The media company Manchette Publicité is part of the Philippe Amaury group and is headquartered in Paris. Its main areas of business include designing and selling advertising space in a range of French newspapers such as “Le Parisien”, “Aujourd’hui”, “L’Equipe” and in online media. Back in 1998, Manchette Publicité commissioned SAP Systems Integration AG (SAP SI) to develop an Internet-compatible editor with a platform for selling advertising space. Since 1999, it has been easy for Manchette’s business customers to create classified advertisements, such as for the job or real estate market, online for web or print media and buy advertising space direct. The advantages of the Internet-based solution can be clearly identified. 30 percent of business customers are now submitting their classified advertisements via the Internet portal. The sales generated via the portal in 2003 saw an increase of 70 percent over the previous year.
Dynamic expansion of processes
However, Manchette Publicité was not about to rest on its laurels and was determined to achieve even greater success. The company is now putting a greater focus on its role as a service provider for partners such as advertising agencies. SAP SI therefore recommended that Manchette Publicité switch over to Web services and has overseen their introduction since 2004. Web services are a widely used technological standard and provide the ideal basis for developing business software. Manchette hopes that this will further boost market penetration and the profitability of its services. In contrast to the inflexible, rigid workflow of the previous portal solution, Web services now offer the opportunity to expand processes dynamically. They enable fast adaptation to changing market circumstances. Manchette Publicité expects that 50 to 60 percent of customers who are not yet using the existing B2B portal and are still sending orders by fax will take advantage of the new Web services-based offering.
The expansion and switch to Web services was essential because the previous Internet advertising portal, based on proprietary technologies such as DCOM and Active Server Pages which were state-of-the-art when the portal was originally created, was reaching its technological limits. The aim now is to place as few restrictions as possible on the applications in terms of the technology used and to make them open to any potential future technological developments. Another drawback with the existing portal is that the workflow is rigid.
Modular functional components
It was therefore necessary to break down these rigidly pre-defined processes into individual modules. To achieve this, each workflow was divided into small logical process units. These include, for example, inquiring about publication dates, selecting the available design templates, their configuration and calculating the price. The units combine to form a large number of independent, context-related Web services which can be integrated into business processes as ‘encapsulated’ modular functional components.
The Web services are stored in the Web Application Server and classified using the standardized description language WSDL (Web Service Description Language). This makes it very easy to offer the functionalities available in SAP R/3 externally and combine them with other services supported by customers and business partners. Almost all programming languages and system environments are suited to the use of Web services. Even when changes or expansions are made to the back-end, the familiar user interfaces remain unchanged. This is ensured by a Business Logic Layer that supports encapsulation of the functionalities from SAP R/3 and further specialization for generating Web services.
The expanded solution is based on SAP’s Enterprise Service Architecture (ESA). It enables applications which guide the user step-by-step through the entire process. Manchette Publicité has worked mainly with its partner company Forsup to produce a front-end based on an Internet advertising portal. The actual process consists of web portal screen sequences. Depending on user interaction, the relevant Web services are called up in the background and made available to the user.
Solution for invitations to tender
Moreover, a new process has been developed on the basis of Web services. The solution enables primarily public bodies, but also companies to publish invitations to tender via adverts and invite potential participants to take part. The Manchette portal is able to implement the rules specified by the client in this invitation to tender. For example, it can monitor any deadlines and guarantee the anonymity of the companies interested in an invitation to tender. Manchette Publicité plans to connect the call centers of business partners and other Internet portals, such as those active in France or those specializing in specific sectors. This gives partners the freedom to adapt the processes to the requirements of their industry or target group and implement them with the support of the existing repository. This makes it easy for Manchette’s partners and customers to integrate Web services into their business processes.
If the processes are not already covered by the existing Web services, new functionalities can be added to the repository. The fact that the software has now been broken down into Web services means that approximately 90 percent of requirements are covered by the very extensive repository. Further developments are planned, such as adding new templates to the Web service repository. This will enable Manchette Publicité to continue to respond quickly to the constantly changing market conditions, tap into a wider market through new flexible services and, last but not least, boost profitability.
The use of Web services technology described above is not restricted to companies in the media sector. Well-known companies from the beverages and telecommunications industries are currently using the same model to implement similar projects.
Some companies think that ESA or service-oriented architectures (SOA) inevitably involve large amounts of investment. This is usually based on the misconception that using these new technologies requires a complete redesign and reimplementation of the existing solution. This is far from being the case today for innovative companies. On the contrary, Web services require less new investment than the developments that have already taken place. The functionality of a Web service can be found in any process application, whether it be a Java and C++ application or as an ABAP transaction. The key step is simply encapsulating this functionality as a modular Web service. This can be achieved quickly and easily with today’s tools.