The last article “Getting to know Mail.XML™ – Understanding the latest specification from IDEAlliance: Mail.XML” focused on the basics of XML as a language overwhelmingly used on the internet and the fundamental business functions and current implementation of the IDEAlliance® Mail.XML™ specification v6.0. The article described the USPS® and industry’s phased approach for implementing IMB® Full-service solutions through Mail.XML and the business solutions available now and in Fall of 2009 from the USPS®.
In simple terms, we defined XML as a way to describe and communicate data and Mail.XML as an IDEAlliance specification designed in collaboration with the USPS to move business transactions and communications into Mail.XML from Mail.dat for certain business functions. We also briefly described the SOA architecture stating that the Mail.XML specification is designed to use Web services or SOA architecture where computers are’ talking’ with each other in a conversational mode using XML messages.
In this article, “Mail.XML and SOA – Use cases for the mailing industry” we will focus on defining SOA. We will also focus on explaining the future direction of IDEAlliance Mail.XML specification and Services Oriented Architecture which is the communication architecture driving the IDEAlliance Mail.XML specification development. We will describe the possible usages and benefits of SOA to a company and the industry as a whole.
What is Services Oriented Architecture (SOA)?
Services Oriented Architecture is a request/response communication methodology that allows computers (business applications such as CRM, transportation management, operations management, financials, HR, Sales, Inventory management) on a network (intranet or internet) to ‘talk or conduct business’ with each other in a standard pre-defined XML language. This mode of communication bypasses the need to understand what old or new technology is used to implement each of the business applications. In a SOA environment, a business application’s logic is modularized to enable a service request/response mode creating a standard communication method that uses the internet protocol for bi-directional communication; bypassing any technology and application security limitations of the business applications such as Cobol, Mainframe, .Net, Java, Unix, Windows, etc.
How can we tell if SOA architecture is in use?
The main characteristics of the SOA services include: a. defining who can access which service and how, mainly authorization, authentication, and predefinition of security and roles; b. XML based communication which is predefined and used to describe and communicate the data; c. XML communication structure existing in the form of messages or schemas also called XSD (XML Schema Definition)where the actual services are defined by WSDL (Web Services Definition Language). WSDL defines which services are available and how to access them; d. Just like when we type http://www.rbpub.com in our internet browser’s URL and the internet ‘knows’ through a directory listing to show you RB Publications website, same way the SOA services are registered through a Universal Description, Definition, Integration (UDDI) registry which serves as a directory listing for web services.
What are the benefits of SOA to an enterprise?
Most companies rather they be printers, consolidators, publishers, transporters or any other type of enterprise in the mailing industry have a mixture of both legacy and new technology solutions in their IT environments. Several IT organizations in the mailing industry are already increasing the value of their legacy and new IT assets by converting the existing business applications into customized services for their customers. The SOA architecture allows these companies to utilize existing hardware, software, and business applications; and increase the usage and value of existing IT assets for the enterprise by converting the existing assets into services. The SOA architecture is making decision making faster for many mailers, bringing the cost of doing business down by bringing more efficiency through automation. Think about instead of processing a whole Mail.dat to do sample analysis on cost of printing and transportation, having a service that takes sample container data from Mail.dat and gets the mailer answers in minutes on the printing, postage, and transportation costs in a request/response messaging model.
What are the benefits of SOA to the mailing industry?
The basic case study of SOA for the mailing supply chain started with the implementation of the IDEAlliance Transportation Messaging specification in 2004, now called Mail.XML. The IDEAlliance and the USPS collaborated to bring in a SOA solution to automate USPS FAST appointment management business process which was manual and prone to errors and data integrity issues. The IDEAlliance, industry, and the USPS agreed that the Mail.dat and mailers transportation systems needed to be complimented with a nimble transaction level communication solution. The Mail.XML SOA solution allowed the mailers to convert their Mail.dat and transportation management systems into services to work with the USPS to automate the appointment process and remove manual labor and data integrity issues from the old manual appointment process. The SOA solution removed manual data entry for mailers which resulted in cost avoidance and increased data integrity and the ability to manage change and communicate change to the USPS in a timely manner. For the USPS, the resource management costs and planning improved resulting in enhanced service delivery while providing more intelligence to the USPS about what to expect with each shipment and when.
What is the future direction of Mail.XML?
Think of mailing supply chain as a supply chain ‘network’. A network of computers representing different services by different mailing roles in the supply chain with business decision-making capabilities stored in the computers or business applications. The capability can enhance finding service providers, getting cost and time information in near real time and making business decisions on manufacturing, production, transportation, postage, and extra service capabilities from business partners.
The SOA can increase efficiency and speed of conducting business by communicating business specific information through Mail.XML in an automated and conversational mode and complimenting Mail.dat and existing IT assets within the mailing industry by converting them into services. The SOA also opens up the opportunity for the industry to think about removing single points of failure from the mailing supply chain, such as the USPS IT systems currently used by many as a single data store to communicate and touch their business partners data. Instead, the SOA architecture removes such risks by enabling more nimble and quick communication between the industry players outside and away from the USPS IT systems. Mail.XML SOA is bringing positive change to the industry that will benefit everyone’s bottom line.
About the author: Shariq (Sha-rick) Mirza is the President and CEO of Assurety Consulting Inc. and currently serves as the IDEAlliance Technical Director for the Mail.dat and Mail.XML specifications. Mr. Mirza has over 12 years of USPS compliance and BPM experience. He can be reached at Smirza@AssuretyConsulting.com Assurety Consulting Inc. is the leading professional services company providing business consulting and mailing software solutions for the Full-Service and the mailing supply chain. For more information, visit the Assurety Consulting website at www.AssuretyConsulting.com or call 866-750-4924