Blue Star goes with BizTalk beta

Blue Star Office Group will use Microsoft BizTalk Server to do business with customers Telecom and WestpacTrust and to trade on the electronic marketplace SupplyNet.

Office products supplier Blue Star Office Group will use Microsoft BizTalk Server to do business with customers Telecom and WestpacTrust and to trade on the electronic marketplace SupplyNet.

Blue Star goes live this week with a beta version of Microsoft BizTalk Server which is designed to translate business documents into XML (extensible markup language) messages and route them between applications and corporate networks.

BizTalk Server, which ships in February, adheres to the BizTalk framework, a set of guidelines for creating and exchanging XML documents. The framework is an industry initiative headed by Microsoft to promote XML as the common data exchange language for e-commerce.

While not a standards body per se, the group is fostering a common XML message-passing architecture to tie systems together. Microsoft has also submitted BizTalk framework to the standards setting W3C (world wide web) consortium. Critics are watching closely as Microsoft attempts this integration of Microsoft and non-Microsoft platforms, an approach the software giant has shunned in the past.

Blue Star Group e-commerce manager Greg Stone understands such reservations and says he wanted to be sure that using BTS wasn’t going to paint the company into a corner.

“Sure things like [Microsoft] DCOM, as opposed to Java Beans and CORBA, are proprietary but BizTalk Server came out of XML which is open standards,” he says.

Blue Star will use BTS to trade with CommerceOne site SupplyNet, Ariba site Telecom, and Metiom site WestpacTrust.

Stone says BTS can translate documents or files and map them across to Blue Star’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) system using the BTS XML schema.

“Customers have different file formats but we can’t afford to spend large amounts of money creating separate hand-coded systems for every customer. Now we have a gateway. For some customers, especially EDI users, we had to say in the past that we can’t do it. For other customers we’ve emailed flat files or used FTP but monitoring all that has been very expensive.”

Another feature that appeals to Stone is BTS’s long-running transaction capability. It uses Visio Flowcharter software, which Microsoft acquired, to let analysts or non-technical people draw and map business flow and generates low-level code to support it. It can then build business rules based on the business flow.

“It can really start to monitor business processes. In that one feature alone it has the ability to take significant cost out of our business,” says Stone.

BizTalk Server is also a relatively inexpensive solution, according to Stone, who says the implementation is costing well under $100,000, “which for a company our size is very low.”

He expects to get 50% of business going through B2B e-commerce.

“No e-procurement system provides for returns and non-stocks - items you don’t hold in stock and you don’t have a code for -- for example, purple Bic pens -- and yet they account for 12% of our business turnover. We believe at best you’ll get 80% and that comes with some large caveats.”

Systems integrator ECOMNZ has been implementing the system for Blue Star over the past three weeks.

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