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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"We are losing order opportunities because of [not offering] a freight cost," says Steve Giangiordano, Mohawk's manager of accounting services. So Hunter created a specification for a Web service that pulls LTL freight charges from Mercurygate's cloud-based freight brokerage service and presents the data in the customer's order on Mohawk's website. "They hit a function key and they know right away what the LTL rate is. It's amazing," Hunter says. "Once we have that in place, the problem will go away."

Mercurygate is a CSB like Liaison, but it provides freight data in the cloud, and on demand, rather than integration services.

Using a CSB has also improved security, Stamas says, because everything flows through a single point by way of a VPN connection. "Inside the cloud, they have all of the data security precautions you'd expect from a PCI standards-compliant data center," he says, adding that Liaison supports the AS2 communications standard, as required by Mohawk's bank. "Going through a single point gives you an extraordinary benefit in securing transactions. The alternative is anarchy -- people doing this through Web browsers, coming in through Port 80 and poking holes in your firewalls."

The benefits of hosting a service-oriented architecture in the cloud don't come without risks, and Stamas does have two concerns. One is vendor lock-in. "If Liaison drops out of site or becomes too big, what happens to our intellectual property and the integrations we count on? It's a real concern," he says.

Another is whether the cloud service provider can keep up service levels as Mohawk's transaction volumes and customer base grow. While Mohawk has service-level agreements, he says, "the technical details of their underlying infrastructure are hidden from me."

Can Liaison scale effectively? "If we're twice as big in a year, can they handle the volume? I don't know," he admits.

Liaison CTO Bruce Chen says his company has 50% more capacity on hand than its customers need and has a distributed, service-based architecture that scales rapidly. But Gartner's Lheureux says the technology that keeps data flowing is just one part of the business. Growing the professional services and managed services that make up the bulk of the company's revenue means scaling up people, methodology and expertise. "The cost is not in the mapping tools or processors in the cloud. It's in the people," Lheureux says.

As a hedge, Mohawk retains a copy of all of its translations and mappings. The information is managed using Liaison's Contivo technology, a tool designed for high-end mapping and best practices.

The intellectual property that Mohawk receives from Liaison is better than what it might receive from other service providers because Contivo makes it easy to redeploy or repurpose data maps in different technology infrastructures, Lheureux says. Nonetheless, porting to a new platform would be painful. "You can't just pick it up and drop it on another platform," he says.

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