The answer was to leverage Avnet’s investment in webMethods middleware, replacing point-to-point connectors with generalized services that ensured any change to either a process or data model was consistently applied to all systems around the globe. “The goal was to represent common business processes across different suppliers,” Chapman says. The architecture team mapped out the functions in all of the legacy systems to determine the capabilities, inconsistencies, and gaps. Then developers began creating services to handle translation, fill in missing pieces, and otherwise ensure common functionality across all systems. Essentially, Avnet pursued systems integration via services.
Chapman had always envisioned extending the same approach to external clients, since he expected them to use multiple channels to interact with Avnet when the e-commerce offering went live. But that day came sooner than expected, when HP, a major client, said in early 2000 that it wanted Avnet to support the RosettaNet e-commerce protocols. “That exposed the need to change our internal systems infrastructure,” Chapman recalls. The company still relied on direct connections to and from its clients, with individual APIs for each. To do RosettaNet right, that needed to change.
The solution was to separate the customer interactions from internal systems, so customers could choose their preferred way of connecting using an extranet portal without affecting the operations of Avnet’s internal systems. “We could now create a custom layer to adapt to our customer needs: b-to-b your way, not b-to-b our way,” Chapman says. Those choices ranged from direct links to customer ERP systems to Web pages that enabled customers to enter orders manually.
As it had done with its internal systems, Avnet deployed wrappers around key legacy applications and created new services for missing functions, all accessed through generic APIs at the portal. In some cases, that meant providing adapters for the client to use; in others, it meant transforming data to whatever format the customer preferred, from IDoc to EDI to RosettaNet.
The M&A challenge
Not long after the RosettaNet effort, Avnet faced a new integration challenge: The company purchased IBM distributor the Savoir Technology Group in summer 2000. Along with the business came new applications that Avnet wanted to make available to both HP and its storage product clients.
Avnet, however, first simply had to make the Savoir front end work with the Avnet back end. “We took all their front-end apps and had them running on our system in three months,” Chapman notes. The company performed this trick by creating new services to translate Savoir’s data and basic functions into Avnet’s common model.
With back-end support in place, Avnet could extend its Savoir front end to all its customers. It did so by refactoring Savoir’s 31 applications — including order status, returns management, invoice management, customer security management, lead management, credit reporting, and invoicing — as services that would run alongside legacy Avnet systems, rather than forcing all systems to rely on a single Savoir platform.
Today, information arrives in various forms from various clients, passing into a set of services that translates it according to the operational data layer’s standards while flagging anomalies along the way. Those services then move the data to Avnet’s various ERP and transaction systems in the formats required, as well as ensure process consistency no matter what applications a particular Avnet division happens to use.