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Mohawk Fine Papers builds integration-in-the-cloud

Robert L. Mitchell | Nov. 30, 2011
Just two weeks after Mohawk Fine Papers made the decision to sell its products on, integration work was complete, connections to its ERP system lit up and sales started rolling in. "Amazon generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue immediately," says Paul Stamas, vice president of IT at the $83 million, 725-employee manufacturer of premium papers.

The differentiator for Liaison is it has in-house expertise to perform integrations quickly, and can draw upon thousands of integrations it has already built, saving time and money, Lheureux says, although competing vendors are starting to move in this direction as well.

Gartner estimates that by outsourcing to a CSB, small- and medium-sized businesses can save 20% to 30% over what it would cost to do the integration work internally. "But it's more about changing the spend" from capital expense to operational expense, Lheureux says.

There's a fit here for large companies as well. "If you're good at B2B and have the economies of scale, it's not about savings. It's about what are your required internal core competencies?" he says.

Since the economic collapse in 2008 many IT organizations in large businesses have been asked to scale up their B2B efforts but lack the capital or head count to do it. "A lot of them don't even know that they have an option to outsource," Lheureux says.

Time to deployment is still another consideration. "It can be hard to scale up and implement new technology fast enough," he says. CSBs have that agility.

Bruce Chen, Liaison's chief technology officer, says that while the model works well for medium-sized companies with limited IT budgets and no enterprise service bus (ESB) of their own, most of Liaison's revenue comes from integration and cloud services it provides to large companies. "The model is attractive to large companies, which are under tremendous cost pressure," he says.

Here's why: Organizations that have an enterprise service bus can still use Liaison's service as a gateway to the cloud. A CSB such as Liaison, which resides in the cloud itself, can scale up and implement new technologies faster than can most internal IT groups using an ESB, the company claims. (An ESB integrates applications by coordinating message-based interactions between applications in a service oriented architecture.)

Eventually, Chen thinks larger companies that have internal operations in place to support an ESB will move some existing ESB functions to the cloud as well. "They would rather attend to customer needs than run a middleware operation."

Mohawk's SOA model

B2B integration traditionally has used a messaging approach to synchronize data, but Mohawk uses a services-based model. Integration workloads are managed by two Web services: One at Mohawk and one at Liaison.

Because Mohawk's IT organization has been abstracted away from the technical aspects of creating and maintaining all the different types of connections, Stamas says his group can focus on working with the business to develop partnerships, connections with business partners and new business models.

Tony Hunter's job is to pursue those business models. As IT manager and business process architect, he helps to identify opportunities for the business and presents Liaison with the specifications. Right now, for example, he is working on connecting Mohawk's e-commerce Web site to a cloud-based service that provides real-time information on freight costs. Mohawk currently offers UPS and FedEx options on its Web site, but those are not the best-priced services for some customers. For instance, "less than truckload" (LTL) freight tends to be less expensive for orders over 150 lbs.


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