How One Company Broke Down Silos and Improved Application Integration

Using service-oriented architecture and Tibco tools, Qualcomm supercharged its customer provisioning. In doing so, it also improved the software development team's agility and saved half a million dollars in the IT annual budget.

By Daniel Dern
Mon, September 15, 2008

CIO — Can changing an IT architectural philosophy deliver business benefits such as improving service quality, speeding up software development and making it more flexible, enabling new products and services, and reducing IT spending? For one wireless telecom company, which has been moving from a traditional "silo" IT architecture to a service-oriented architecture (SOA) over the past half-dozen years, the answer is a definitive yes.

Back in 2001, Qualcomm's IT architecture, like most enterprises', included multiple silos—information systems that couldn't easily communicate with each other. Connecting these systems required lots of point-to-point integration and a lot of technologies, recalls Norm Fjeldheim, CIO at Qualcomm. "And the communication was inefficiently done," he adds.

Qualcomm's businesses revolve around creating and providing digital communications products for wireless networks and devices, as well as network services based on CDMA and other technologies. Headquartered in San Diego, Qualcomm is a Fortune 500 company with more than 12,800 employees and FY07 revenues of nearly $9 billion.

Qualcomm's products and services include wireless chipset technology used in commercial 3G devices; integrated wireless systems and services for businesses; Firethorn Mobile Wallet integrated mobile-oriented applications for financial institutions, mobile network operators, merchants and retailers; and MediaFLO USA, which aggregates and delivers premium, TV-quality entertainment and information services to mobile devices over its dedicated nationwide wireless network.

The Limits of Legacy Silo IT

Like all large companies today—especially companies whose products and services are, or depend heavily, on digital networks—Qualcomm's ability to satisfy its customers, increase business volume, and develop and create new products and services is highly enabled—or constrained—by IT capabilities.

For example, says Steve Polaski, director of Enterprise Architecture for Qualcomm, "We had ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems that had the same data being extracted three times and being sent to three different systems: to a PLM (product lifecycle management) application, to a CRM (customer relationship management) system and also to trade export compliance applications."

Also, recalls Polaski, "We saw a lot of our IT budget being consumed [in] handling integration. Some of our core systems had dozens, even hundreds, of integration points. It was a challenge to keep track of them all and was a big expenditure and was slowing us down."

One particular bugaboo was the time it took—too long—to provision customers of Qualcomm's electronic products and services, such as remote wireless devices provided by a Qualcomm business. For a customer to add or change features, the device needs to be reprovisioned, which can be done remotely via the network. "The device might already be loaded with features, but the customer hadn't yet purchased them, so we could remotely turn them on and off," says Fjeldheim. However, it took too long for changes to take effect after the change commands were given. "Our goal was to reduce this time delay," says Polaski. The team wanted provisioning to happen as possible to real time, as opposed to waiting several hours.

In addition, says Polaski, the IT department wanted real-time data movement. For example, the same event and data that triggered the provisioning should also be sent to the billing and CRM systems, so customer service would know immediately what features are now enabled.

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