Pat Townsend Teams with iSoft for Native OS/400 AS2 EDI-INT Software
by Alex Woodie
OS/400 shops looking to move their EDI transactions to the Internet to avoid expensive value-added network (VAN) charges may want to check out a new AS2 solution announced last week by Patrick Townsend & Associates. The new software, called Alliance AS2 Integrator, was jointly developed by Pat Townsend and iSoft, and is the first OS/400 implementation of iSoft's AS2 offering, Commerce Suite, which Wal-Mart is standardizing on for its AS2 implementation.
Applicability Statement 2, or AS2, is one of the most promising new Internet technologies to gain industry support in the last 12 months. The technology provides a set of specifications for securely sending and receiving EDI files over the Internet using HTTP servers (AS1 does the same thing for SMTP e-mail servers). The AS2 and AS1 specifications were established by the Internet Engineering Task Force, and today a dozen or so AS2 products are certified by the Uniform Code Council and Drummond Group, two respected industry organizations that oversee product interoperability testing.
Wal-Mart put the fledgling AS2 technology on the map last August, when it announced that all of its 14,000 suppliers must start sending their EDI transactions over the Internet, and secure them using AS2, as a way to reduce the industry juggernaut's VAN fees. That mandate from the world's largest company ($220 billion in revenues for 2002), which will go into effect this October, is spurring a considerable amount of AS2 activity at companies like iSoft, IBM (Wal-Mart's AS2 systems integrator), and other retailers following Wal-Mart's lead.
For consumer-goods companies looking to link their OS/400 servers to Wal-Mart's systems, there could scarcely be a better solution than Patrick Townsend's Alliance AS2 Integrator.
Last year Wal-Mart chose iSoft Commerce Suite, and recommended that its suppliers install that package as well.
However, iSoft's AS2 products only run on the Windows, Unix, and Linux operating systems. Before the porting of Commerce Suite to OS/400, AS/400 and iSeries shops that wanted to install iSoft's Commerce Suite would have been required to install it on another box.
This was the dilemma faced by Hickory Farms, the privately held gift-foods marketer that only recently started selling its products through retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target. Hickory Farms was looking for an AS2 solution to support its EDI activity, and encountered a large number of PC-based solutions, according to George Berlakovich, an implementation consultant hired by the company.
Hickory Farms eventually chose Pat Townsend's AS2 Integrator "primarily because it resides on the iSeries, the very location of our EDI activity," Berlakovich says. "We were not interested in removing that function from our most stable computing platform. We are a server-populated environment with 10 servers devoted to various business functions, but our primary computing is iSeries-based. Why would we put an important function like EDI on just a PC?"
Because AS2 Integrator is entirely based on iSoft's Commerce Suite, it is compatible with the Windows, Unix, and Linux implementations of Commerce Suite. And, like Commerce Suite 3.1, Alliance AS2 Integrator is certified for cross-platform interoperability by UCC and Drummond Group.
Alliance AS2 Integrator works with the iSeries Web server to securely send and receive EDI documents over the Internet. In addition to the non-repudiation features that AS2 brings, Alliance AS2 Integrator adds encryption to keep data transmission sessions private. Pat Townsend says its new product will integrate with RPG, COBOL, and CL applications, and is compatible with commonly used OS/400-based EDI ANSI X12 translation software, such as those offered by Extol, Inovis (formerly Harbinger), and Sterling Commerce.
Companies that don't yet have EDI translation software can integrate AS2 Integrator with Pat Townsend's own EDI translation software, Alliance EDI Workbench/400. And because AS2 isn't just for EDI documents (although that is its primary use), Pat Townsend has also done some work to ensure that companies can use Alliance AS2 Integrator to send and receive XML documents created from DB2/400 data using another Pat Townsend product, Alliance XML/400.
AS2 Integrator also provides a host of other features geared especially to AS/400 and iSeries servers, including a familiar 5250 interface. When the product receives a file, it is automatically placed in an IFS directory. From that point, AS2 Integrator can be configured to automatically copy the file to another library, translate it to EBCDIC, or call the user's business application to process the file. Most of these actions also apply to outgoing EDI files, as well.
Other AS2 Integrator features include full logging and systems management capabilities. The software maintains a complete history database and keeps an audit trail of all inbound and outbound EDI activity. Database queries and file retransmission are also easily handled with this product, Pat Townsend says.
Along with AS2 Integrator, users get a license for Alliance Application Monitor, a separate product from Pat Townsend that keeps an eye on application jobs and issues warning messages when part of the application fails. Through Application Monitor, users can receive notifications of errors in AS2 Integrator via SNTP e-mail, SNMP trap messages, pagers, system operator messages, and other channels.
Licenses for AS2 Integrator are tier-based and range from $2,500 for the P05 tier to $7,500 for the P50 tier. One trading partner entity licenses is included with each copy of AS2 Integrator, and additional trading partner entity licenses can be purchased for $500 each. More information is available at Pat Townsend's Web site, at www.patownsend.com.
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