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Collaboration and Web Services Orchestration

Collaboration and Web Services Orchestration

Collaborative commerce (c-commerce) is the name given to commercial relationships carried out over a collaborative framework to integrate enterprises' business processes, share customer relationships, and manage knowledge across enterprise boundaries. The ultimate aim of initiatives is to maximize return on intellectual capital investment, business agility, and the quality of the customer experience. C-commerce is far more crucial than basic B2B e-commerce, which is designed to construct a virtual link for a pre-defined community of trading partners to buy or sell goods and services. Even after the fall of the dot-com era, corporate strategists and venture capitalists are embracing c-commerce as the next generation of e-commerce and an evolution of the traditional supply chain process.

In Web services, c-commerce may have found an innovative way to redefine its business model. With this technology, c-commerce is given a solid platform to enable effortless and seamless integrations. Web services is going to reinvent c-commerce to offer new products, services, and multi-dimensional collaboration, bringing global enterprises a step closer to realizing the promise of increased velocity in supply chains and efficient interenterprise processes.

Lacking an open, reliable platform, traditional c-commerce vendors couldn't develop flexible, sharable, drag-and-drop modules among their products. Consequently, traditional c-commerce is a transaction-focused, one-dimensional application. The majority of applications reside in the direct or indirect procurement area. So far, the key factor behind most current exchanges is price. There is no opportunity to negotiate enhancements to products in order to have them match unique customer needs and requirements.

Web services-enabled c-commerce will, potentially, fully integrate the trading partner's intellectual library and the customer's demanding knowledge base to solve the above issues without human interaction. Web services orchestration is the infrastructure that assembles loosely coupled components and coordinates the multiple asynchronous conversations over coarse-grained communication protocols. C-commerce needs orchestration to deliver its value.

The first step of c-commerce is procurement. Our observation of this trend is based on the real practice of high-tech manufacturing, airlines, and the telecom industry.

Figure 1 details the purchase order flow process. The procurement diagram captures the interactive process between buyers and suppliers. The PO process statuses include PO create, PO change, PO cancellation,and PO fulfillment. The process is constrained as linear and synchronized by existing technology infrastructure.


Procurement Process Infrastructure
Most organizations use technology that is labor intensive and expensive. Typical mishaps include:

  • Nonstandard one-to-one point integration
  • A thick glue among suppliers and buyers
  • No separation between strategic "business critical" purchases and tactical "business support" purchases
  • Long latency between policy creation and process enforcement
  • Developers having to hard-code all business exceptions
  • Difficulty in scaling performance and functionality
  • Lost opportunities for both customers and vendors
Web services orchestration takes these challenges to help businesses achieve their ultimate goals:
  • Standards-based, multipoint, any-to-any integration
  • Up-to-date supplier performance metrics
  • Decision support that provides "business critical" information
  • Asynchronous business process
  • Elimination of errors and reconciliation costs
  • Enforcement of policy deployment
  • Ease of scaling and adapting functionality to new requirements
Benefits of Web Services Orchestration
Open Standards

Web services orchestration leverages your existing investments and skills in Java and J2EE. It's the platform that marshals conversation into SOAP, XML, and JMS messages so that the other side of the communication is independent of your implementation. The future procurement system will be presented as a Web service that can be integrated into any trading communities and partners.

State and Context Management
Purchase requests normally involve extensive negotiations, credit valuations, and a marketplace buying-power collaborative process. This entails an asynchronous conversation among communities. Web services orchestration will correlate these negotiations and provide trading partners with a set of actions.

Loosely Coupled Services
A marketplace can easily handle millions of dollars in transactions. Web services orchestration simplifies business acquisitions and business spin-offs for technology departments. A loosely coupled services architecture provides the flexibility for business modules to be plugged or unplugged without disrupting the normal operation of transacting business.

Parallel Processing
When a large purchase order is received, the marketplace will be intelligent enough to split these purchase items into different suppliers, depending on pricing, delivery location requirements, and contract obligations. Web services orchestration provides a parallel-processing platform that optimizes the execution of the overall transaction.

Exception Management
Web services orchestration can handle business exceptions, such as an unacknowledged purchase order - for example, a PO that has not been confirmed, rejected, or fulfilled after four days. Other examples may include a PO delivery date that is earlier than the PO receiving date or purchase items that have been ordered but are no longer available.

Event and Notifications
Web services orchestration can provide business notification if one of the suppliers has merged with another supplier. It can also provide notification if one supplier has outsourced their product to a third party and the customer has to change the PO headers. Event notifications are particularly useful while conducting long-lived asynchronous conversations with external service providers, where prompt handling of logic in response to received events is essential to the execution of the business transaction.

Web services orchestration provides the flexibility to scale up the procurement system. The transaction volume of procurement can pick up based on marketing promotions, distributor incentives, and seasonal fluctuation to provide for adequate quality of service. In addition, the procurement system can scale up in functionality while keeping complexity growth at bay.

Business Transactions
Web services orchestration provides a compensation mechanism to undo certain steps in the transaction due to failures of interdependent activities.

Distributed Administration
Web services orchestration can provide a platform to handle multiple phases of purchase-order change. It's very common that purchase orders need to be changed partially or fully. An asynchronous platform that allows this flexibility so suppliers can consolidate the purchase order state is in great demand in the business process. Web services orchestration allows monitoring of purchase order status by all parties, such as suppliers, buyers, and distributors.

Business Visibility
Web services orchestration provides up-to-date supplier performance metrics, strategic outsourcing benchmarks, real-time customer satisfaction on the purchase order fulfillment rate, and elimination of errors and reconciliation costs.

Version Control
Web services orchestration can provide correlated version control on catalogs, contracts, and pricing promotions associated with the purchase order system. In addition, the system needs to allow for graceful upgrading of functionality and ensuring consistent behavior for users running the old version as well as those running the new version.

Audit Trailing
Web services orchestration can provide financial auditors with a complete history of the purchase order, including negotiation, request to purchase, and purchase order changes. It's also a digital backup for legal records of trades.

Web services orchestration is a core technology integration infrastructure for collaborative commerce. It gives c-commerce a chance to redefine every process of the business cycle: design, plan, source, execute, and fulfill. With Web services orchestration as an engine of integration, we can finally realize the value of c-commerce.

More Stories By John Fou

John Fou is co-founder of an application solution company focued on the telecom, financial
and supply chain area. Currently he is
authoring a book on "Web Services & Supply Chain" (Prentice Hall).

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Most Recent Comments
Jill Kay 07/17/02 05:41:00 PM EDT

I believe that the orchestration requirements described in this article are in fact implemented by Collaxa's Web Service Orchestration Server (WSOS) which was reviewed recently by InfoWorld. I've played with their system recently and am amazed by how intuitive and flexible it is. I would like to see it applied in more application areas.


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