of doing things," Carvalho
says. "We envisioned a comprehensive shipping environment, where our customers can quickly discover
the real-time status of a particular shipment on a moment's notice."
To build eaNetShip, AIT used the Jacada Interface Server to dramatically reengineer the iSeries screen
navigational workflow. By using the tool's "many-to-one" conversion capabilities, AIT now allows
customers to scroll on the GUI, instead of simply moving to the next screen, as they would with the green
Customers now access the application via the Internet; create a shipment; print a shipping label and a bill of
lading; and then, once the shipment is off, they can check the status at any point in the day. They also
receive e-mail notifications with any important change in delivery status, and they can even have the e-
mails sent to the customer who is waiting for the shipment.
This enhanced communication allows AIT and its customers (and its customers' customers) to be aware of
issues that may stall the delivery of the shipment. They can accurately assess the situation and take
appropriate and cost-effective action to keep the supply chain moving. To date, eaNetShip is deployed to
more than 250 customers, and its rollout will continue incrementally. Eventually, AIT hopes to process at
least 40 percent of all shipments online.
AIT used the knowledge gained from the success of eaNetShip to improve internal operations as well.
Today, more than 1,000 users across all corporate divisions have access to WorldPort, which provides
employees access to the same shipping information viewed by the customer.
Delivering the Package
"The Jacada Interface Server is enabling our agents, our customers, and our own internal employees to
access the same information regarding particular shipments, and then allowing them to update or view the
status of these shipments as well," Carvalho says. "By doing so, we are improving communication
throughout the supply chain and improving customer service. Further, by lessening the likelihood of paying
premium rates, the Jacada deployments are directly impacting the bottom line for us, as well as our
AIT plans to enhance the capabilities of its new applications in the coming months and roll them out to the
groups of users. Moreover, the company is able to continue to use existing programming talent to modify
the host application with the new GUI. The Jacada Interface Server is an open solution that provides AIT
with a strategic flexibility that will ease the integration or deployment of future initiatives.
"Once a customer creates a shipment in our system, we envision a process that initiates an instantaneous
flow of events, and, as each event occurs or does not occur, the appropriate contacts are notified and a new
flow of events begins," Carvalho says. "AIT wants to be known as a company that delivers as promised. To
this end, we see ourselves transforming into something one might call a 'shipping ASP,' and the Jacada
Interface Server is the catalyst that is enabling this transformation."
Tom Warburton works within marketing communications at Jacada. He can be reached at