Terminix Overcomes Hurdle to New B2B System, Thanks to LANSA
May 6, 2008 Alex Woodie
When executives at Terminix hatched a new plan to drum up business through third-party companies, it made the company’s IT department a little buggy at first. The plan called for the new partners to include Terminix’ fees in the bills they send out to customers, but manually integrating the various billing systems at play presented a potential problem, especially as the program ramps. Instead, Terminix found the needed level of automation in Composer, a new business process workflow tool from LANSA.
From its headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, Terminix International has established a worldwide customer base for its termite, rodent, and pest extermination services. The company, which is owned by ServiceMaster, runs 864 service centers in 15 countries, and employs 12,000 people in the United States alone.
Helping to keep this business flowing smoothly is Terminix’ IT department in Memphis, where a big System i Model 595 runs the company’s homegrown business applications, which are written and maintained in LANSA’s fourth-generation language (4GL) development environment.
Like most System i shops, Terminix prefers to keep applications on the box wherever it can, says Bruce Baxter, a software engineer with Terminix’ infrastructure division. However, the requirements from the new third-party billing system, called Lender Billing Integration, or LBI, were testing that preference.
LBI was formulated by Terminix executives in 2007 as a way to increase sales for Terminix by tapping into customer relationships already established by third-party companies. Companies that participate in LBI agree to insert an advertisement for Terminix services in their bills or other correspondence with homeowners. Nearly any company with relationships with homeowners, including mortgage companies, credit card companies, or even propane companies, are eligible for LBI.
Pretty straightforward, right? Here’s where it gets complicated: When those customers hire Terminix, the partner includes the bill for Terminix’ pest eradication service in their own bill. The hope is that, by including two bills in one, the LBI program will provide the homeowner with an easy, no-hassle path to pest eradication. The partner, meanwhile, gets a fee for participating, and Terminix gets a new customer.
Sounds like a win-win-win situation. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of work to get all the back-end connections set up correctly. And with the potential to scale the LBI program into the hundreds or even thousands of partners, the prospect of setting up all those EDI, XML, and FTP manual connections did not sit lightly with Baxter and his crew in the Terminix data center.
“We were kind of nervous about having to do all the EDI stuff in our legacy application,” Baxter says. The new partners could be using just about any type of software to manage their billing. That means Terminix must be ready to accept a wide range of documents–from ANSI X12 EDI and XML to plain text or Word documents–sent over several transport mechanisms, and then integrate it into their own i5/OS-based application.
With considerable expertise in LANSA, Baxter considered writing his own B2B system for a (very) brief period of time. “Being able to map a DB2 field to an XML tag–that probably could have been done, but it would have been a headache,” he says. “We would have scoured the countryside looking for other vendors. But when it came down to hearing about Composer, we went down that rabbit hole.”
Composer is a new product LANSA launched last October to address the growing need for sophisticated business process integration (BPI) tools among small and mid size business. With costs for traditional BPI tools starting in the high five figures, LANSA saw an opportunity to address the SMB market with Composer, which starts at about $10,000.
Composer combines a graphical workflow modeler, which it OEMs from Altova, with its existing B2B tool, called LANSA Integrator, and a bunch of additional automation built in. The software allows non-technical users to design document workflows, and then to execute it with the press of a button. In this way, the thinking goes, managers and other non-technical users can accomplish complex, multi-step business tasks involving data from various systems and using different transportation methods, without involving the IT department.
Once Baxter heard about Composer, he knew it had potential. “We’ve been a longtime LANSA customer, so when they announced this, we got a Web demo of it, and it looked like it would fit our bill–exactly what we were looking for. So we pretty much signed up on the spot,” he says.
Baxter envisioned using Composer to eliminate the need to hand-code the B2B connections for the plethora of new business partners expected to come in through the LBI program. “When a new partner gets signed up, then all we do is get essentially their EDI specs, and all the work is done in the Composer space,” he says. “They’re going to establish the relationship. Then all the transactions will occur untended in the background.”
Early tests show promise for Composer. While Terminix isn’t relying on sales and marketing people to use Composer to map the workflows and data transformations to and from the System i Model 595–that’s still the job of the IT department–Baxter says Composer allows the IT department to create those connections five times faster than if they had to do it by hand.
“It is as smooth as we thought it would be. Even better, in fact,” Baxter says. “The transformation and the mapping is all GUI. Click on a field, hold the mouse key down, drag it over to another field, and an arrow appears, and that’s how the mapping occurs. It’s all GUI.”
Early tests of Composer have been promising, and as the LBI program goes into production in the next several months, Terminix should start to realize the benefits.