BizTalk Server update tags RFID support

Service oriented architecture is extending to the supply chain as Microsoft’s latest version of its BizTalk Server 2006 now offers support for radio frequency identification and electronic data interchange capabilities.

BizTalk Server 2006 R2 has been updated to provide native support for EDI Applicability Statement 2 (AS2), a standard for transmitting EDI over the Internet, without the need for additional software agent, according to Chris Brakel, product manager for e-business with Microsoft Canada.

Microsoft hopes the latest BizTalk Server’s support for AS2 “out-of-the-box” will open up opportunities for the mid-market by providing capabilities for application integration, especially in collaborating with trading partners, Brakel said.

BizTalk Server 2006 is essentially an integration tool that enables enterprise users to get a single view of data from disparate and disintegrated systems and applications. Microsoft has been promoting BizTalk as a jumping board for organizations embarking on the path towards SOA.

“We have supported EDI in the past, but the need for supporting AS2 has been communicated by our customers” Brakel told reporters Tuesday during the launch event for BizTalk Server 2006 R2, held at Hewlett Packard’s Mississauga, Ont. facility.

HP Canada has been using BizTalk Server in its RFID labs which, according to its chief technology officer, Victor Garcia, enabled HP to integrate RFID data with backend systems regardless of the underlying platform.

As the IT industry’s largest user of RFID technology, HP has been actively developing various applications for RFID, including retail and supply chain usage, and needs to be able to test and integrate with multiple backend systems, said Garcia, adding that BizTalk Server facilitates that integration.

“When automating processes, you can’t force (customers) to change their backend systems,” said Garcia, pointing out that in many instances backend applications aren’t meant to interface with RFID.

Using BizTalk Server, the HP lab can test an RFID application and enable it to interact with other enterprise applications, said Garcia. “The name of the game is, don’t touch the backend.”

Microsoft’s Brakel said BizTalk 2006 R2 will take business application integration “to the edge”, enhancing business-to-business collaboration.

Ninety per cent of Fortune 100 organizations and about 7,000 customers worldwide are using BizTalk Server today, according to Brakel.

Calgary-based gas and pipeline company TransCanada has implemented the beta of BizTalk’s R2 version in line with the company’s initiative to replace an aging customer relationship management system in Portland, Oregon.

Playing in a highly regulated pipeline industry, TransCanada needed to provide its customers the infrastructure to enable business to business transactions using EDI, said Jim Clark, program manager for the firm’s information systems project management office.

“EDI is about 30 years old; it’s a little passé but the regulator mandates that we need to support that technology,” Clark said.

Customers would contract with TransCanada to occupy space on its gas pipeline. The Canadian company then provides the system infrastructure to facilitate transactions among and between customers and shippers and would typically involve between one and two hours of data entry for pipeline nominations.

BizTalk Server R2 is expected to cut down that data entry time to just under five minutes, Clark said. “With native EDI support BizTalk 2006 R2 provides us with a powerful and reliable and easy way to create this EDI service.”

BizTalk 2006 R2 is currently only deployed at TransCanada’s Portland, Oregon subsidiary, but Clark said his company is looking at expanding the tool to other parts of the business.

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