In the spring of 2001, Konica Business Technologies had a major integration headache. The company, which makes printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines, was searching for a way to Web-enable its legacy CICS-based service and dispatch system. The application, known as SIMS (Service Information Management System), links Konica's 600 field service technicians and service managers scattered across 50 branch offices nationwide.
"SIMS is our largest and most critical application," says Brian Spears, director of information technology at Konica. "It's a homegrown CICS application that has been around for about 12 years. It does everything we want, and we have yet to find a replacement solution that would work better. We have no plans to phase it out."
But Konica needed a way to tie the system to newer e-business applications and upgrade the way field service reps remotely accessed it. At the time, accessing the system was a cumbersome process that involved two-way pagers equipped with a WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) interface to connect to Edify Corp.'s Electronic Workforce, a WAP-enabled CRM application that was already integrated with the SIMS mainframe. Through this roundabout method, reps were able to handle common field service tasks, such as ordering parts, logging hours and closing calls.
"A lot of time was spent passing data back and forth, but the typical pager or WAP interface was less than ideal for this," says Spears. For example, to enter orders for multiple parts, employees had to submit separate transactions for each part required. And if they made errors while entering data using the pagers--a commonplace occurrence when using pagers as input devices--they had to re-enter the data.
This awkward method of remote access to SIMS became the focus of an effort to streamline Konica's critical business processes. Owing to the digital nature of the company's product lines, and because many of them are network-connected devices, the field service technicians carried laptop PCs to perform diagnostics. The logical choice, then, was to provide enhanced access to SIMS by linking it to Konica's extranet, called KoniNet, through which Konica's employees and customers access the company's Oracle and mainframe databases.
KoniNet offered the advantage of having built-in security features, such as access rights and user profiles, and could provide a single sign-on to multiple applications so employees wouldn't have to access each application or database separately. Linking SIMS to KoniNet, in other words, would be a better solution than either simply Web-enabling SIMS--which left the problems of security and separate sign-on--or having the reps access the Edify system via their laptops, which would again require a separate sign-on. (Edify itself, while supporting a browser-based interface, required its own, separate Web server and used screen-scraping technology to produce the interface. It couldn't therefore be easily connected to KoniNet as part of the new integration solution.)