Maltrans converts Cobol apps to J2EE

Jordanian shipping company uses WebFacing tool to migrate its Common Business Orientated Language legacy to an up-to-date interface that not only improves service levels, but protects its information technology investment.

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By  Angela Prasad Published  August 26, 2004

Jordanian shipping company Maltrans has converted its Common Business Oriented Language (Cobol) based software into Java 2 enterprise edition (J2EE) applications. United Business Solutions (UBM) completed the US$113,000 project over a five-month period using IBM’s WebFacing tool, part of the vendor’s WebSphere suite. In total, the Jordanian systems integrator migrated 10 applications, including Maltrans’ accounting, shipping, human resources, salary/medical, car expenses, transit declaration, assets and debit note systems. Other apps moved onto J2EE included its airfreight, bills and guarantees systems. These applications are crucial for the shipping company because they perform the company’s day-to-day operational functions. The shipping firm’s chief motivation for switching to a J2EE software stack was to increase the reliability of its applications. The company’s server was seven years old and it needed a system capable of running 24/7, as its transportation, shipping services, airfreight, clearing and sea forwarding business was booming. However, rather than investing in new solutions to gain this functionality, the Jordanian shipping firm decided to migrate its applications. There were two key factors behind this decision — first, the shipping firm was unable to find suitable upgrades or replacements in the local market. Second, it wanted to maximise its initial IT investment. “We could not find an [appropriate] solution that could replace the existing one. So, knowing about WebSphere and it’s ability to take us into the latest technology without replacing our legacy systems in which the company had invested for more than ten years made sense,” says Zaher Abusara, head of the computer department at Maltrans. Maltrans also selected the WebSphere suite because it is based on open standards. For example, the modeling tools used in this particular project are based on an open source software tool called Eclipse. This means the shipping firm’s application can now be integrated into web based XML by using Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), which is standard for aligning web services to business processes. “Open standards are software development standards that enables the applications built on them to communicate easily with each other. They can also be easily enhanced, and integrated seamlessly with other applications,” explains Abusara. Maltrans began using IBM products back in 1993, which meant its technology team was relatively au fait with the vendor’s software solutions. However, to ensure the shipping company’s end user could begin using the new look applications from the off, UBM was used to run various courses. “We wanted everything to go smoothly so the solutions integrator trained our staff so that they could enhance their J2EE knowledge. We wanted them to have a better understanding of the technology and be able to use it easily,” says Abusara. Since going live with the J2EE versions of its legacy applications, Maltrans has availed itself of numerous benefits. Foremost among these is the increased efficiency the new software stack has delivered. For example, the shipping firm’s remote locations can now be connected to the company’s main server without special connections. In addition, the new software also has the ability to provide Maltrans’ customers with accounts to track their shipments from home, or pay fees online. “We are exploring this avenue and plan to provide these services for our customers. This solution has helped us because it seamlessly merged with our existing applications. It has given us the stability and efficiency we needed in the day-to-day running of the business, ” Abusara adds. Furthermore, the company’s employees no longer have to work on a non-friendly green screen. Now, they can work on a user-friendly web based application that can be accessed from any place with the same functionality and security. Maltrans also believes the migration has started generating a strong return on investment (ROI), especially as the new apps have reduced the cost of running interactive features that enable users to open a session with the server. In the past, customers had to pay for unlimited sessions using the AS400 server, but now they are done via a web browser users do not have to pay.

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