But this approach fails when you have custom processes with your customers that the standard VANs don’t accommodate. Jabil Circuit, a custom electronics manufacturer, faced this dilemma the hard way: by manually maintaining all those custom applications and interfaces. Jabil has more than 5,000 trading partners, though most could be handled using the VAN approach. But 50 customers needed special communications mechanisms or business processes that the Sterling Commerce VAN was designed for. Often there were several such custom connections per customer, compounding the effort, recalls Lowel Gilvin, the company’s e-commerce manager. Something had to change, so Jabil adopted SOA principles to replace most of these custom connections with service-based ones that let common functions be reused.
The first step was to separate the business processes -- such as order-to-cash management, forecasting, and inventory consignment -- from the communications processes. Jabil now has standard services for most of the communications mechanisms in use, such as AS1 (Applicability Statement 1), AS2 (Applicability Statement 2), and FTP, as well as separate data-handling services such as for XML, flat-file, Excel, and SAP iDocs formats. It composes the appropriate communication service, data-handling service, and business service for each of these customers, using tables and metadata to automate the composition in most cases. In some cases, customers use more than one mechanism, perhaps based on which division is involved, and the tables account for these multiple mechanisms, Gilvin notes.
The SOA concepts of abstraction, modularity, and service composition usually work as is, Gilvin notes. In some cases, special requirements can’t be met by combining services, so Jabil still has some one-off integrations to maintain. But even here, Jabil can often use the SOA approach for part of the integration. As one example, certificates for XML and SSL validation can’t be handled as standard services, since the certificates are unique, but Jabil can compose the appropriate communications and business services with a hard-wired data-handling service, keeping the reuse and consistency benefits of SOA in two of the three integration aspects, Gilvin says.
Rather than use an ESB to manage the messaging, a registry to manage the services repository, or a SOA-oriented development environment to develop the services, Jabil uses Sterling Commerce’s Gentran Integration Suite for all three purposes. The suite is designed for supply-chain interactions, which is all that Jabil is trying to manage. This limited scope lets Jabil rely on the toolset’s embedded architecture rather than create its own. “We have a small set of standard business processes,” Gilvin notes.