Integration in the Cloud

Mohawk Fine Papers saves millions by using the cloud as a central integration point for all its B2B transactions.

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"With Liaison, all types of data integration flow through the same service-oriented infrastructure, all [data] payloads are defined as services, all interactions are managed via Web services, and all integrations use a publish-or-subscribe model" in which services are either provided or consumed, Stamas explains. "They have the tools and platforms, the enterprise service bus, messaging bus and service registry -- all of the components of a service-oriented infrastructure. It's a foundation on which we build our own unique integrations."

The Rise of the Cloud Broker

Liaison is on the leading edge of an industrywide trend in which traditional providers of managed B2B services are becoming what Gartner analyst Benoit Lheureux calls a cloud services brokers, or CSBs. In addition to offering data integration and customization services, CSBs provide an aggregation point for all types of business partner interactions.

The differentiator for Liaison is that it has the in-house expertise necessary to perform integrations quickly, and it can draw upon thousands of integrations it has already built, Lheureux says. Competing vendors are starting to move in that direction as well.

Gartner estimates that by outsourcing to a CSB, small and midsize businesses can save 20% to 30% over what it would cost to do the integration work internally. But there's more to it than saving money, says Lheureux, explaining that such spending is now an operational expense rather than a capital expense.

This setup could work for large companies, too. "If you're good at B2B and have the economies of scale, it's not about savings. It's about what are your required internal core competencies?" he says.

Since the economic collapse in 2008, many IT organizations in large businesses have been asked to scale up their B2B efforts but lack the capital or head count to do it. "A lot of them don't even know that they have an option to outsource," Lheureux says.

Mohawk's SOA Model

B2B integration traditionally has used a messaging approach to synchronize data, but Mohawk uses a services-based model. Integration workloads are managed by two Web services: One at Mohawk and one at Liaison.

Because Mohawk's IT organization has been abstracted away from the technical aspects of creating and maintaining all the different types of connections, Stamas says his group can focus on working with the business to develop new business models and connections with new business partners.

Tony Hunter's job is to pursue those business models. As Mohawk's IT manager and business process architect, he helps to identify opportunities for the business and presents Liaison with the specifications. Right now, for example, he's working on connecting Mohawk's e-commerce website to a cloud-based service that provides real-time information on freight costs. Mohawk currently offers UPS and FedEx options on its website, but those aren't the best-priced services for some customers. For instance, "less than truckload" (LTL) freight tends to be less expensive than UPS or FedEx for orders over 150 lbs.

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