Whirlpool is whirling into Web services with the help of SAP.
“We’ve decided to go down the service-oriented architecture path” because of the greater flexibility the technology provides in creating and managing IT systems through reusable software and services, said Thomas Ehrman, director of information systems for global enabled services at Whirlpool, in an interview on the sidelines of the Sapphire customer event in Orlando last week.
SAP has developed its own flavor of service-oriented architecture (SOA), called Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA). Enabled by the NetWeaver integration middleware, the platform lets companies reuse application functions and build new applications on top of existing ones without, as in the past, having to replace them.
Whirlpool is testing ESA in two areas: a customer portal and a phone support system.
Salespeople at Whirlpool had been requesting a redesign of the company’s Partner Store website to make it more “glitzy,” according to Ehrman. But a redesign was “tough” because traditional Web design technology wouldn’t allow the user interface to be separated from the crucial underlying “business logic, which is essential for checking product availability,” he said. “In the SOA world, you can separate the two.”
With the user interface work now turned over to a third-party software developer, Ehrman and his team are able to build new webpages much faster—within two to three days—and for various systems, including Research in Motion’s BlackBerry e-mail devices.
The ESA-based phone support system is more complex. Whirlpool is using the Web services platform to enable components from three different partners to interact with each other: the phone systems of telecommunications equipment manufacturer Avaya, SAP’s event manager technology for tracking products and Whirlpool’s production systems.
“Say one of our warehouses is waiting for a delivery, but the delivery doesn’t arrive,” Ehrman said. “The event manager, tracking the truck, reports the delay to the Avaya system, which in turn automatically generates a call to the warehouse clerk waiting for the delivery. Or take a quality problem with one of our suppliers: The problem is detected, and a conference call is automatically organized with the responsible managers. This isn’t about building separate applications, but about allowing services to interact.”
Whirlpool is also exploring how it can use the ESA platform to allow its services to run over multiple mobile device platforms, such as the BlackBerry or Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, without having to make any changes, according to Ehrman.
-John Blau, IDG News Service
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