Sunday, December 7

Redchester is the new capital of Switzerland

I may get 'berned at the steak' by Swiss federalists for spouting hearsay but I've just heard some stories that I must share.

Those clever Swiss folks learned long ago that being 'neutral' can have considerable political and economic benefits. Why choose sides when you can carve out a profitable niche in the middle? This lesson can be equally well learned and applied to making I.T decisions. 

I often find organisations defining themselves as an AS/400 or a .NET shop as though these are mutually exclusive identities. It's true that Rochester and Redmond are at almost opposite sides of the country, but their technology stacks can come together to form a happy place that I have christened Redchester.

Redchester is a place where teamwork produces better results than solo endeavor. In plain english, it's where the power of IBM's midrange systems meets the personal productivity benefits of Microsoft's product suite. In Redchester data flows freely but securely between systems so that each citizen always has the information they need where and when they need it. 

The best news of all is that Redchester is not a fictional place, although, I confess, it is not the new capital of Switzerland. During the past week I came across a couple of real-life customer stories that brought the benefits of unifying the IBM and Microsoft stacks into sharp focus for me.

A vehicle manufacturer runs their ERP system on an IBM i server but uses Microsoft .NET technology for shop floor automation. They need to exchange data and call programs in real-time as vehicles move down the assembly line. A unique VIN number must be generated and stamped on the vehicle and then all corresponding vehicle data must be uploaded and stored against that unique reference. Any system failure could halt the production line and the data captured must be 100% accurate or else servicing the vehicle throughout its life could be fraught with problems. We not only addressed this integration issue with an 'industrial strength' solution, but we did it in such a way that the two tribes of IBM and Microsoft experts did not have to encroach on each others turf. Everyone is happily worshipping at their chosen altar, safe in the knowledge that our middleware keeps the assembly line running.

Another great example of IBM and Microsoft technology working together in perfect harmony is an e-commerce solution for one of our other manufacturing clients. They had outsourced the development of their B2B web site to external consultants specialising in e-commerce solutions. Their on-line product catalogue - containing images, PDF documents, how-to videos - was built on an ASP.NET web server with data stored in SQL Server. The site is very functional and gives customers and dealers on-line access to an array of rich media. But their ERP system runs on an IBM iSeries server and all master customer, product and dealer records are stored in DB2/400. By providing real-time integration between these incompatible systems we have been able to enable the straight-through processing of sales orders (no re-keying of data) and also ensure that all price and inventory information on the web site is bang up-to-date.

Redchester is well worth a visit and if you need travel advice then just hollah. I know the guys who can take you there.

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