Success Story - Noritake

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A modern legacy

Working with a nine-month deadline, Haynes began compiling the applications that would ultimately compose Noritake's B2B site. Development went so well, however, that the site actually went live nearly six months ahead of the deadline. "It was amazing how quickly I could create these applications," Haynes says.

We've had calls from customers telling us that our competitors don't have anything like this. That puts us at a definite advantage.

Larry Haynes, senior programmer analyst, Noritake

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Legacy Applications - no matter which hardware or operating system they run on - often get a bad rap, simply because of their name, as if "legacy" meant old and outdated. In fact, that type of software can be more valuable than newer, fancier, off-the-shelf solutions. Legacy applications are tried-and-true solutions, and many have been used for a decade or more. Users continue to develop them year after year and build in logic that applies directly to how they run their businesses.

Larry Haynes says the modernized front end to Noritake's legacy software adds functionality.

That's why many companies choose to modernize their software rather than replace it, seeing their legacy applications as an inheritance of sorts, a valuable gift handed down from one generation of users to the next. And that's how Noritake Co. Inc. views its core RPG-based software: a road-worthy solution that fits its business model perfectly. Until recently, however, that solution had a green-screen interface and lacked some functionality the company had on a wish list. To address these and other issues, the company turned to Business Computer Design Int'l Inc. (BCD) and its many modernization solutions. Now, after having worked with BCD to enhance its core application, Noritake has a legacy application it's sure to pass on to further generations of users.

Price Matching Headquartered in Fair Lawn, N.J., Noritake is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Noritake Co. Limited of Japan. Although the company has an industrial division that creates and distributes grinding wheels and other abrasive tools for the automotive industry, it's best known for its fine tableware, glassware and crystal.

Those table settings - which include everyday and high-end china - are produced in overseas plants and distributed in North America by Noritake, with orders going out of its Savannah, Ga., distribution center. Customers include high-end, large department stores, smaller independent customers such as jewelry stores, and midrange chain stores.

The company uses an IBM System i* 525 at its Cincinnati IT center to run its mission-critical legacy application, which was developed by its Japan-based parent company many years ago. Larry Haynes, senior programmer analyst with Noritake, says, "I've been with the company for eight years, and the software was used for production long before then." The application and Cincinnati IT resources also support Noritake's industrial division.

Noritake's quest for a modernized application interface began when Naoki Inagaki, VP and general manager of its tabletop division, decided the company should let its independent customers handle some services by themselves. This would alleviate some of the pressures involved in the entire beginning-to-end order-placement process, which was becoming a burden to the independent customers and Noritake's customer service representatives (CSRs).

When placing orders in the past, for example, smaller customers would either work with an independent Noritake sales rep or initiate the orders themselves. In both cases, orders were written on preprinted forms and mailed or faxed to Noritake. (Larger customers did and continue to use EDI.) But this presented a host of issues.

"Periodically through the year, we have special promotional pricing," Haynes says. "But the forms didn't really accommodate those prices, so if someone combined a nonspecial order with a special order, a lot of research had to go into determining which price went with which item. Similarly, a sales rep might tell a customer he could get items at promotional prices that didn't match what our actual prices were."

This resulted in a great deal of manual research, with CSRs reviewing each order line by line to make sure the pricing on each item was correct. And as with any form filled out by hand, hard-to-read entries resulted in incorrect information being entered into the company's legacy application. "It was getting ugly, because our customers were becoming unhappy," Inagaki says.

Additional Functionality

That's when Inagaki stepped in and told the company's IT department that it had to find something to help reduce the amount of time spent on each order and address pricing and data-entry errors. This new solution - however it was built - would allow independent sales representatives and customers to place orders and perform other self-service functions online.

"At that time, we brought in a consultant to talk about setting up a self-service Web site that ran on PC servers. But then we ran into cost issues, including having to purchase additional hardware and having them do all of the programming for us. The total cost for that solution was prohibitive," Haynes says. "And then there was the issue of getting the data from those servers into our System i server and vice versa, as well as the maintenance issues involved in this type of solution. We have a small IT department - there are only three of us - and we can't afford to be putting out fires all the time."

