Foster's heads for an upgrade: Aim is to trim solutions and vendor numbers

Foster's may not be thinking about becoming a dotcom, but it has placed a heavy emphasis on e-business while streamlining infrastructure.

The company, dealing with legacy systems and integration issues, a common problem within the manufacturing sector, is currently implementing a single solution and Web-based applications.

Anthony Boyle, enterprise applications architect for Foster's Brewing Group, said: "We had a mixture of packaged and custom-built integrations and a mixture of legacy systems so we had to upgrade. Our goal is to get down to very few solutions and vendors.

"We are still integrating back into our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system; this is a big challenge. To even attempt this sort of thing you need to have your internal structures in place."

Foster's has three main suppliers and 18,000 customers and is usually very busy on Monday mornings, "due to the fact that Australians drink a lot of beer on the weekend", and have systems in place which specifically deal with the busy Monday traffic.

Boyle said that while only 50 per cent of its customers had a computer, all its suppliers were quite technically advanced.

The company installed an Oracle mainframe system five years ago, but was unhappy that it still had to build integration between systems that cost "quite a lot".

When Boyle came on board, he decided the major issues of internal integration, external systems and integration into the ERP system had to be tackled. "It was difficult to integrate new business acquisitions with our internal structure, and we tend to buy and sell a lot of companies."

It was at this stage that Viewlocity, which had been working with the brewer as a bit player since late 1998, became a major player.

"We wanted to introduce an integration layer and separate the integration from the applications. We deployed an enterprise applications integration tool, Viewlocity's AMTrix, as a middle layer and kept a lot of the integration that worked. Any integration that didn't work, and any new work, goes through AMTrix," Boyle said.

"We had application spaghetti; apps were all over the place and it was difficult to manage. We are now in the process of taking away the application interface so it goes through the integration layer; we will have this completed in a year."

With the internal integration set up, the company reviewed the supplier and customer systems, and ended up using the same architecture.

To deal with suppliers, Boyle said they looked at value added networks (VANs) and exchanges, but built their own solution using XML.

"Four to five months ago there were no exchanges so we decided to build our own solution and used XML. We simply added an external supplier setup to our current system setup. We installed two firewalls and in the middle we put AMTrix, the 'demilitarised zone', the place where nothing comes in and out without us knowing," he said.

"All the mapping functions were made internal and communications were put in the demilitarised zone. For the link between the mapping and communications there is a secure socket. The external AMTrix chooses whether we want the message and to send it through. The internal AMTrix decides where it will go. We are a little paranoid about security."

Boyle said ideally Foster's wants its suppliers' application to be able to talk directly to its own application. "We don't think this sort of communication is quite possible, maybe in a year."

Integration of the customer gateway was easier to manage, as not many customers use PCs, but "the cost of building this application was a real killer".

The team was set 16-week timeframes to build the external applications, with most of the time spent on design. Boyle said phase four of the Web site shopping basket application is in development now. "There is a lack of off-the-shelf software. There are no shopping basket apps. The ones available are fairly ordinary and then you have to spend lots to change them into what you want."

The application Foster's created has order entry and payment facilities and allows the upload of order files. This system, along with the supplier application, is located outside the firewalls.

Processes are in place for customers to pay their accounts online or via a telephony system. "We pick up the payment through the AMTrix and then deposit it into our bank. This internal process doesn't go through the firewall as we have a direct link to the bank."

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