IBM tailors integration for verticals

IBM tailors integration for verticals

IBM on Monday will build upon its business process integration strategy with a set of WebSphere-based middleware products aimed at vertical industries.

WebSphere Business Integration for Industries looks to tackle business process integration challenges specific to the automotive, retail, insurance, financial services, and telecommunications industries, according to Don O'Toole, director of business integration marketing for IBM Software.

Built on top of the WebSphere application server, the new product features pre-constructed business process templates dubbed "collaborations" that users can insert to invoke a particular business action, such as placing a parts order or processing an insurance claim. The collaborations -- IBM has created 34 of them just for the automotive industry -- can also be customised to suit a company's specific needs.

Meanwhile, the integration server IBM acquired from CrossWorlds Software last year acts as the hub in the architecture, orchestrating business processes automatically across systems by making use of "lightweight" adapters to link together far-flung packaged enterprise applications. The logic remains on this CrossWorlds "interchange" server to create a process flow across interconnected applications, according to O'Toole.

The adapters, also acquired as part of the CrossWorlds deal, support integration with applications from vendors including BroadVision, i2 Technologies, Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP AG, Siebel Systems, Trilogy, and Vantive.

"The collaboration model pre-engineers the processes, looks at the specific applications involved, and chooses the appropriate adapters to connect them, and implements accordingly," O'Toole said.

For example, O'Toole said, envision a life insurance company that employs agents in a portal-based Web environment, in call centres, and in branch offices, where each uses diverse applications. Through IBM's integration infrastructure, these applications can be integrated across departments to serve the objectives of a business process that is created and executed on the integration server, he said.

Such integration would allow "a customer to conduct a transaction that comes through all three environments, suggesting a particular workflow and requiring coordination of data at different stages in process", he said.

The template approach to building business processes is where IBM shines with this integration release, according to analysts.

"Targeted collaborations for a specific industry are where the rubber really meets road," said Pierre Fricke, executive vice president of product lifecycle management at D.H. Brown & Associates. "The templates lower the barriers and cost of getting started in solving business process automation problems. It puts some meat on the infrastructure bones."

Increasingly as the integration market heats up, vendors are scrambling to add value-based services on top of their infrastructure. Fricke said IBM's vertical offerings help it compete against other application server vendors such as BEA Systems and Sun Microsystems, as well as the traditional EAI (enterprise application integration) vendors such as Vitria Technology and SeeBeyond Technology.

"As far as I know, IBM is the first J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] vendor to build on this platform and carry it up to this level of verticals," Fricke said. Tibco Software, in the EAI space, features an integration package aimed at verticals, but it lacks the business process creation punch that comes with being part of an application server like WebSphere, he said.

Meanwhile, in the business-to-business realm, IBM on Monday is also unveiling integration software to help companies tie their systems to those of their business partners. WebSphere Business Connection relies on industry standards and Web services protocols to enable integration that will support such things as collaborative design, supply chain automation, and e-procurement, company officials said.

Both WebSphere Business Integration for Industries and WebSphere Business Connection will be available in the third quarter of 2002. Pricing information was not provided.

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