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Case studies: Web services
Company:  Yamato Transport Group
Location:  Tokyo, Japan
Industry:  Transportation
URL:  www.kuronekoyamato.co.jp/english/index.html
Yamato Transport logo

Background:  Focused on speed and convenience

A black cat carefully carrying its kitten is the one of the most recognizable logos in Japan. This is the logo of Yamato Transport Co., Ltd., a worldwide leader in logistics who revolutionized parcel delivery in Japan through business and technical innovation. It is applying these same principles to evolve to an on demand business offering business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) logistics solutions.

Prior to 1976, there was not a convenient way to ship small parcels throughout Japan. The choices, mail or train, came with restrictions. For example, mailing a package required taking the package to the post office and there were size and weight restrictions. Shipping parcels by rail was another option but there was no guarantee on when the parcel would be delivered.

This all changed in 1976 when Yamato Transport introduced "Takkyubin." Takkyubin offered small parcel pickup and delivery between customer residences with an emphasis on customer convenience and speed of delivery. As the service grew in popularity, Yamato Transport applied the principles of Takkyubin to targeted services such as home delivery of fresh foods and transporting travelers luggage to airports and sports equipment to resorts. Today, Yamato Transport handles over 900 million parcels per year.

Challenge:  An on demand business requires flexible systems

Through the introduction of new offerings and a continued focus on superior service, Yamato Transport's Takkyubin was able to continue to grow its market share even as competitors entered the parcel delivery market. However, Yamato Transport is broadening its strategy to capitalize on market dynamics including:
  • A maturation of the customer-to-customer (C2C) parcel delivery market
  • The growth of e-business as a result of the Internet.

The Internet has been the catalyst for the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) markets. Online shopping has fueled the B2C growth. For example, companies can sell into the Japanese market and use Yamato Transport's Takkyubin as its distribution network. The B2B market has grown as a result of companies looking to streamline their operations by outsourcing parts of their business; for example, parts distribution.

Yamato Transport was uniquely positioned to address this opportunity because of its quality of service and distribution network but its information systems were not capable of meeting the demands of the e-business world. For example, the existing systems were batch oriented so 24 X 7 access to information was not possible and databases were not capable of capturing information required by corporate clients. Lastly, proprietary interfaces made it difficult to pass and receive data to and from corporate clients.

The B2B and B2C models required a robust, scalable infrastructure that could support significant growth rates, access to data in real time, (e.g. real-time parcel tracking), rapid introduction of new services such as mail services and e-commerce payment processing, and system-based interactions with partners. For this, they turned to open standards and IBM software technologies.

Solution:  Web services simplify partner integration

Yamato Transport has taken an evolutionary approach to e-business. Working with IBM, it has implemented a real time parcel tracking application. It initially offered access to the application through its Web site. This approach took advantage of widely accepted Internet technologies (e.g. HTTP, HTML, browsers) and targeted primarily the C2C market. The B2C and B2B models required system-to-system access so for this, Yamato Transport turned to Web services and IBM Japan's jStart Team.

There are 3 logical tiers to the Yamato Transport parcel tracking Web service. The first tier is the client running at Yamato Transport's partners. The client constructs the SOAP message containing the company code and the parcel billing number and processes the response. A benefit of the Web services approach is that Yamato Transport does not need to dictate the client implementation. Partners who wish to invoke the parcel tracking Web service generate a client from the WSDL defined interface provided by Yamato Transport.

The second tier contains the logic and middleware for performing the following functions:

  • Receiving an incoming SOAP message from the SOAP client (running at the partner's site)
  • Processing the message to extract the parcel billing number and company code
  • Passing the bill number and company code to the backend system as a request to the parcel tracking application
  • Converts the response from the parcel tracking system to the partner-specific XML format. XSL stylesheets are used to transform the XML text.

Java beans are used to marshall and un-marshall the SOAP messages, submit the request to the parcel tracking application, and transform the response to the appropriate XML format. This second tier runs within IBM's WebSphere Application Server.

The third tier contains the core business applications and customer data. Yamato Transport is evolving to a J2EE infrastructure and IBM's DB2 UDB running on IBM pSeries servers. This combination will provide the scalability, performance, and 24 X 7 availability that is needed to satisfy the B2B and B2C markets. It will also provide the flexibility needed to rapidly introduce new offering based on market opportunities. To ensure high availability, Yamato Transport operates two data centers utilizing WebSphere MQ for guaranteed message delivery between the centers. Remote server monitoring is handled by Tivoli management software.

Benefit:  Ready for e-business on demand

On that first day in 1976 when Takkyubin was introduced, two parcels were delivered. Today, over 2 million parcels are delivered daily. However, competition, a maturing market, and Internet-driven e-business has motivated Yamato Transport to broaden from a C2C business model to B2C and B2B models.

Yamato Transport's distribution network offered them a competitive advantage, allowing them to move into this market quickly. Batch oriented systems that limited customer access and proprietary interfaces were hindering Yamato Transport's move into e-business. Working with IBM and IBM software, Yamato Transport is deploying an information system architecture based on open standards that will provide the flexibility, scalability, 24 X 7 availability, and openness that an on demand business requires. The parcel tracking Web service is an example of the benefits of open standards. By using WSDL for service interface definition and SOAP for the messaging protocol, Yamato Transport's partners are able to invoke the parcel tracking service unaware of the physical infrastructure they are accessing.

For additional information on Yamato Transport Co., Ltd., please visit www.kuronikoyamato.co.jp (in Japanese language) or www.kuronekoyamato.co.jp/english (in English language).

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