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There's Power in a Common Customer View
Taking advantage of open source software

Last summer, a group of technical experts from various open source companies came together under the banner of the Open Solutions Alliance, rolled out an enterprise-class application, and demonstrated the power of collaboration.

The launch of the Common Customer View project – an interoperability project that integrates data from diverse front-office, back-office and planning applications to present a complete view of customer activity and interactions – took place at last year’s LinuxWorld Conference & Expo. Demos rolled by hour after hour and we gave the audience a glimpse of how open source and open standards were able to, in a very short time frame, allow interoperability between mission-critical business applications that would ordinarily only be installed as stand alone.

Building the CCV was no easy task. We had two months to stand up all the software and hardware, integrate it, and build a 15-minute story around the demo we planned to deliver. No small feat when you consider we were working with seven vendors on three different continents in four different time zones. Yet the demo worked without a hitch.

Since that initial push, we’ve continued to work on the CCV, significantly enhancing its functionality. We’ve added a common enterprise portal and exposed certain application APIs as web services and integrated other applications through exposed portlets, thereby taking the first steps in creating a SOA environment. In addition, the portal displays contact information, order status, and customer history for the customer.

Used in “Customer Service” mode, a single sign-on to the CCV exposes multiple tabs to allow seamless access to the CRM, ERP, Production Management, and BI applications. Any changes made in the ERP, CRM, or Production Management systems are reflected in real time in the other systems and displayed in the portal for the customer, customer service representative, or business unit leader analyzing the current state of the business.

All of this functionality has elevated the CCV to the level of an enterprise-class interoperability tool, one with flexibility and multiple options for integration.

Unisys is planning to host future versions of the CCV in our Executive Client Briefing Centers. Their potential customers will get to see the power of integrating open source and Unisys’ ability to integrate mission-critical business applications. We will enhance the demos to more explicitly show the SOA environment though ESB functionality for example, as well as manageability and support of the business suite environment with open source tools.

While we haven’t yet done any benchmarking or testing of how the CCV will scale, the individual business applications are very scalable and have gone through significant benchmarking both at Unisys and in the marketplace. Since what we are providing is the glue it would stand to reason that the overall CCV would scale as well.

Because the CCV is based on open products, the customer experience is much different than it would be with any proprietary alternative. It provides the customer with the ability to replace individual products of the suite, when different functionality is required, with little capital expenditure – if the CCV was based on proprietary software, the cost of the initial license fees would be prohibitive.

While the CCV acts like an enterprise tool, it’s important not to think of it as a layer over other software applications, but rather the integration of various applications. Any required changes to the software for the CCV, such as support for single sign-on, have been put back into the main code stream of the respective vendors’ products. Also, since the individual applications are integrated in a SOA environment, changes in one application will not necessitate changes to the other components of the CCV, with the possible exception of the interface to the data integration capability. This is mainly because the CCV does not interfere with the products themselves, but only provides the seamless connectivity between the applications to give a single view.

The beauty of using open technologies is that they are based on standards. All data integration has been done through interfaces that are exposed by the vendors. The safeguards are the same guards that are already built into the products, respectively.

The CCV is a valuable marketing tool for customers wanting to take advantage of open source software. It shows off the power of open source, the ease of integration, and the unique advantage that open source offers in terms of cost and flexibility.

About Michael Anderson
Michael Anderson is the Chief Open Source Architect at Unisys.

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