BizTalk Server 2000 takes on the challenge of integrating your business’s
complex enterprise application and B2B processes.
- By David Wascha
So many of the challenges that people face today are challenges of integration:
I go to a store to return a toy I ordered through its e-commerce site
and I’m told I can’t do that—that the bricks-and-mortar site and the Web
site are two different systems and, as far as customers like me are concerned,
two different companies.
As Microsoft Certified Professionals—whether you serve in a solution
provider company or an in-house IT department—you typically see first-hand
the challenges and failings of integration. Integration projects that
should cost thousands of dollars and take several months end up costing
millions and lasting years. Getting the right data to the right place
at the right time is a fundamental business goal. But that goal seems
farther away than ever to many businesses when they struggle first with
enterprise application integration within their companies, then with business-to-business
integration with suppliers and customers, only to find that they need
yet a third level of integration to bring EAI and B2B together.
Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000, part of the .NET Enterprise Server platform,
solves this third integration challenge using a process we call BizTalk
Integration. This process manages the movement of data among enterprises
regardless of the varying formats of the data’s source and destination.
Distributors can manage order status on your system, keeping customers
happy. Just-in-time inventory can flow more reliably, maximizing production
and cost efficiencies. Sales personnel can act on customer leads promptly,
boosting revenues and profits. None of the tools in BizTalk Server 2000
requires developers to write a line of code. All interfaces are visual,
with WYSIWYG interfaces that both developers and business analysts without
a development background can use. The UI can be used to assign personnel
to the tasks of creating and maintaining the integration system.
The ability to implement integration visually, rather than through code,
is also a key to BizTalk’s faster and less expensive integration. Boeing
has about 100,000 suppliers; Ford Motor has about 40,000. Changing the
integration code in the files of each supplier could take a year, which
is time that neither manufacturer has if it wants to remain competitive.
In contrast, BizTalk allows a change to be implemented by dragging-and-dropping
a visual object into a group that can represent any or all of a manufacturer’s
If you haven’t yet looked into BizTalk Server 2000, here’s a get-acquainted
tour. BizTalk Server 2000 is organized around six primary tools: the Editor,
the Mapper, the Messaging Manager, the Orchestration Designer, the Document
Tracking Tool and the IT Administration Tool. Each tool maps to a part
of the integration challenge that developers previously had to manage
BizTalk Editor designs the schema that determines how your data will
look. You can include schema for XML and any structured document, such
as a flat file or EDI file. Once you’ve identified the data types with
which you want to work, you’re ready to decide how those data types will
BizTalk Mapper uses the data types you’ve just identified to design the
process of data transformation. The Mapper is a straightforward drag-and-drop
tool (see Figure 1). Dragging and dropping data types where you want them
is all that’s needed to establish conversions of, say, EDI data from your
supplier into XML data that your own EAI solution can understand. A Mapper
component, called functoids, provides additional functionality, allowing
you to perform a pre-defined process on your data as it moves from source
to destination. A functoid can handle a currency conversion of data from
an overseas vendor or customer or it can do a database lookup to see if
a part number exists before going ahead with the transformation.
|Figure 1. To design the data transformation
process, you use the BizTalk Mapper interface to drag and drop
data types. Source schema—those you’ve chosen via the Editor—are
on the left; targets or destinations are on the right.
BizTalk Messaging Manager is a Wizard-based tool that automates the preliminary
work to design and implement comprehensive business processes. Before
you can specify how your complex business processes will function, you
specify all of the components. For a given supplier, you might indicate
the source and destination data types you need, the transformations to
perform, the protocols to carry the data, and whether the data should
be publicly encrypted, digitally signed and so on. When done, the Messaging
Manager wraps this information into a component called a “channel.”
BizTalk Orchestration Designer (see Figure 2) embodies the BizTalk Orchestration
technology that enables the integration of EAI and B2B solutions via a
single, integrated environment. The Orchestration Designer is a visual
tool, resembling Microsoft Visio, that lets you design complex business
processes using COM components, MSMQ queues, script components, adapters
and the channels created with the Messaging Manager. The left side of
the Orchestration Designer screen shows abstract business processes (e.g.,
send an order, pass to ERP, check data validity, pass to warehouse). The
right side of the screen shows the specific functions needed to accomplish
the processes based on the channels you’ve just created. You create the
business processes by dragging and dropping components. When you want
to enable the system to send an order to a specific supplier, you drag
the “send an order” component, which contains all the information needed
to carry out the abstract instruction, onto the channel for that supplier.
|Figure 2. In much the same way that Microsoft
Visio can be used to visually map network processes, BizTalk
Orchestration Designer can visually map business processes from
The last two tools are the Document Tracking tool and the IT tool. The
Document Tracking tool is used for monitoring and analyzing data and metadata
from the integration solution. The IT Tool manages the various BizTalk
tools and Wizards.
Beyond simplifying complex integration processes, BizTalk’s two-step
process of tying abstract processes to specific implementations has advantages.
For the first time, it creates a high-level view of business processes
separate from the granular details of implementation. Further, it enables
a new type of developer, business process analysts whose expertise lie
in the business implications of process integration and not in the underlying
technology, to support their high-level contributions to the integration
solution. These analysts may understand schema but not how to program
in C++. They may know what HTTP is used for, but not how to use it and
Another advantage of separating abstract processes from the specifics
of their implementation is that it simplifies the modifications to these
processes later on when, for example, a company using one financial package
is acquired by a company that uses a different package. In the past, to
get all of a company’s suppliers to integrate with the new software, you’d
modify a process separately for each—and write code, to boot. Now, you
simply drag and drop once to replace the old package with the new one
using the Orchestration Designer. You’ve made no changes to your abstract
process, merely a change to a specification about implementing a process.
You can implement this change without breaking the solution you already
have or writing any code.
This also suggests a new business model that may provide new opportunities
to MCPs and solution providers. You can now create “processes-in-a-box,”
off-the-shelf or highly standardized business process solutions for any
number of applications, such as healthcare claims processing and reimbursement
for a doctor’s office. A small medical practice might not have been able
to afford a custom integration solution; but now a solution provider can
offer a standard process, schema and transport to which it need add only
customized implementation information. The solution provider’s capital
investment in creating the process is preserved and leveraged with greater
profitability and a revenue stream from a new customer base.
Learn more about BizTalk Server 2000 and how to put this new integration
model to work for your customers at www.microsoft.com/biztalk. Who knows?
You might be the one who makes it possible for me to go to that toy store
to return my purchase.
David Wascha is the BizTalk product manager at Microsoft Corp.