Around the same time, Haynes happened to run across an announcement for a webinar, hosted by BCD, that would explain how to Web-enable legacy applications. Haynes was amazed with the demonstration and decided to download a free 30-day trial version of BCD's WebSmart ILE, which lets users create new Web applications and modernize existing RPG- and COBOL-based applications.

After experimenting with the solution and quickly creating a test order-entry application, Haynes ran everything past Inagaki, demonstrating that although the test application had a graphical front interface, it accessed the company's battletested application data. "There was a lot of interest in this right away, largely because we already had the hardware - the 525 - in place, we would only have to pay for the BCD software and we had a consultant - me - on staff. Compared to the other proposed solution, this one promised significant cost savings, while even offering more functionality," Haynes says.

A Definite Advantage

Noritake decided to go with WebSmart to webify its legacy application, and Haynes quickly began writing new front-end Web applications that would tie back into the company's legacy software and existing database. His first users were the company's sales reps, who acted as a pilot audience. They tested the new applications, made suggested improvements and tested again, finally giving the new site a thumbs-up.

Working with a nine-month deadline, Haynes began compil ing the applications that would ultimately compose Noritake's B2B site. Development went so well, however, that the site actually went live nearly six months ahead of the deadline. "It was amazing how quickly I could create these applications," Haynes says.

Now, customers can place and track orders online, with all of Noritake's catalog and pricing information at their fingertips. (Customers using EDI can also track orders on this site.) This eliminated the pricing issues the company had been experiencing and took the manual confirmation of pricing out of the hands of the company's CSRs. Additionally, because orders are automatically fed into Noritake's legacy application and back-end database, data-entry errors are a thing of the past.

Although originally developed for independent customers, the site has gained wider acceptance, with internal users also taking advantage of it. Sales reps, for example, use it to place orders for customers rather than filling out paper forms for them. Even CSRs have begun using it to enter orders and quickly look up information in response to customer requests. "Nobody wants to go back to the green screen," Inagaki says.

More importantly, though, the customer response to the WebSmart-developed B2B site has been overwhelmingly positive. Because Noritake omitted from its site many of the bells and whistles typically associated with consumer sites, customers can quickly get in and get out, placing and tracking orders with minimum fuss. According to Haynes, "We've had calls from customers telling us that our competitors don't have anything like this. That puts us at a definite advantage."

End-to-End Coverage

At the same time the company began using WebSmart to develop its B2B site, it also decided to employ several other BCD tools internally. These include Nexus Portal, EZ-Pickin's and Clover. Nexus Portal is used to host Noritake's intranet. With this tool, the company created portal pages based on operational groups and individuals within them.

Embedded within these pages are different modules, including one-click access to controlled Web pages, such as Yahoo's financial page, and Clover-developed reports. Clover is a query tool that conducts database inquiries and returns results based on predetermined user requirements.

With the assistance of EZ-Pickin's, these results can then be transformed into nearly any format users want, including spreadsheets, PDFs, text files and HTML. Another BCD offering, Catapult, can then be used to automatically distribute EZ-Pickin's files as e-mails or faxes or have them sent to a printer or network-shared archive system.

"BCD has us covered," Haynes says. "We have WebSmart to create legacy app-integrated applications, Nexus Portal for our personalized intranet and tools like Clover, which can be used directly from our intranet interface. And then there's Catapult, which distributes reports, and EZ-Picken's, which transforms reports into other usable forms. And all of it has a nice, modern browser front end."

As a result of all of this, Noritake's customer-service department gets fewer calls, e-mails and faxes, allowing CSRs to take on other roles, including, for example, helping out in the claims department. Additionally, the company has saved a great deal of money, with the one-box BCD-based solution coming in at a much lower price than the previously proposed PC-server based solution - with many fewer maintenance hassles.

Capitalizing on It

The term "legacy application" should probably be stricken from the IT lexicon because of the negative connotation many people apply to it. That's unlikely, because companies' existing code and the logic built into it are gifts that keep on giving.

This becomes especially apparent when IT departments find the right tools to modernize their applications, giving them new life while maintaining the years of expertise that have gone into their development. As Noritake proved, there are plenty of ways to build on what companies already have in their IT environments. They just have to learn how - using the right tools and no matter the platform - to capitalize on it.


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