CAMCO Takes RPG Applications to the Web with LANSA
by Marjanna Frank
CAMCO is part of the $6 billion General Electric Appliances group. It is Canada's largest manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances, such as refrigerators, stoves, washers, and dryers. When the decision came down that the company would implement separate Web sites for business-to-consumer, business-to-business, and computer-to-computer uses, the IT department's iSeries staff members were thrust into the middle of the project.
CAMCO's total IT staff is 30, including developers for the Unix-based manufacturing requirements planning MRP systems and network support. The iSeries development and maintenance staff totals five.
John Hills, manager of the e-business technology group at CAMCO, said his team considered several alternatives for Web development before deciding to use LANSA, a development environment and suite of e-business solutions based on fourth-generation language and a repository-based development environment. LANSA products support iSeries and AS/400, Windows, Unix, and Linux platforms.
"We were impressed with how quickly we could produce a Web site with LANSA, and how easy it was integrate with our RPG core system," Hills said.
CAMCO choose three different LANSA products for its three separate sites. It used LANSA for the Web, for its business-to-consumer site; LANSA Commerce Edition, for its business-to-business Dealer Online site; and LANSA Integrator, for computer-to-computer Internet transactions to third-party systems.
Hills said he is confident the company can now meet any e-business requirement. "With LANSA Commerce Edition," Hills said, "we now have a tool that we can use again and again for any Web site we may want to develop. This allows us to be self-sufficient with a very small development staff."
All the Web sites have to be available in French and English. LANSA's multilingual facilities eliminated the need for a separate site for each language.
CAMCO has a network of about 40 independently owned and operated GE Appliance stores in Canada. These shops sell GE appliances exclusively and most of them are located in remote areas. CAMCO also sells via large retail chains and other non-exclusive vendors in cities.
Dave Simmons is the guy responsible for all of CAMCO's direct sales. "Home appliances sales is very competitive, and a Web presence is essential," Simmons said. "But one central Web site would not be a solution. We are dealing with individual stores that want to uniquely position themselves. We wanted to give these stores the ability to sell over the Web to consumers in their specific area. Each store should be able to set its own pricing, have its own sales campaigns and its own delivery conditions."
To accommodate this model, it was decided that the site would be postal-code driven. Users start by entering a postal code that takes them to a specific shop. Once in that shop's site, the user has the standard search and select facilities, product specifications, and model comparisons. But each shop can set its own prices and special offers.
"The shops have a set of user-friendly maintenance screens, with a browser interface over the Web, Simmons said. The shops can tailor their data, manage their pricing by using formulas or by tweaking individual product prices, specify their delivery conditions, create their own specials, and change their banners. The shop owners can indicate, on their Web section, exactly what is happening in their store, without the assistance of programmers or Web editors."
Because GE in the United States had a deal with Home Depot--the world's largest home improvement retailer--to put GE kiosks in the Home Depot stores, it flavored the process incorporated in Canada.
"As part of this deal," Hills said, "GE needed to be able to accept transactions generated by the Home Depot stores, and send transactions back in real time. Home Depot didn't want to have different systems for the United States and for Canada, so we basically had to adopt the same approach in Canada that Home Depot had with GE in the United States."
"We receive and process transactions generated by Home Depot kiosks into our system," Hills said. For example, CAMCO may receive an inquiry on a particular product's availability. That information is provided, via a secure Internet transaction, to the Home Depot kiosk in the store. Or, GE might receive a request to accept and process an order. GE can return the order number and delivery date in real time, while the customer is at a Home Depot kiosk.
"Home Depot orders can be fulfilled and delivered, completely automated, from our warehouse, directly to the home address of the customer," Hills said. "Home Depot stores do not have to stock GE products, and Home Depot staff do not have to phone or fax in their orders. The results are a savings on both sides and a quicker service to the customer."
CAMCO deployed these computer-to-computer Internet transactions with an early release of LANSA Integrator. The software allows the Home Depot stores to send a string of data via the Internet, and allows CAMCO to interpret that string and process the transaction into its legacy RPG system. The information from CAMCO's legacy system is returned in a secure HTTPS format.
"This solution removes the browser interface," Hills said. "It just takes the transaction and feeds it right into our system. Home Depot could be using any format. I do not know, and I don't have to know. All I do is a get a string of data, and away I go. LANSA assisted us with all of those particular portions of the process, so that we could accept the Home Depot transaction, put it into our back-end system, and return information to them.
"We have assisted Home Depot with the implementation in 20 stores so far, and plan to roll it out to about 70 stores here in Canada. We expect a large volume from the Home Depot kiosks."
CAMCO's central support center, in Moncton, New Brunswick, has a staff of nearly 150 that handles all the phone and faxed orders. CAMCO uses electronic data exchange with only a few of their major dealers.
"We have in excess of 1,200 dealers, and there is a lot of work involved in taking phone calls and entering orders," Hills said. One of his goals is to remove the human intervention from the order process, and then refocus that staff to service, repairs, and other less-standard requests.
"The Dealer Online site is going to be quite different from the employee and consumer sites," Hills said. "We can reuse some logic, but basically we have to start from scratch again. We really have to keep the cost down and meet a very tight time frame for this Dealer Online system."
Hills said LANSA Commerce Edition shortened the Web development cycle, and after three weeks into the project it is very close to completion. "By giving the dealers online order facilities and access to inventory, account, and other information, we can provide faster service to the dealer and provide a significant cost saving in our support center," Hills said.
The first few projects were done with the assistance of LANSA Services, but CAMCO has "a host of new sites" that will embellish existing sites by providing virtual kitchens, where users can design their own kitchen and see what it is going to look like. Hills is also looking at the service side of the business, dealing with spare parts, maintenance, and repair services. He is confident his small development staff will be self-sufficient when those projects are implemented.
"We are happy with the iSeries and how easily LANSA integrates with our core RPG system," Hills said. But he also noted that it was important to not be "locked into iSeries."
"LANSA's openness is very important to us," he said.
Marjanna Frank is a senior consultant at LANSA, with more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry, including development, consulting, and training on a wide range of projects. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Last Updated: 6/25/02
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