Berger Transfer & Storage is a full service moving and relocation company and the largest agent in the Allied Van Lines system. Berger services include:
Berger is an agent of Allied Van Lines and does business with Allied in the service areas marked with an asterisk, above. Berger’s relationship with Allied is based on two primary factors: sales/marketing (Berger can sell into Allied’s network and Allied sells Berger’s services) and regulatory (Allied has nationwide regulatory authority while Berger can operate independently in 14 states).
The relationship between Berger and Allied is complex from an operational standpoint and vital from a business standpoint. They do not use a common database or order management system. Further, new orders and updates to existing orders can be made on either side with only limited coordination. At the time Berger contacted Alto, the coordination of new orders and updates was accomplished by constant re-keying of data into two computer systems. Further, Berger operators did all of the data entry for both sides using terminal emulation software. Re-keying was inefficient, inaccurate and a source of frustration.
Approximately five years ago, Allied’s parent company Sirva created a data interchange system called s Hub. The purpose of s-Hub is to create new orders and update existing order information electronically using Internet communication protocols and XML documents. Berger internal development team made an attempt to integrate their line of business software with the s-Hub system, but the tools created were never accepted by Berger’s operators and were abandoned. The primary problem was that errors returned by the s-Hub system are cryptic at best.
When Berger began development of a new line of business system to replace their aging mini-computer based system, they asked Alto to design and develop a companion system to fully integrate with s-Hub.
Berger envisioned a collection of software and database components that integrate the two company’s systems such that new order requests and changes to existing orders can be made on either side of the Berger and Allied relationship with minimal operator intervention, while at the same time protecting the integrity of Berger’s data. To realize that vision, Alto designed and implemented the following database and software components.
An internal data correction web application that allows an operator (a Berger coordinator or supervisor) to view and correct data to be sent to Allied and helps the operator rectify problems.
An internal update approval web application that allows an operator to selectively approve changes from Allied before being applied to the Berger database.
An operator alert workstation component that lets coordinators and their supervisors know about interchanges that need attention.
An internal administrator web application that allows administrators to monitor, control and troubleshoot the document interchange process.
A database containing tables, views, stored procedures and functions that helps with BTS application integration, XML document creation and the tracking of the entire life cycle of document interchanges.
A server-based interchange service component that conducts document interchanges based on operator, supervisor and administrator inputs (as recorded as status changes in the database); as well as correlating documents arriving from Allied.
A batch process intended to run on a periodic basis, which mechanically downloads and applies updates from Allied as well as push updates to Allied. Updates from Allied requiring operator approval are routed through the manual approval process.
To meet the problem of s-Hub severe error handling shortcomings, Alto also developed an xml-based validation engine that could be easily extended as operators became more familiar with the undocumented requirements of the s-Hub data exchange. The validation engine adds additional, user-friendly error messages to data problems before documents get sent to s-Hub, making it far more likely that the documents will be accepted by Allied’s system.
The integration components developed by Alto have dramatically reduced the amount of data re-keying and subsequent errors in Berger’s new order management system. These components have also proven to be easily customizable as Berger’s experience with the s-Hub system grows.
VB.NET (2005 version)
XML, XSLT, and XPath
SQL Server 2005