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Most of us think of Web applications as end-user-oriented systems, bridging the gap between a data user and data. Indeed, many of the currencies of Web application development are oriented toward this goal.

The Supply Chain as Seen Through a Web Interface
One important evolutionary phase in a new paradigm shift is its use across companies in a way that allows cross-company usage of data and workflow. The Web application and Java paradigm shift is no exception.

In the example in Figure 1, information flows from suppliers (independent of each other) to a manufacturer and vice versa. The same holds true between the manufacturer and the customer.

Figure 1
Figure 1:

In the real world, of course, a manufacturer will have multiple customers and multiple suppliers so this picture can get very crowded. The supply chain can also become much more challenging to manage and very deep as suppliers have subsuppliers and submanufacturers. Thus the supplier is itself a customer in another chain!

Now what if we put a Java application server at each of the supply chain nodes and attached it to the information and workflow sources? What if these application servers provided supply chain information across secure and regular Web connections? Many interesting possibilities can emerge.

The Java and open platform technology behind such a scheme is relatively involved. Beyond having a Java application server at each distinct supply chain node, the server needs to deal with the necessary firewalls separating it from the next node in the chain. Remember, these companies are not affiliated or part of a conglomerate. They are simply doing business with each other, and security is very important.

Two distinct forms of interface are needed for transferring data between nodes in the supply chain - a human interface and a computer interface. The human interface is best represented via HTML or a Java client, while the computer interface is best represented via XML.

One efficient way of achieving such a view is to transfer all necessary data via XML to a central "host" and bounce back that information as needed in either XML or viewable form.

In this scheme, each of the suppliers, the manufacturer or the customer can get important supply chain information back from the so-called "supply chain data services host" (see Figure 2). The customer can get data on the backlog of the manufacturer on a particular product, the part availability for part of a product being manufactured, and so on.

Figure 2
Figure 2:

Java and Java Open Appservers in combination with HTML, SSL and XML combine to make this possible across the Web as well as across private networks.

About The Author
Java George is George Kassabgi, director of developer relations for Progress Software's Apptivity Product Unit. You can e-mail him at [email protected]


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